From Garden to Grill

Want to put more thrill on your grill? Grow the ingredients yourself.

Gardening instills a sense of confidence and accomplishment—plus, when done right it can save you some cash! Here are some of our top picks for veggies you can plant today and harvest in time for late-summer gatherings.

Corn

First on the menu is corn. Not only does it belong to the same family, Poaceae, as grass (cool, huh?), but also it’s pretty key to any good grill session and can be prepared many ways.

 

How to Grow It

As a warm-season crop, corn should not be planted until the threat of frost has passed. If space allows, prepare a square-shaped garden instead of long rows to improve cross-pollination between stalks. (Hint: Good pollination is what you need to get those plump, juicy kernels!) Plant seeds about 1” deep and 3–4” inches apart; once they’re up, thin them to about 1 foot apart so you don’t end up with small, poorly developed ears. It’s also possible to transplant corn, and plants should moved outside within 10–14 days of seeding. Water as needed to avoid wilting, paying special attention to keep the plant hydrated while kernels are forming.

 

When to Harvest

You’ll know your corn is almost ready when you see a tassel (technically the male flower) grow on top of the stalk. After about 3 weeks you can harvest, ideally in the early morning or evening. Cook the corn as soon as possible, or store it in the fridge until mealtime, since flavor and nutrients degrade pretty rapidly at high temperatures.

 

How to Prepare It

Corn is easy to grill because its husks can contain seasonings—and mess! 

  1. Carefully open the husks and place a bit of butter or oil inside.
  2. Sprinkle on spices like salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder.
  3. Pull the husks back up (this helps steam the kernels).
  4. Pop it on the grill for about 10 minutes. Easy peasy!

 

Sunday ProTip: If your corn is past its prime, you can prepare creamed corn instead of grilling it.

Squash

Next up is summer squash: a skewer staple and thus a great choice for “food on a stick” connoisseurs. From patty pan to zucchini, there are a variety of cultivars meant to be enjoyed while the skin is still soft and thin—no need to peel! (Don’t confuse these with fall/winter squash, which you’ll definitely want to peel.)

 

How to Grow It

You’ll want to give yourself plenty of room to grow this one, because squash are prolific producers that can quickly feed a whole family (and a whole neighborhood, for that matter). Work some organic matter into your soil and plant after the threat of frost has passed. Create little hills in each row, about 18–48” apart, and place 5 or 6 seeds in each one. When the plants come up, thin them out to about 3 plants per hill by removing the least-developed seedlings, which allows more space for the strongest ones.

 

When to Harvest

Summer squash is edible as soon as the skin is glossy and soft. Not sure? Try piercing it with your fingernail! Zucchini and yellow squash will be about 6–8” long at maturity, and scalloped varieties will be about 3–6” in diameter. Cut (don’t pull!) squash from the vine regularly so the plant will keep producing.

 

How to Prepare It

We’ve already mentioned we love squash on a stick, but it also makes a great side dish! Here’s one of our faves:

 

  1. Slice your squash lengthwise to about  ¼” thickness; for a meatier, less tender bite, you can slice it a little thicker.
  2. Brush both sides with some olive oil and season generously with salt & pepper. (Hint: Don’t do this until just before you put it on the grill! Squash is so fleshy that it will absorb excess oil if left on too long.)
  3. Grill for about 4 minutes per side. Cooking only till tender will help retain the most vitamin content.
  4. Top with your garnishes of choice for flavor and texture. We love a squeeze of lemon; fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, and basil; crumbled cheeses like feta or cotija; and something crunchy like roasted sunflower seeds or pine nuts.
  5. Serve immediately.

Eggplant

Eggplant is healthy, delicious, and versatile—the trifecta of summer grilling. In addition to starring in some mouth-watering side dishes, it can be grilled patty-style and served as a vegan or vegetarian replacement for traditional burgers.

 

How to Grow It

Eggplant can be sown directly or transplanted outdoors, after the threat of frost has passed. Space them 2–3 feet apart and water consistently, about an inch per week.

 

When to Harvest

One benefit of including eggplant in your menu is that you have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to harvest timing! You can pick the fruit when they are anywhere from one-third to full size, before the skin gets dull and the seeds become hard. If you’re not sure, try pressing the side of the fruit with your fingernail and if the indentation holds, it’s ripe! 

 

Sunday ProTip: Use gloves when cutting off ripe plants, because the stems have spines. Handle gently to prevent bruising.

 

How to Prepare It

There are a lot of ways to love eggplant, but for summer grilling you can’t beat a burger. 

  1. Slice your eggplant into rounds, about ½” thick.
  2. Season all over with salt and pepper, then grease your grill pan with olive oil.
  3. Cook for 5–6 minutes per side

Place cooked eggplant on a toasted bun and dress it as you please. You can always keep it simple with things like lettuce and tomato, but we love this Mediterranean twist that includes pesto and grilled halloumi cheese!

Bell Pepper

Bell peppers are bold in both color and flavor, and they’re especially enticing with grill marks. Fun fact: The reason they’re not spicy like some other nightshades is that they lack capsaicin, the chemical compound that gives peppers their heat.

 

How to Grow It

Peppers have a pretty long growing season, so unless you started seeds in early spring, it’s best to buy transplants from a local nursery. You can plant them outside after the danger of frost has passed, but harden them off for 10 days or so as they’re particularly sensitive to transplant shock. Space them 18–24” apart and provide deep waterings, about 1–2” a week. Dry conditions (wilting) will result in bitter peppers!

 

Sunday ProTip: Bell peppers are a great companion plant to corn, so if you’re growing that as well, plant them close together.

 

When to Harvest

You can expect to harvest your first peppers after 8–10 weeks, and if you pick them gradually as they mature, you’ll get a higher yield. They should be shiny, firm, and dark green, though they’ll eventually turn red if left on the plant. Use them within 3–5 days of harvesting.

 

How to Prepare It

Sweet, crunchy bell peppers can be eaten raw, but we’re here to get grilling! These balsamic marinated peppers will be a big hit at your next backyard party. Growing your own herbs? This recipe will give you the chance to mix in some fresh thyme.

 

  1. Slice your peppers into thin strips. 
  2. Place in a bowl and toss with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  3. Grill peppers 4-5 minutes.
  4. While the peppers cook, make a savory marinade featuring balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, garlic, and fresh thyme.
  5. When peppers are done, immediately toss them in the bowl with your marinade and let sit for about 15 minutes. 
  6. Sprinkle a bit of fresh thyme for garnish and serve!

Tomato

Once they’re established, tomatoes can be very productive—and very rewarding. Most gardeners will tell you there’s simply nothing from a grocery store that compares to a fresh-picked tomato from your yard. Visit your local nursery or extension office to learn which of the thousands of cultivars will grow best in your area.

 

How to Grow It

Tomatoes aren’t really a “set it and forget it” plant, so be prepared to give them plenty of attention. But don’t worry, one whiff of those sweet, sweet stalks and you’ll be eager to spend time in the garden! Tomatoes are quite sensitive to weather extremes, so don’t transplant them until all danger of frost has passed, and if your temps are regularly above 90 degrees, consider using shade cloth. Unsupported plants should be spaced 4–5 feet apart, but you can save space and plant closer together by staking or caging your tomatoes. (Hint: Add stakes or cages shortly after transplanting to minimize root damage.)

 

When to Harvest

Tomatoes can take 60–100 days to reach maturity. Pick them at full color and firmness to get the best-quality fruit (yes, fruit, if you ask a botanist—but vegetable according to the USDA and, believe it or not, the U.S. Supreme Court). If you harvest early, when they’re pink, you can let them ripen at room temperature.

 

How to Prepare It

You can’t go wrong with raw tomatoes—sliced thin on top of a burger, or served on a skewer with some mozzarella and basil. But they’re also fun to grill, and any food that functions as its own serving vessel is a win in our book. Enjoy this juicy, savory side dish!

 

  1. Cut tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds and pulp.
  2. Add the pulp to a bowl and mix in some olive oil, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, and sliced bay leaf (or any fresh herb of your choice). Set aside.
  3. Sprinkle the seeded tomato halves with some salt and olive oil, then grill cut sides down for about 10 minutes.
  4. Flip tomatoes and spoon in the pulp mixture, then sprinkle a bit of sugar on top.
  5. Cook for a few minutes more, cut sides up, until they’re charred to your liking. Enjoy!

Cited Sources

Growing Sweet Corn. Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. 

Growing Sweet Corn. University of New Hampshire Extension.

Can a Vegetable Garden Save You Money? Iowa State University Extension.

Harvesting and Storing Home Garden Vegetables. University of Minnesota Extension.

Choosing a Smart Site for Your Vegetable Garden. Michigan State University Extension.

Tomato Facts. USDA Agricultural Research Service.