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Summer Foods Anyone Can Grow

By April 24, 2018May 8th, 2020Nutrition Well-being
A mother and young son work in the garden

As the weather warms up, you may find yourself itching to try your hand at gardening. Even if you weren’t born with a green thumb, you can start this summer with fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are easy to grow in our area.

Need help getting started? Organic gardening expert, Deborah Kates, has chosen three summer foods anyone can grow. Plus she’s thrown in a couple of low-maintenance herbs that have endless uses in the kitchen. All of Deborah’s recommendations can be transplanted into your growing space in late May or early June, when the soil has warmed up and there’s no fear of frost.

If you missed the last blog, feel free to brush up on Deborah’s tips for the four basics of gardening — soil, air circulation, sun, and water — before you head out to your local nursery or gardening store.

3 Summer Foods Anyone Can Grow

  1.  Bush Beans

    You will love picking this veggie right from the vine when it ripens. Bush beans like the sun and warm soil, so wait until late May to plant. Enrich your soil with a good compost and if possible, organic fertilizer (look for “organic vegetable fertilizer” on the label). You’ll want to plant bush beans from seeds, but be sure to thin your seedlings to about two inches apart then thin again to six inches apart. You can plant one row and try planting another row two weeks later to keep the beans coming (this is called succession planting). About four bean plants per person will yield a nice harvest. If you want to plant bush beans in a container, look for a ten-inch pot or a long window box. Varieties to look for: Yellow, Italian Roma, Blue Lake, Yellow Wax

    Deborah’s tip: For the best tasting beans, pick them while they’re young about three inches long.

  2. Tomatoes

    What can’t you do with tomatoes? From salads to sandwiches to your favorite tomato sauce, there are so many ways to enjoy homegrown tomatoes. The easiest types of tomatoes to grow are dwarf or patio tomatoes. You may also see them called determinate tomato plants, which means they’re smaller, more contained, and lower maintenance. These types of tomato plants do well in containers and only grow a couple of feet high, so you don’t need to worry about trimming them back or staking for support. It’s best to use a container that is:

    • At least 14 inches deep with holes in the bottom for drainage
    • Plastic, because ceramic tends to absorb too much moisture and metal often gets too hot
    • Raised up on something, like a brick, so air can circulate underneath and for better drainage

    Tomatoes need lots of sun, about 7 − 8 hours, so be sure to water long enough that you see it run out the bottom of the container. This also washes out salt and other buildup in the soil. Varieties to look for: Red and orange Patio Cherry, Cherokee Purple, Early Girl hybrids, and many “paste” Italian types that are good for making sauces.

    Deborah’s tip: Care for your tomato plant as if you’re its parent. Containers dry out quickly, especially in the sun, so be sure your plant gets enough water. Use chopsticks or a plastic knife to break up the soil if it gets hard and crusty on top. This will help the soil absorb water more easily.

  3. Peppers

    Whether you like ‘em spicy or sweet, peppers are easy to grow in containers or in the ground. If you’re using containers, you’ll want to look for patio plants or buy an extra deep container (14 inches) for a regular size plant. Peppers like the sun and take a little time to mature. It helps if you add a little compost and fertilizer about six weeks after you plant and again in August. Gently add the compost and fertilizer around the base of the plant, just not too close to the stem.

    Varieties to look for: Mini Bell Peppers, Cubano, Carmen Italian sweet, Tabasco, Cayenne, Cajun Bell, Banana

    Deborah’s tip: Be patient with your peppers. When it comes to bell peppers, don’t pick them when they’re green wait until they turn red, orange or yellow, depending on the variety.  Banana and Cubano peppers usually turn yellow and most hot peppers will turn red. They will taste sweeter and save you some money since they cost more than green peppers in grocery stores. Plus, red peppers have some of the highest Vitamin C of any vegetable.

  4. Bonus: Two easy-to-grow herbs

    While you have your garden trowel out, you might as well add some herbs to the mix. Buy a couple of these plants, and you’ll have fresh herbs all summer long. And if you enjoy cooking with fresh herbs, planting your own will save you plenty of money at the grocery store.

    • Parsley: You can fit two or three parsley plants in a pot (four inches apart), and you’ll likely have more than you need for the summer, with plenty leftover to freeze or dry for the winter. As your plants grow, trim the outside sprigs. Parsley is high in iron and has many uses in cooking. Add it to soups, eggs, and green juices, or use it as you would other leafy greens, like spinach and kale. You can even chew it to freshen your breath. 25 ways to use parsley
    • Basil: Basil is an especially great complement to tomatoes and all Italian dishes. It loves the heat of the summer and also does well in containers, but let the plant establish itself before you start picking leaves. As the plant starts to grow taller, you can prune your basil to make it fuller. Look for areas with new leaves on both sides of the stem, and cut the stem with scissors. Also, pinch off any flowers as soon as they appear.

    Deborah’s tip: If you find that any of your plants are being eaten by insects, you may want to try using an insecticidal soap. It’s environmentally safe and you can buy it at nurseries or gardening stores. But it’s also easy to make yourself! Try this recipe for an easy, homemade insecticidal soap spray.  It’s a good idea to wear gloves when applying any insecticide or herbicide, as well as any fertilizer, even if they are listed as safe and organic.

Happy gardening!


Susan Rossman

Does writing count as exercise? Then my fingers are in great shape! As a senior copywriter at IBX, I've learned a lot about how health insurance works and how it can help me stay healthy. My goal is to share this knowledge with others in a fun and engaging way.