Raising a Successful Garden in any Size Yard

Whether you live in town or the country, in an apartment or on a farm, raising your own garden can be fun in any size space. We’re here to help!  So grab your seeds or starter plants and grow along with us!

There are 4 basic types of gardens for raising produce:

  1. In Ground (Traditional) – this type of garden takes up the most space. However, if you have good soil, it can also be the most economical way to feed your family with healthy produce for most of the year. We recommend this type of garden for larger yards and families.
  2. Raised Beds – Raised beds are perfect for rocky, sandy, or less than ideal soil. If you have imperfect soil but space for a larger garden, this is probably the option for you. You can improve the quality of your soil and increase your yield.
  3. Containers – Containers are a good way to get your feet wet as a first-time gardener. They take up less space and require less weeding than in-ground beds. You can choose the container size that’s right for your space and grow from there!
  4. Window Boxes – These gardens are ideal for apartments or homes with little to no yard space. Window boxes can fit on patio railings or outside window ledges and are ideal for smaller plants, herbs, and plants that have shallow root structures.

Aside from the space you have available for raising your garden, you’ll need to think about the space, sun, and moisture needs of each type of plant.

Squash, for example, requires more compost and more space to grow, and it can choke out most other, more delicate plants.

Root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, and radishes, require at least 12 inches of soil in order to produce efficiently. Tomatoes will need stakes or cages to help the plants stand upright as they grow and prevent the fruit from rot caused by laying on the ground.

Cucumber vines should also be allowed to climb up, rather than out, when planted in the ground or in a raised bed. Make sure to provide trellises or cages for them to climb. For a container or window box garden, you may want to choose one of the bushy cucumber varieties to save space.

You can find online worksheets to plan your garden here, and plant space/ sun requirements are listed on seed packets and starter plant tags.

The University of Illinois extension offers a chart and other useful information to use when planting and spacing between plants.

Remember to water your plants, get your hands dirty, and have fun! Regardless of the size, your garden should reward you all summer!

The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has cooperative programs with universities in most states to help answer your agriculture and gardening questions. See the complete list of colleges and links here.

Don’t forget to send us your pictures, gardening tips, and experiences in the comments to keep growing with us!

Gas Grilling Basics

Gas Grilling:  Beginning steps

So, you’ve weighed your options and decided that a gas grill is the perfect idea for your busy life? Fire that gas grill up, because we’re here to help you achieve grilling perfection with these simple tips.

First, you’ll want to make sure that you start with a clean grill and plenty of propane. Cooking on a dirty grill increases your risk for flare-ups and can change the taste of your food.

Plus, clean grills leave those great grill marks we all love to see!

The easiest way to clean your gas grill between uses is to scrub with a wire brush when the grill is hot. You can either do this after each use or before you start cooking. Once or twice a year, you should also take your grill apart to remove all the dirt, grease, and stuck-on food.

Make sure you have plenty of propane before you start cooking, so you don’t run out of fuel halfway through cooking.

Controlling Flare-ups

Leave a portion of your grill empty, so you can move the food in case of a flare-up. You can simply move the food away from the flames and onto the empty portion of the grill. The flare-up should die down on its own if you leave the lid open and let it burn out.

If the fire spreads, you’ll need to remove the food from the grill, turn off the gas at both the burners and at the tank, and let it die.

Cooking Temperature

 It’s important to note that all grilled food will not cook at the same temperature. Your grill knobs all go to high, but all food should not be cooked on high. Here are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind:

  1. Thin cuts of meat, like burgers, pork, lamb, and beef, should be cooked hot and fast to avoid drying them out.
  1. Fish, chicken, vegetables, and other delicate items should cook at medium.
  1. Larger, thicker, denser cuts of meat, such as whole chickens, will cook at lower temperatures.
  1. If you are grilling with rubs, marinades or sauces, remember that sugar burns at 265 degrees F.  Your grill temperature will need to be below 265 when using sauces, marinades, or rubs that contain sugar. If the grill temperature rises above 265 while cooking, the outside of your meat will scorch and blacken.

      

You should also have a meat thermometer. It’s a bad idea to cut into meat on the grill to determine whether it’s done, since it will dry out the meat. You can find a valuable meat temperature chart here.

Remember that cooking at lower temps will take longer, but the meat will be juicier and more flavorful when cooked at the right temperature.

During Cooking

 While you are grilling, make sure you stay at the grill to keep an eye on your food. This is especially important when cooking foods hot and fast, such as burgers, hot dogs, or steaks. Keep everything you will need close to the grill, so you don’t need to step away during cooking.

Practice safe food handling procedures by washing your hands, cooking to safe temperatures (especially ground beef), and keeping your food prep and cooking areas clean and sanitized.

If you are grilling more than one type of meat (beef and poultry, for example) or grilling vegetables along with meat, keep the prep areas for each item separate. This will help you avoid cross-contamination and reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

Remember, successful grilling is more of an art than a science. Have fun, be safe, and don’t forget to leave us your tips, recipes, and pictures in the comments!

When to Plant Your Garden

Now that the weather’s warming up, we know you want to get out in the garden!

Step One:  Know your Hardiness Zone

When is the best time to plant your garden? It really depends on where you live and what you want to plant.  In the map below, you can see that the US has been divided up into hardiness zones by the USDA.These are determined by the average minimum winter temperature of that region, then divided into 10 degree F increments.

Step Two:  Choose plants for your garden

Once you’ve determined your hardiness zone, you can decide what you want to plant.

Garden plants have different space, moisture, and sun requirements, so make sure you are choosing the best plant varieties for your zone, soil type, and garden location.

For example, cucumbers are available as vines and as bushes. If you have a small garden area, you will probably want to choose the bushy variety, since the vines can take over your whole garden and choke out other plants.

Successful tomato bushes will also grow up and out, so you will want to make sure that you have room for them to grow. You can also find hanging tomato varieties, which would be helpful for an apartment or house with a small patio.

Step Three:  Test your soil

There are various tables available to help you determine when to plant, but the best way to tell is to examine the soil. Squeeze a handful of soil into a ball and poke the ball with your finger.  If the ball crumbles, the soil is ready. If not, you’ll need to be patient just a bit longer before tilling or raking.

Tilling or raking helps break up the soil, controls weeds, mixes organic material into the soil, and loosens up the dirt for planting. Make sure to stay fairly shallow when tilling or raking; under 12 inches should work.

 

Looking for more detailed information? The USDA’s website breaks down the zones further here.  Also check out garden.org’s calendar, which gives you more specifics on when to plant in your zip code.

Getting your hands in the dirt is one of summer’s biggest pleasures, and we’re happy to help! Check back here throughout the spring and summer as we follow the life cycle of your food, from seedling to harvest and through fall/winter storage and canning.

Grow with us! Send us your pictures of gardening, tips for a successful garden, and questions in the comments!