Oh, summer, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways… the smell of freshly cut grass, the birds singing in the morning, the heat on your face. It may feel like a never-ending loop of winter now, but warmer months are just around the corner. And nothing says summer like the smoky aroma of a barbecue.
It’s a locavore age (that’s fancy speak for eating local), with people turning to nature for everything from face wash and moisturizer to goat’s milk and honey. And as consumer habits shift back to greener pastures, how much more local can you get than your own backyard vegetable garden? One of our favorite things about summer is the lighter, fresher fare. So before we fire up the grill, we’re planning from the roots up.
Inspired by our mouthwatering menu, here are our tips for what to plant this spring. Check back after the harvest when we post the recipes and cooking tips.
KABOBS ON THE GRILL
Cilantro lime chicken with sweet carnival bell peppers and zucchini
Fresh, Big Boy tomatoes stuffed with long grain wild rice, grilled zucchini and roasted bell peppers topped with melted mozzarella
CUCUMBER MINT SALSA
Cucumbers, mint, cilantro, red onion, lime juice, and jalapeño peppers — served in lettuce cups.
MINI TOMATO, MOZZARELLA, PESTO PANINIS
Big Boy tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil pesto on focaccia bread
PROSCIUTTO AND ARUGULA WRAPPED PEARS
Pears wrapped in prosciutto and fresh arugula drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice
White wine, sparkling white grape juice, orange liqueur, cucumber, nectarine, basil
LIME BASIL GIN ICE POPS
Fresh squeezed lime juice, basil leaves, sugar, water, salt and gin
WHAT TO PLANT:
Cilantro seeds, or coriander, are encased in hard, round husks. Prior to planting, gently crush the husk and soak the seeds in water for 24 to 48 hours. Cilantro can be started indoors or outdoors, but indoor plants will need to be transplanted later on.
Cilantro does not like hot weather. So plant in a place that gets early morning or late afternoon sun, but that’s shaded during the hottest part of the day. Put the seeds in loose, well-drained soil, covering with a 1/2” layer.
When cilantro grows to be at least 2” tall, thin them out to be 4 to 6” apart. Cilantro is a short-lived herb, so prune frequently to prolong harvest time. Harvest as needed and plant new seeds every four weeks for a steady supply.
Sweet Carnival Bell Peppers
For a variety of types and colors, plant a packet of Burpee’s Mixed Sweet Carnival Pepper seeds, usually ready to harvest in about 60-75 days. Each packet will produce California Wonder, Diamond, Golden California Wonder, Orange Sun and Purple Beauty peppers.
Pepper roots don’t like to be disturbed, so plant seeds indoors under direct sunlight in peat pots (3 seeds to a pot) to get a head start. Maintain the soil temperature at 75 degrees and keep seedlings moist. When seedlings are 4 to 6” tall, they’re ready to be transplanted outdoors.
This summer squash can be used in a number of recipes and is a favorite among gardeners because it can produce such a large harvest. You can usually get 15 or more fruits per vine, so three or four plants is usually enough for a family.
Start zucchini seeds indoors about two weeks before your last frost. Plant an inch below the surface in small, deep pots. Prepare your soil outdoors for transplant by digging thoroughly at least 6 inches deep so it’s loose. Mix in compost to help nourish your plants.
After about a week, dig holes deep enough to set your seedlings outdoors without having to fold longer roots. Plant in full sun and water your zucchini frequently, taking care to keep water off the leaves. After about 60 days, your fruit will be ready for harvest. The best flavor comes with smaller fruit, so pick when they’re 6 to 10 inches long.
Herbs like basil are easy and economical to grow yourself and add a punch of flavor to a variety of summer dishes.
Buy your seedlings from a garden store instead of a supermarket. Plant your herbs in potting soil in containers with drainage holes. Basil plants need a soil 5 to 6 hours of full sun each day, so place indoors on a window sill in the sunniest corner of your home.
Water often and just enough for it to start trickling out the bottom. Basil flourishes quickly, so trim often before they flower.
While mint is easy to grow, its roots can become incredibly invasive if you’re not careful. The best way to make sure your herb stays contained is to plant it in a 12- to 16-inch-wide container. Place it on your patio where it’ll receive morning sun and partial afternoon shade.
Mint will adjust to most soil types, but thrives in moist, well-drained soil that’s been enriched with compost. As mint begins to germinate, harvest the sprigs just before the plant flowers. Remove flower buds as they appear and pinch back stems to encourage bushier growth. Trim often to keep your plant looking attractive, otherwise it can get unruly. Use fresh leaves right away or freeze them to retain their bright color.
Cucumber plants take about 45 to 65 days to harvest, so plant directly outdoors when the soil is warm and the threat of frost has passed.
Plant in full sun in rich topsoil prepared with plenty of compost. Cucumber fruits need large amounts of water; mulching can help reduce stress in hot weather. Fertilize often with nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer. Check the undersides of leaves for cucumber beetles, which can cause problems. If found, handpick and dispose.
Harvest when fruits are young and tender, before seeds develop. Cucumber plants are extremely fruitful, so harvest daily once production begins.
Big Boy Tomatoes
Ideally, tomatoes should be planted from seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. If that mark has passed for you, you can purchase hardened off starters from your local nursery.
Trim the bottommost leaves and plant your tomatoes in compost-prepared soil where they’ll get a full day of direct sunlight. Transplant on a cloudy day or toward the evening to avoid seedling shock and sun scorch. Tomatoes need air flow, so space your plants 2 feet apart, leaving 3-4 feet between rows.
Water heavily immediately after transplanting, then hydrate regularly when dry, taking care not to overwater to avoid disease. Use a cultivator to dig a water mote around the plant to keep the surrounding soil from getting too muddy. Set support structures like cages or stakes for your tomatoes to climb.
Let tomatoes grow as long as possible until they’re firm and very red. Big Boys will usually take about 75 days to harvest. If fruit falls off on its own, store stem up in a paper bag in a cool place.
Typically grown from seed, arugula likes cool temperatures, a fair amount of sun and plenty of moisture. Plant in early spring when soil temperatures are between 40 and 65 degrees.
Use a garden fork to work high-nitrogen fertilizer into the top 5”or 6” of your soil. Use pebbles to partition the garden bed into small sections and scatter your seeds within each section. Cover seeds with 1/4” fine garden soil and gently water them, keeping the soil moist until germination.
In about a week, the seeds will start to germinate. When they’re an inch tall, thin them out so the plants are spaced 3 to 4” apart. If your garden bed isn’t in an area that gets much shade, use shade tents to protect arugula from hot, direct sunlight.
Typically ready to harvest 35 to 45 days after sowing, simply pull off the outer leaves near the base of the plant, leaving the inner leaves to continue to grow.