Maybe this year instead of getting dad another gadget or a tie he doesn't wear, you can give him the gift of time spent together building and planting. If your dad is anything like the dads around here at Bootstrap Farmer, he takes pride in his master grilling skills. And nothing improves the flavor of hot off the grill food like garden fresh herbs and vine ripe tomatoes.
What to Plant for a Grilling Garden
Depending on the space you have to work with you could plant all of the things listed below or just a few of dad’s favorites.
Annual herbs and vegetables do very well planted together because they have similar water and fertility needs. For more perennial herbs like rosemary and sage you will want to pair them with other plants that have low water and soil fertility needs.
All of the vegetables listed here below come in myriad varieties from small, bushy container types to larger vining sizes. If you are using 7 gallon grow bags choose vegetables that thrive in containers like patio hybrids and dwarf bush types. A 25 gallon bag can support a few full-sized tomato plants along with some companion basil or parsley. If you have the space to put in a few 200 gallon bags you can grow multiple varieties of full sized vining plants as long as you install some plant supports like tomato cages or vertical trellis netting.
The best herbs to have on hand for grilling and barbequing
Annual herbs-These herbs will grow large and produce readily all season long. You may have more than enough to hang and dry for winter use. As an added bonus many produce edible flowers and seeds that are great for adding intense flavor once they have bolted.
Basil- From traditional genovese for pesto to specialty types like cinnamon or lemon basil for out of this world dressings, basil is one of the most popular summer seasonings and a must have herb for the grilling garden.
Green onions - Also known as bunching onions these grow faster and smaller than bulbing onions. They can be harvested by pulling up the entire plant or cut at the soil surface and allowed to regrow over and over. Washed and grilled with a little oil or chopped and sprinkled on raw they add onion flavor without nearly as many tears.
Chives - A mild cousin to the bunching onion, chives are used fresh or dried to add oniony spice to any dish just before serving. Chives can be perennial in mild climates and produce lovely edible purple flowers with mild onion flavor.
Parsley - All parts of this versatile herb are edible. The leaves are used to add flavor and color to many a dish. The stems, flowers and immature seeds can be chopped and added to marinades. Of use for many a dad, dried mature parsley seeds have long been used to prevent flatulence.
Cilantro - Used in many cuisines from around the world and often sprinkled on a dish just before serving. Cilantro seeds are known as coriander and have a distinctly different flavor than the leaves. Fresh green coriander seeds are a delightful surprise if you have never tasted them.
Dill - Great for making quick pickles and adding a slight licorice note to cocktails.
Oregano - (This one grows fast enough to be an annual and is also perennial in mild areas) Fresh oregano is much stronger and spicier than the dried form of the herb most people are used to adding to pasta sauces.
Perennial herbs - These herbs will grow well in grow bags all year round in mild winter climates. For colder weather areas you can bring them under protection during hard freezes and put them back outside as soon as the weather warms a bit in the spring. Perennial herbs can be tricky to start from seed so we recommend picking up a few nice starts from your local nursery.
Rosemary - This versatile herb can be chopped and added to marinades and dressings. The older branches also make fantastic skewers for cooking lamb. In Mediterranean climates rosemary bushes can grow quite large. (One of our Bootstrap Farmer families has a 6 foot tall one in the front yard that stands in for a christmas tree.)
Sage - A must have for pork and poultry dishes. One of our favorite ways to finish a whole grilled chicken is to add a covering of butter dipped sage leaves to the whole surface about 15 minutes before the end of cooking time.
Thyme - A traditional and delicious herb for everything from chicken to lamb, thyme comes in many different colors, flavors and growth patterns. Some will grow up to 12 inches tall in a season while others make a nice ground cover that will fill in around taller perennials.
Garlic chives - A flat leafed cousin of traditional chives these will grow from seed to bulb in their first year. If the bulb is left to regrow they will continue to produce tasty garlic flavored greens year after year. The White flower heads that appear in the second year of growth are also tasty.
Best Homegrown Vegetables for Grilling
These are some of our favorite veggies and fruits for grilling, along with the companion plants that can be grown in the same containers for beneficial relationships.
Corn can be grown in grow bags but they are a thirsty plant so plan on using at least the 50 gallon size.
Delicata squash, this delicious “winter” variety is mature at around the size of a large pickling cucumber. They can be grown up a trellis and are perfect for cooking on the grill as everything from the thin skin to the seeds can be eaten.
Peppers whether the sweet bell or hot can be grown on their own or paired with tomatoes. Peppers like warm weather so make sure all danger of frost has passed in your area before you plant them outside.
Onions, both bulbing types and green, are great for grilling with just a brush of oil or for use in kabobs.
Potatoes can be grown to great success in a 7 gallon grow bag. You can reach into the soil and collect baby potatoes for a salad or wait until the entire crop is ready and empty the whole bag for easy harvesting.
Summer Squash, zucchini, crooked neckor patty pan are all great choices for grilling.
Best for fresh eating alongside that perfectly grilled steak or burger
Greens can go far beyond the traditional lettuce heads. For repeated harvests of baby greens to accompany your grilling meals you can plant a variety to harvest small leaves that will keep growing all summer long. Greens like a little shade in the heat of summer so interplanting them with a taller crop can help make the most out of your space. Try a mix of leaf lettuce types, or for a spicy side try mixing a few mustard varieties with collard greens to be harvested while small. Bok choi and its cousin pak choi come in small heading varieties that are ready to grill whole in as little as 30-40 days.
Herbs, whether mixed into a marinade, sprinkled fresh chopped just before serving, or mixed into a pat of compound butter slowly melting across that steak, take all your flavors up in a big way.
Cucumbers sliced fresh to add crunch to your plate or quick pickled on a burger are one of the joys of a summer garden.
Tomatoes cannot be beat for fresh from the vine eating. Larger slicing varieties are fantastic on burgers or grilled chicken sandwiches. If you live in an area with cooler nights or a short growing season consider planting smaller roma style tomatoes or cherry varieties for faster ripening that is less dependent on summer heat.
Pole Beans are great for climbing up a trellis or planted alongside corn adding visual interest and extra produce without taking up much space. They can be made into a simple side dish with a little vinaigrette.
Setting Up a Grilling Garden in a Small Space
Container gardening is a great way to start growing quickly or to grow in an area with poor soil. If the plan is to build raised beds or prepare new ground, grow bags provide a great starting point for a grilling garden. They can be managed easily and provide the perfect environment for many of the favorite grilling vegetable varieties to thrive. For those of you in drought prone areas check out our article on How to Keep Outdoor Plants Alive in a Drought.
Using Grow Bags for a Grilling Garden
Grow bags are fabric containers that provide excellent conditions for many plants. They are extra breathable, provide optimal drainage, and naturally encourage root pruning. Unlike plastic containers, grow bags do not put your plants at risk of getting too hot. They have become a very popular gardening tool and are especially great for peppers and tomatoes. Want to learn a little more about grow bags and the different sizes? Check out Grow Bags vs. Plastic Pots- Plastic Containers.
These handy garden tools can be used to supplement existing garden beds or to create a container garden in any space no matter what size and shape you have to work with. Individual plants can be grown in small containers while larger containers can be little companion gardens all to themselves. If you have limited space growing multiple varieties in the same container is the best way to get the most out of your space.
For an easy and cost effective way to fill your grow bags check out this article on Growing Blueberries in Grow Bags for an easy recipe and instructions for filling bags.
Try one of these simple companion planting plans.
7 gallon grow bag planting plan
One cherry tomato, one hot pepper and a few cilantro plants can be packed into one of these for salsa in a bag. Just be sure to feed your plants properly, mix in an all purpose granulated feed when you fill the bag. Adding a liquid feed to your watering regime once the plants start to flower will ensure they keep producing for you all season.
10 gallon grow bag planting plan
The 10 gallon size is great for planting perennial herbs like rosemary and sage. The size gives them room to grow while still being portable enough to move under protection when the weather turns harsh in the fall. You can always throw in a few green onions or annual herbs as companions while the slower growing herbs take their time getting big.
25 gallon grow bag planting plan
We love using this size to grow the ingredients for the perfect caprese salad. Plant 2-3 different tomato varieties and a few genovese basil plants in one bag. In just a few months you will have your fresh ingredients, just add mozzarella.
50 gallon grow bag planting plan
The deeper and wider size of these makes them perfect for small plantings of corn. You will need a few in a row to ensure good pollination as corn is wind pollinated. Adding a cucumber plant or delicata squash will fill in the ground space and help shade the soil.
100 gallon grow bag planting plan
These shallow garden bed sized bags are perfect for growing shallow rooted crops like lettuces and greens for continuous harvests. Planting bulbing onions or green onions around the edges will confuse pests and help protect your greens. Feel free to throw in a few marigolds to deter snails and add colorful petals to your salads.
200 gallon grow bag planting plan
Being 4 feet across and 2 feet deep makes these large bags the perfect self contained raised bed. Using one for a traditional native american three sisters planting is gorgeous and functional. Planting corn, pole beans and squash together creates an environment that pulls the best from each plant. The corn will act as a climbing structure for your green beans while the big squash leaves will shade the soil surface to prevent water loss. The beans help fix nitrogen in the soil and assist the corn with nutrient uptake.
Supplies you will need to build a container garden
Containers of varying sizes. Using a variety of shapes and sizes gives you versatility in planting and rotating crops.
Soil, for small containers use potting soil. For larger grow bags or beds soil labeled as “raised bed” soil is better.
Plant starts for perennials, herbs and things like peppers and tomatoes that are best started well before June.
Seeds for crops that do well direct planted like corn, greens, cucumbers and pole beans.
Mulch for deterring weeds and making the most of your irrigation. Wood chips, large flake shavings, or seed free straw are all good choices.
Plant supports for vining crops. Either premade options like tomato cages or a trellis system designed for your space.
Irrigation plan and supplies. This can be as low tech as making sure you have a hose long enough to reach your plants or add a customizable drip system like the one outlined below.
How to Irrigate Your Grilling Garden
Get Dad an irrigation kit like this one, that can be customized for his ever expanding grilling garden space with the inclusion of a larger supply line or the combining of additional kits. What is really great about this irrigation kit is that it isn’t made with a bunch of odd sizes, this kit can be used with your standard sizing available at any local hardware store.
Easy garden hacks for small spaces
Place your containers a few feet apart and stretch trellis netting between them for more vertical growing space.
If you want to go really tall, check out our series on Growing Tomatoes. The technique of using roller hooks and vine clips can be used to string your vining crops high enough to create shade.
Place a number of smaller pots on steps or shelves for ease of harvesting.
If growing on a deck or patio, keep taller plants towards the back and shorter things like greens to the front for easier access.
Place strong herbs and onions along the edges to deter pests from snails all the way up through deer.
Keep seeds on hand so you can pop a new plant in anytime you make space by harvesting.
Pest Protection for the Grilling Garden
An easy way to add pest protection to your container or grow bag garden is to bend small hoops for insect netting to tent over the bags for full coverage. Then use clamps to clip the netting. Protect your greens and young fruit from biting, sap sucking insects like aphids and thrips. Frost blankets can also be used to protect young seedlings especially early in the season.
Be sure to remove your frost blanket or insect netting once the plants begin to flower. Most fruiting crops like tomatoes rely on insect pollination. The only exception being self pollinating hybrid types often sold under the term “greenhouse variety”.
Companion planting for pest protection
Planting two or more crops side by side will help to confuse pests and draw in beneficial insects. The small flowers produced by many herbs are great for bringing in many tiny native parasitic wasps whose larvae do well to control caterpillars and other soft bodied pests like aphids.
Cilantro, parsley, dill and thyme are all wonderful herbs for attracting beneficial insects. These tiny wasps and bees rarely sting and can be quite beautiful flitting about with the butterflies that will be drawn to your flowering plants. Parsley planted alongside tomatoes and cilantro in between pepper plants will encourage both crops to be more hearty and productive.
What to Grill with Garden Produce
There are innumerable ways to enjoy your fresh from the garden produce. Below are just a few of our favorites for outstanding summer meals to make the most from your new grilling garden. .
Parsley and oregano chimichurri sauce.
This traditional Argentinian sauce is often served alongside grilled skirt steak. Made with plenty of fresh chopped herbs, a little vinegar, and olive oil it is fantastic for summer meals.
Rosemary skewered lamb kabobs.
Using freshly picked woody stems from rosemary plants as skewers imparts a delicious herbal note to grilled meats and vegetables. Simply strip the leaves from the stems and soak them in water for 30 minutes or so before using.
Grilled summer squash with herb vinaigrette
For the best grilled summer squash, harvest while still small before seeds have started to mature. Slice in half lengthwise and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Allow the salt to draw out excess water for 15 minutes or so before brushing with oil and slapping on a hot grill. Serve with quick dressing of equal parts olive oil, mild vinegar and fresh chopped herbs.
Quick pickled cucumbers
Making your own fresh pickles is simple and tasty. Slice the cucumbers to your desired size and shape. Sprinkle liberally with salt and allow to sit for 15-30 minutes. Rinse, pat dry, and then toss with chopped dill, a little rice wine vinegar and salt to taste. For an added kick mix in a little minced garlic or chopped green onion.
Basil pesto with garlic chives
Using chives instead of the traditional raw garlic will produce a milder pesto that allows the flavor of your fresh picked basil to shine.
Grilled hot peppers with fresh coriander berry cheese
Think of these as the heart healthy version of jalapeño poppers. When your cilantro has gone to flower and begun to produce tiny green seeds, pick as many as you can and mix with a mild soft cheese like chevre or cream cheese. A quarter cup of green unripe seeds and flowers to a cup of cheese with a little salt is all you need to stuff grilled peppers.
Inspired by the food shortages during the early days of covid, and the memories of his Grandmother’s front yard garden, urban farmer Milan Turner started out on a concrete patio growing in containers and fabric grow bags. Read about some of his earliest lessons he learned since starting a garden.