Something I’d recommend all new gardeners do, and something I really started doing more this year (thanks in part to my trusty new smart phone!): take lots and lots of pictures of your garden’s progress throughout the growing season. Why? Well, as we barrel into July, it’s easy to say “oh everything is just getting bigger” and not realize the magnitude at which your garden is growing, nay, exploding this month! Between watering and weeding and grumbling at insects that aren’t so beneficial, it’s easy to get caught up in that summer womp-womp of your garden that’s not quite producing edibles yet. But when you begin to compare pictures from two months, two weeks, and even two days ago, you see the progress, where you started, where you’re at, and you’ll remember why you’re doing this. Try it! You might be amazed too. 🙂
Having a full bed dedicated to greens and herbs is one of the most fantastic things I can imagine. Given the proper conditions, lettuces grow quickly, and are ideal ornamental edibles that need little care or space and have few pests (aside from the occasional slug, who rarely touches the arugula or more pungent herbs.)
To set up your own lettuce bed this summer, pick an area of your yard or patio that gets early morning or midday sun, but partial shade when it gets hot later in the day. I navigate the summer growing season by planting both varieties that are slow to bolt (like Red Seas or certain heirloom butter lettuces- check your zoning for what will succeed in your area!) as well as by broadcasting new seeds throughout the growing season. If you’re starting from scratch, try finding a six pack of greens at your local nursery to begin, and plant with room to grow. Once they are established and harvestable (about doubled or tripled in size) begin broadcasting seeds by scattering a few dozen or more around and between the established plants. Water thoroughly, and within a week or two you should start to see new seedlings! I find that the established plants help to shade the seedlings, ensuring a higher percentage of survival, and good practice in succession planting so that when the original plants begin to bolt or get too tough, you will still have a garden full of fresh organic salad greens all summer long.
Even though I grow a lot of lettuce and herbs in the raised beds at my house, I often have to remind myself while blogging that not everyone has the gardening space that I (am lucky enough to) have. But just because you don’t have a yard doesn’t mean you can’t grow food!
These three pots of organic herbs and lettuce live across town at my boyfriend’s house. The lettuce and herbs in them rotate throughout the year depending on the season (and what we feel like eating) but they’re easy to keep fresh and beautiful because they’re self contained, and even easier to remember to use since they’re within arm’s reach of the kitchen.
When creating a food-centered focal point for your patio, try to pick herbs, greens, or container-friendly veggies that compliment each other in texture and height, with the tallest planting in the center of the pot and lower-growing crops spaced around it. Make sure to leave a little space for your crops to grow out! And finally, choose crops that you will use (and enjoy!) regularly. (You can buy seeds for a few dollars a packet, or 6 packs of organic seasonal plants at your local nursery for around what a bag of pre-cut greens would cost at the grocery store… except your home-grown salad will have way more nutrients and provide a few more weeks worth of food.)
When it comes to containers, I like to try a few large vessels in a similar color or pattern (rather than buying a dozen tiny pots or a large wooden box.) I found the pots pictured for $14.99 each at my local nursery 6 months ago. They add that much needed pop of color outside, and are guaranteed to last for years. Happy Patio Gardening!
Snapped this picture this morning before I left for work. The tomatoes are little monsters, and the squash, cukes, and corn are doing their best to catch up! (So many gardeners hate this time of year, with the weeding, watering, and staking that it can entail, but I love it! There’s nothing better than watching my garden explode with life.)
it’s crazy to think that it’s been just about a year since I started growing at my place, but time flies when you’re having fun I suppose. I took this picture a week or two ago, and need to update as everything is growing so quickly, but thought it made for good juxtaposition considering where I started (as in the main blog image of me standing overwhelmed in my soon to be garden.)
So what have I learned so far?
-Stake your tomatoes more than you think they’ll ever need (or they will consume your walkways.)
-Plant later than you want to; I managed to avoid all cases of blight (knock on wood) by waiting until the true rains were past.
-Sowing lettuce on or around the full moon works. Science can’t explain this one so well, but the proof is in the pudding, and that pudding is a few varieties that never germinated until I moon planted, so there you have it.
-Grow strange, unusual varieties you can’t find at the store. You will appreciate them more, and may even have better luck with them than you would conventional crops.
-Growing organic isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it, for taste, texture, and peace of mind.
Here’s to another exciting year of trials and tribulations in the garden! I have a feeling this year is going to be even better than the last. 🙂
(The photo above is a shot of basil picked from my herb garden and tomatoes from the janky bush from last year that I potted up this year when it finally decided to start fruiting a month or two ago. These ingredients were crafted into a simple caprese with some mozerella, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper.)
While there are many reasons that I give for growing my own food, the most important one is often the one I fail to mention the most. Yes, I grow for health reasons, to eat organically, to live more sustainably, to vote with my dollar, and so on. But the bigger reason? It just tastes better! Something happens between the farm, the farmer’s market, and the table. When you take out the middle man, you take out the chance of your fruits and vegetables losing flavor and getting dehydrated. When they’re in your own backyard or on your own patio, you’re able to monitor where each individual piece of produce is at, and pick it at the peak of its ripeness. And when you grow them yourself, you have more control over what you are eating; not only the flavor or the fact that it’s organic, but also the chance to grow more flavorful things that may not ship well (or seem interesting or viable enough to be raised in mass quantities.)
Perhaps this is where extreme foodies come into play. Whether one’s a chef or consumer, there’s no doubt that the best, freshest ingredients are the most sought after and important components to a meal. It is a natural course of action then, that in order to stay in the lead, you simply must create it.
And what better way to do that than by harvesting produce steps away from where you will be preparing it later?
I’ve often joked that gardening is a competitive sport, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that in some ways, it definitely is. Going early to the farmer’s market and being first in line and buying whatever is “seasonal” is great, but anyone else who has access to that will always be just as great as you. In order to stand out, you must care for, nurture, and love your food while it matures, and at harvest, honor and respect it in your preparations.
Then, and only then, have you truly won, and your reward will be in flavors, even greater than you could’ve ever imagined. Trust me, even with the simplest of ingredients, like basil or tomatoes, it’s well worth it. 🙂
As mentioned before, these are the trellises I’m testing this year for summer squash and zucchini. Just a few simple sturdy bamboo poles sunk about 8-10″ deep, then wired together at the top with a horizontal support pole. I spaced and wired horizontal ladder “steps” every 6-8″ up, and will add more as they grow and I wind the plants through. Vertical growth = more plants in a smaller space, less chance of mildew and disease, easier harvesting, and potentially better pollination! (Please note that I’m doing this with smaller summer squash. I’ve seen it done with winter varieties and larger gourds and melons, you just have to make those fruits little hammocks or slings as they grow so that they don’t snap off the vine before they’re totally ripe.)
Peppers, squash, corn, beans, and potatoes (all in 3×20!), a photo by Veronica in LA on Flickr.
Between a half day off last Friday and the better part of Saturday, I finally got to dig in and finish the second long raised bed last weekend. I noticed that a family up the street is doing “three sisters” planting too, where you plant corn, pole beans, and squash all in the same area. I’m fudging this a little, because I decided not to let my squash ramble this year (trellis pictures to come!) but I plan on mulching the whole lot down with some straw soon anyway, so it’ not a huge deal that the third sister lives a few feet away. I’m really excited for sweet corn though! I had an ear from the store the other day, because I was craving it, and it tasted like green dish soap. Yuck! I’m starting to worry that our food corn might be cross-poll eating with our feed corn out there in the fields, and I am so afraid of eating something that might be GMO and could turn into a super pesticide that just chills out in my body zapping good bacteria. (Seriously- some of the corn that’s GMO out there kills insects by morphing into an exploding pesticide once it hits their stomach. Um, gross much?) Anyway, soapbox aside, homegrown corn just tastes better! Can’t wait to nom those ears 😉