For me, summer spells vine-ripe vegetables, and there’s nothing more satisfying that incorporating freshly plucked produce from my garden into my dinner. But before you roll up your sleeves and set to planting, think about how to make your garden work for you. Sure, there may be something exotic about Indian eggplant, shiso, and fava beans, but are they worth your prime garden real estate?
In my experience, when it comes to planting a family vegetable garden, less can equal way more. After all, most of us aren’t professional horticulturists, and the idea of testing soil samples and creating the perfect plant habitat can be overwhelming. My advice? Keep it simple.
When planning what to plant, consider a few factors. Did you try something last year that didn’t work out so well? If so, scrap it this season. Think about whether a particular plant gives enough produce to justify the work. Shy away from growing things that are relatively cheap to buy. And as you plot your course, consider putting in companion plants to help your fruit and veggies thrive.
Your gardening goal may be to save some grocery money or to enjoy the process of planting seedlings and watching them sprout, or a mix of both. Whatever your motivation may be, consider limiting what you plant to only four things. That’s right, four. By paring down, you’ll set yourself up for a healthier harvest, and less stress in the process.
As an example, you could focus your gardening efforts on basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. Not only are these four plants relatively easy to grow and maintain, they give you flexible options when it comes to plating them at mealtime.
Basil is a delicious, savory herb that grows like a weed; you won’t be disappointed with this hearty plant’s yield. Add it to almost any dish to up the flavor profile. It’s especially good on a hot summer’s night with a Caprese salad, or made into pesto and served over a warm bowl of pasta.
Did someone say pasta? Take care of your summer tomato plants and you should have enough fruit to make your own simple marinara sauce. Try freezing some for the winter months. To eat right away, tomatoes are wonderful additions to salads and sandwiches or can be perfect eaten alone with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of sea salt.
Use some of those cool cucumbers you’ve grown by dicing them up with a few fresh tomatoes, and you have a go-to salad for dinners. If canning is your thing, make homemade pickles and add a little onion for a twist. And for standard green salads, there’s no better dressing than homemade ranch with garden cukes.
If you have some of your ranch dressing left over, use it as a dip for fresh, raw bites of zucchini. This squash is as versatile as they come. It’s tasty straight from the vine, steamed, sautéed, roasted, or grilled. Invest in a spiralizer and you can even make zucchini pasta to go with your fresh tomato sauce. The possibilities are endless.
If you’re someone who wants a garden but is overwhelmed by all the options, consider taking this (or another similar) gardening shortcut. Remember, when we grow things that thrive in our backyards and that we love to eat, we’ve struck the perfect balance. And, hey, if you grow more juicy tomatoes than you can eat, I’m sure your neighbor wouldn’t mind taking them off your hands.
Cover Image: Matt Stratton