For all sorts of great reasons, there is a lot of emphasis on eating and buying food locally. How local can you get? Looking to our own backyards for an opportunity to grow some of our favorite herbs, fruits, and vegetables has become a “growing” trend. Having a home garden can be an affordable way to add more healthful foods to your summer dishes. It can also be a fun way to get the whole family involved in a project that everyone will benefit from. No need to be a master gardener– many summer favorites are easy to grow! With soil, sun, and water you can grow almost anything.
Choosing and Setting Up a Garden Area
Take a look at your yard and decide how big an area you would like to dedicate to your edible garden. Most fruits and vegetables need six to eight hours of sunlight. Make sure your chosen area isn’t too shaded by trees, sheds, or garages. Some edibles need to be spaced out for room to grow such as corn, melons, and pumpkins. If you are planning on growing these make sure you will have adequate space; if not, don’t worry, there are plenty of plants that grow well in small spaces! For soil, try to buy organic or use compost. Since this food is meant to be eaten, it is a good idea to stay away from the yucky chemicals found in traditional soils. Before planting seeds, aerate your garden to a twelve-inch depth. This will allow water, air, and vital nutrients to be delivered to the roots of the plants. If you do not have room for a garden, using pots works well for herbs, peas, tomatoes, and strawberries. Just make sure that your planters have drainage holes; if not, layer rocks at the bottom.
What to Grow?
Think about what foods your family eats when planning your garden. Many times these plants yield a lot and you want to make sure your bounty gets eaten! As a general rule of (green) thumb, food that tastes good together, grows well together. For example, the summer classic basil and tomatoes are excellent garden companions. Other great gardening friends are kale, Swiss chard, and onions; or cucumbers, melons, and squash. Some edible plants are easier to maintain for the home gardener than others and most of us are busy, so keep things simple and fun in your garden. Some of the easiest foods to grow are any variety of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, melons, zucchini, strawberries, leaf lettuce, radishes, and snow peas. With just a few of these, you are on your way to a fresh summer meal!
Maintaining Your Edible Garden
After you seeds are planted and have grown in little, it is time to pull up some of the plants that may have grown too close together (it is hard to pull these baby plants, but good for the garden in the long run!) If plants are too crowed they are more likely to succumb to disease, mildew, and fungus. Giving your plants room to grow will limit competition for water, soil space, and nutrients. As soon as plants start to look sad with mostly dead leaves it is best to pull them out rather than wait for a the plant to make a miraculous recovery. Dead plants attract bugs! (Also pull off any dead leaves from healthy plants.) As some plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peas grow they will need support from cages, or steeples. This helps the plants climb and adds an aesthetically pleasing vertical space to your garden! Come mid-season, if you feel the need to fertilize to add more pep to your garden, stick to organic materials such as compost or manure. Typically a well maintained summer season garden made with organic materials will mot need fertilizing.