It’s finally time for our summer vegetable garden! Learn all about how I decide what to grow, where to get plants, and some tips for your own garden.
Each summer we grow a giant vegetable garden full of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and more! This year, I’ll be sharing updates on my garden every so often so you can see how things are coming along and learn some tips if you have your own garden (or want to start one).
There is a lot of prep that goes into starting a garden, including finding the right spot, buying the tools, and–what today’s post is all about–picking out plants!
Deciding What Plants to Grow
It’s easy to get super excited and want to grow EVERYTHING, but I highly encourage you to take a minute and actually think about what you will eat regularly. The habanero peppers in our garden last year grew like crazy and we had more than we could handle. They are extremely spicy, too, so we really didn’t eat them that often and when we did we would only use maybe half of one for a recipe. Definitely not growing those again this year.
Second, you’ll want to consider what grows well in your climate. You’ll need to figure out your plant hardiness zone, which helps you determine what plants are likely to do well where you live. Just visit this website and check out the map. For example, where I am in Pennsylvania is zone 5b.
Next, you’ll want to take a look at your soil. It can be hard to know what grows well in your soil if you’ve never grown a garden before, so sometimes it just takes a few years to realize what plants work best for you. I love beets, but our soil has too many stones and they don’t grow well, so we decided this year we’d use that space for different vegetables instead. You can always work with your soil, though, and try to dig rocks out, add manure, etc. (more about that in my next post)
Then, consider how much light you will get where you plan to plant your garden. Some plants need a lot of sunlight, while others can thrive in the shade. A portion of our garden is covered by shade part of the day from a tree, so that’s where we plant spinach, kale, and swiss chard, which all grow well in partial sun.
Finally, you need to figure out how much time you’ll have to care for your garden. Some vegetables take a little more time to harvest and just aren’t worth it. I like fresh green beans, but I would spend hours sitting on a little stool picking them. I found it wasn’t really worth it for us, plus I failed at blanching and freezing them last year anyways.
We’ve grown all kinds of veggies in the past, but this year we decided to grow:
Peppers (bell, sweet heart, banana, hungarian wax, and jalapeno)
Tomatoes (cherry, marietta, and big girl)
I also got some marigolds and nasturtiums, which are both flowers that are supposed to keep bugs away from your plants. I plan to line the outside of the garden with the marigolds, then place the nasturtiums throughout the garden. The nasturtiums get viney, so I may put a cage over or chicken wire next to them. Last year I had squash bugs like crazy, so I’m doing everything I can this year to prevent that!
It doesn’t seem like we’re growing a ton of veggies, but I’ve learned over the years that this is what we eat the most. My mom has a garden too, and I actually drive past her house each day on my way to work. If she grows something that I don’t grow, and vice versa, we share our veggies!
Starting Seeds & Buying Plants
I was super excited this year, because I decided to start some of my plants from seeds indoors. I got a growing light for Christmas and I saw an idea on Pinterest to start seeds in toilet paper rolls. I had such a nice set up in my spare bedroom with cauliflower, broccoli, kale, lettuce, basil, rosemary, and some tomatoes started and they were doing very well, especially the basil!
Then all of a sudden they all started dying, starting with the basil 🙁 My guess is that I was watering them too much, because the basil ended up getting brown and it eventually completely wilted, followed shortly by the rest of the plants. Soggy soil can create fungus growth and I think this is what happened. It was definitely a total fail, but a learning experience for next year. Also, If you have any tips for starting plants from seeds, please share!
This really wasn’t the end of the world, because my mom and I planned to pick out some plants anyways! We go to our local technology school each year where they have a greenhouse as part of a natural resources course (why did I not take this in high school?!) They have all kinds of inexpensive vegetables, herbs, and flowers, and the students help you pick them out.
I mentioned that I was going up to the greenhouse at work and my co-workers wanted to join in too, so it ended up being me, my mom, my grandma, and the three women I work with. Plant party!!!
I came to the greenhouse with a list of what I wanted, but I ended up asking a ton of questions and going back and forth throughout the greenhouse a million times anyways. This sounds really lame, but I get so overwhelmed from excitement. I just LOVE plants.
There was also a bit of confusion when I was picking out peppers. I originally picked up banana, sweet heart, and green bell peppers, but then realized the banana peppers were sweet and I actually wanted spicy, so I picked out some Hungarian wax instead (which are like spicy banana peppers). I went to put the banana back, but the banana and sweet hearts didn’t have tags and they looked identical. I ended up getting both peppers since I couldn’t tell the difference and each package had 6 plants, so we’ll be eating a lot of peppers this summer! Also–a tip if you plan to grow both sweet and spicy peppers–separate them in your garden. The peppers can cross-pollinate and your sweet peppers may end up spicy.
We love to go to this greenhouse because it’s local, inexpensive, the students and teachers are nice and helpful, and it supports the program at the school. My suggestion is to find a place near you that is owned by someone local who can help you as you pick our your plants. Rather than going to Walmart or Home Depot, pick a greenhouse where you can learn more about how the plants were started and have a nice conversation with a small business owner.
It can be exciting, but overwhelming, as you decide what plants to grow and where to get them, especially if this is the first year you are planting a garden. Don’t stress, though! Gardening is a fun, learning experience and each year you will become more knowledgeable and comfortable with the process. Also, summer is full of farmers markets and roadside farm stands with tons of fruits and veggies, so if you chose to not grow a certain vegetable (or if some of your plants don’t grow so well), it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to enjoy it.
Have fun as you pick out your plants and always feel free to comment below or email me with questions. Our next step is to prepare our garden and plant, so stay tuned for upcoming posts about that!
Happy planting! ♥