Growing and Processing Fruits and Vegetables

Food for thought: why you should grow your own food; how to find and choose plants, shrubs, trees, and seeds; how to keep your garden healthy; and when to harvest!

Growing your own food is easy, delicious, nutritious and budget-friendly. Nothing tastes as good as produce fresh from the garden and tasty fruits and nuts from shrubs and trees.

You can preserve your harvest and prolong your enjoyment. Many foods prepared with recipes passed down in your family, found in cookbooks, or on the internet can be safely stored through various preservation methods and keep you well-fed throughout the year.

You can sell your excess! Make your garden make money for you. Fresh local produce is in demand - from neighbors, to local farmers markets, to local restaurants and even local grocery stores.

If you’re in a position to donate the food you grow to those who need it, awesome! Here are some places that will help you get your produce to others:

How much money could your garden be worth? The National Gardening Association estimated in 2016 that a garden grows a half pound of vegetables per square foot, so a well-maintained 600-square-foot garden (that’s about four Des Moines Community garden beds!) can grow upwards of $600 worth of produce a year. And food prices are rising, so the returns will only become more meaningful.

Read on for more information!

Getting Started Back to Top

Des Moines is in USDA Growing Zone 5. Our growing season is generally May 15 to October 15 (last frost date to first frost date). As you gain more experience with gardening and strategies you’ll find the possibilities are inspiring!

Harvest to Table has a guide on how many of each plant you’ll need to plant to feed your family. This will help you plan your garden. View the crop yield guide

The National Gardening Association creates a calendar to help you know when to plant each type of crop. Just enter your zip code! View the garden planting calendar

You can buy seeds and plants from a variety of places including hobbyist-neighbors, local nurseries, grocery stores, home improvement centers - and online, of course. Let your requirements (non-GMO, organic, newest release, highest rated for flavor, etc.) lead the way in your search for plants and seeds! Below are some resources to get you started.

Name Description Website
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (non-GMO, some organic, rare varieties)
Birds and Bees Urban Farm (local nonprofit - Des Moines, non-GMO)
High Mowing Seed (non-GMO, organic)
Piney Ridge Nursery (local - Johnston location)
Refining Fire Chiles (specific to peppers, rare varieties)
Seed Savers Exchange (Iowa-based nonprofit - non-GMO, some organic, rare varieties)


Current Regulations Back to Top

There are some limitations on how close you can plant to fire hydrants or how tall your plants can be on parking strips — but Des Moines has pretty fantastic guidelines for folks interested in growing food! You can plant a garden in your front yard and even on the parking strips (area between the sidewalk and street) in front of your house! Dive into the City Ordinances to understand what is allowed.

Last, but not least — protect your local pollinators! Call the Mosquito Hotline at (515) 248-6099 to be added to the spray "shut-off" list. This protects native bees and human-managed honey bees from harmful exposure. It can also increase your harvest because the bees live and love to help you! Get to know your neighbors. Ask them to call the hotline and add their houses to the no-spray list, and make your neighborhood a safe place for pollinators!

Examples and Learning Resources Back to Top

Opportunities Back to Top

Find information, workshops, and other opportunities through these entities that focus on helping you learn to grow food:

Birds and Bees Urban Farm — Local nonprofit in Des Moines providing workshops and classes, on-site consultation, general info on website and social media pages

Facebook Groups — You can find helpful information, as well as some “less informed” information on these community pages. Use advice at your own discretion.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach — Research-based information and resources to educate Iowa’s farmers, producers and agribusinesses.

Seed Savers Exchange — Iowa-based nonprofit with multitudes of guides for starting and planting seeds, saving seeds, and more.

FAQ Back to Top

Where can I grow food?

Depending on your situation, think about growing food in more spaces than just a backyard. First, assess your space for sun exposure, soil quality, and any City ordinances that pertain.