Bountiful Memories Abound in a Backyard Garden

Market family photoGuest Blog Post by Nicole Jonas, Red Granite Farm

Backyard gardening has really taken off in recent years. More and more people are recognizing the health benefits of gardening. Some take satisfaction in growing their own fruits and vegetables.

Raising your own food can be the most fulfilling – and the most stressful activity – all at the same time. Often times we’re quick to dwell on our gardening fails rather than our successes. We read all about the latest garden trends. Gardening magazines and Pinterest fill our minds with images of beautiful containers of flowers or rows upon (clean, weed-free) rows of garden vegetables.

No matter how tall the weeds get or how little produce you get to eat from the plot of land you toiled over, think of small successes as great victories. Oftentimes these victories are not measured in pounds of food, but rather in the memories that were made throughout the journey.

Some of my family’s best memories, including some “laugh out loud moments,” have resulted when everything didn’t go according to plan. As the proud mom of three active kids, I’ve learned that perfection is not necessary. Teaching them the importance of implementing good agricultural practices and caring for the land while we grow some really great produce for ourselves and for our customers is some of the most gratifying work they will ever do.

Here are some helpful hints that I’m sharing, so you can have fun gardening as a family:

  1. Let everyone be involved in the planning process. Everyone who eats in your house will want to try and grow something different, and finding a way to meet everyone’s needs will give everyone a vested interest in the success of the garden. Start with the vegetable everyone enjoys, say a row of green beans, and plan additional garden spaces around that. Also keep in mind that some plants, like tomatoes, bear much fruit. You may only need two tomato plants unless you plan to can spaghetti sauce.
  2. Plan to plant only what can be consumed or donated. Making a garden larger than you can maintain will have you frustrated before you take that first bite of a ripe tomato. No matter how much prep work you do, weeding and watering are keys to success. When selecting what to grow, keep it simple and think about how different plants produce.  Are they a “one harvest and done” crop such as radishes, sweet corn or melons? Or, will the plants continually produce over a longer period of time like zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes? If you end up having so much success that you can’t consume all you have produced, donate to local shelters or food pantries that accept garden produce.
  3. Plan your garden around busy sports seasons and family vacations. Don’t plant things that will need extra attention for times of the summer when you don’t have the time to devote to the garden. At our house, that means no cherry trees because June is just too busy to deal with harvesting cherries. Sweet corn is another crop with a narrow window for peak freshness. Don’t plant it to be ready to harvest when you have a family vacation planned.
  4. Avoid crops that are highly susceptible to pests and diseases. And if you are limited on garden space, avoid those that take up a lot of room. Vine crops, like squash and cucumbers, need lots of room to grow.
  5. Vegetable gardening doesn’t have to be limited to a rectangle in your back yard. Incorporate veggies into your home landscape. Patio planters with smaller vegetables and herbs can be a great way to grow your own food, too!
  6. Consider how much time you want to spend gardening and who can help you as you determine how large to make your garden. Kids are more likely to help if they enjoy eating what’s been planted, so plan accordingly. Also take into consideration how the product is consumed. Can it just be quickly washed, cut and enjoyed? Or, does it have to be made into something much more complex to be enjoyed? When planting something that can produce a lot, such as zucchini, make sure you are prepared with lots of different recipes so you can enjoy it many different ways.
  7. When all else fails, shop your local farmers market for produce that’s seasonally available from a local source. Click here for an online Iowa farmer’s market directory. If you’re up for a day trip, click here for the top farmer’s markets across the state.

Steve and Nicole Jonas own Red Granite Farm in rural Boone County.  Along with their three children, they raise a flock of laying hens and grow three acres of vegetables for sale at the Ames Main Street Farmer’s Market. Their garden center, which is open from May through October, includes hardy perennials, annuals, succulents, shrubs and vines. You can connect with them via Facebook, Instagram or visit their website for more information.

Brine for Cucumbers and Onions


2 cups vinegar

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 1/2 T Salt

2 tsp pepper


Bring to a boil and then let cool before storing in mason jar in the fridge.  When ready to prepare, just cut desired amount of cucumber and onions and pour enough brine over them to coat them.  Soak 15 mins, stirring occasionally, and then drain.  Stir in Sour Cream if desired.

Cook’s Tip: I like that you make it ahead of time and store it in a mason jar in the fridge.  Then you can use as needed, based on how many cucumbers and onions you want to cut up. Makes for a quick and easy fresh summer salad!