Culinary gardens have gained popularity over the last few years, with more and more health-conscious people taking back control over their food sources. Growing your own food may seem like a romantic notion, but it’s one of the best ways to lower your carbon footprint by having food steps away from your kitchen. You can avoid GMOs, pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers at home, and better yet, you can grow varieties that aren’t available in supermarkets (score one for bio-diversity). Home gardening is as gourmet as it gets.
This spring is the perfect time to plant tender greens like lettuces, arugula, mustard greens, mache and Swiss chard. Home grown peas never make it into the house, they provide you with a garden snack as you’re tending your plot. Root vegetables like golden beets, purple carrots, parsnips and multi-colored radishes are exciting additions to the garden as well as the table. And let’s not forget the raison d’être of kitchen gardens: tomatoes. Home grown tomatoes are far superior to anything bred for the grocery store. Even if you only have two square feet of space, you can grow them.
How to get started
Start small – if you haven’t grown anything before, start small. Small successes (and small failures) lead to more enthusiasm and greater success. A 3×6 patch of land is plenty of space for starters.
Sunlight is key – choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash need more. If you only have 4-6 hours of sunlight, stick with herbs and greens.
Soil is everything – start with high-quality soil. If you are digging up a patch of existing soil, add plenty of compost to give plants food to grow and make it easier for roots to go deep. Condition your soil (meaning: dig in compost) to 12” deep if you can, or choose raised beds or deep containers.
Grow what you eat – if you grill or roast often, plant herbs like rosemary, chives, thyme and oregano. Green onions and other versatile crops like Swiss chard and kale can be eaten raw or cooked. Choose “factory” crops that produce continually over a season like lettuces (which produce new leaves from the center of the plant, so just harvest the outer leaves), indeterminate tomatoes, and pole beans.
For beginning gardeners, plant seedlings from nurseries for a sure start. With more experience, you’ll find that growing from seed is more economical, and the possibilities are endless. Just be sure to plant after your “last frost”, after the threat of frost has past, this spring. Your garden will reward you with colorful, abundant treasures to enjoy with your whole family.
Christy Wilhelmi empowers people to grow their own food, to be more self-reliant, and to reduce pollution and waste, one garden at a time.
Christy is author of Gardening for Geeks and founder of Gardenerd (gardenerd.com), the ultimate resource for garden nerds, where she publishes information-packed monthly newsletters, weekly blog posts, and podcasts. She also specializes in small-space, organic vegetable garden design and consulting. She holds regular organic gardening classes in California, and has co-taught organic gardening at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA. Christy has been a board member of Ocean View Farms Organic Community Garden in Mar Vista, California since 1999, and gardens almost entirely with heirloom vegetables.
Between 70-80 percent of her family’s produce comes from her garden of less than 200 square feet. Her writing has appeared in From Scratch Magazine, Edible Los Angeles & Edible Westside magazines,LowImpactLiving.com and Heirloom Gardener Magazine. Christy has appeared on the Emmy nominated Home and Family Show, KCAL 9 News, Rosie on the House radio and Good Food with Evan Kleiman.
She lives in Los Angeles, CA with her husband, some chickens and two gardens.