It’s tough to keep track of what day it is, much less what season, so for those of you stuck in a perpetual time warp, it’s spring. That normally means planting season and this year with the feeling of an impending apocalypse on our Covid-19 minds the desire to create an edible garden feels bigger than ever.
I’ve always loved planting a vegetable garden but seeing we’re spending more time at home looking at it these days, I wanted to be sure we did it right this year. So I sat down, virtually of course, for a short chat with Tari Delisi, a Sustainable Landscape Designer to get a few tips on how to keep an edible garden looking good and producing all season.
GC: What’s your experience in creating edible gardens?
TD: I have 15 years of horticulture experience working with plants and designing outdoor spaces. Still, growing edibles was relatively new to me. I started dabbling in edible gardening four years ago as an activity to enjoy with my husband and it’s been really fun to learn and discover new methods while sharing it with him. We continue to learn and marvel at the growth cycle of new vegetables we like. We’ve built our own bed structures and continue to innovate in order to accommodate new additions to our garden. Who knew! Old ladders make a great support for climbing plants and they add depth and beauty too.
GC: Most people think they need a big yard to grow vegetables. Is that always necessary?
TD: Not necessarily! You can plant a lot in containers on your balcony, deck or patio without having to create big garden beds.
Just make sure containers have drainage holes and there’s enough room for the soil to support their growing roots in order to keep them cool.
I even like to place containers with herbs outside my kitchen door for easy access when cooking.
If you’re going for garden beds, remember space will limit what you can grow. For example, tomatoes do well in a space that’s 2′ by 2′. If you want to go with something like onions, carrots and lettuce you can plant them in neat, slim rows and get great results in a smaller space.
Whatever you choose, be sure to only plant the vegetables you like to eat and those you will use.
GC: How much sun do most edible gardens need?
TD: Most edibles need 6 or more hours of direct sun but if that’s not possible, try growing the ones that thrive with less sunlight like arugula, beets, celery, kale, and leeks. Kale is unbelievably versatile and one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. Some feel it can be a bit strong in flavor when eaten raw, but you can add it to your morning smoothies or harvest it young when it’s a bit milder in flavor. Sauté it to bring out its caramelized sweetness or make kale chips in the oven for a healthy snack. You can even freeze kale and use it later too! Beets are terrific to add to a salad and their health benefits are an added bonus. They’re great for reducing blood pressure and their green leaves are packed with vitamins and nutrients including iron, magnesium, zinc and fiber.
GC: Do you need special soil or fertilizer for growing edible plants?
TD: Not necessarily. There are vegetables that can be grown even in the least fertile part of your garden. Remember each year your garden soil will improve from the growing cycle so it’s best to leave it as undisturbed as possible in order to maintain its existing soil structure where all the good microbes live. Just add layers of compost on top and if you used containers last year, layer some on top of those too.
Edible plants can be light, medium or heavy feeders. That’s why it’s good to move your medium to heavy feeders like tomatoes, peppers and squash first into the most nutrient and dense area of your garden and to rotate them into a new spot every season. Regardless of where or what you plant, a good rule of thumb is to be sure to add enough fresh compost to your edible garden every year to replenish nutrients.
GC: What types of plants do you recommend growing in order to get a constant supply of fresh edibles all summer?
TD: Edibles can provide a crop in warm and cool seasons. For warm season edibles that grow best in the ground, start with radishes, beets, turnips, Asian greens, bok choy, kale, mustard greens, chard, snow peas and shelling peas. After the last frost… I recommend on or after Mother’s Day for those of us in Zone 5b… plant your cooler edibles like cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, summer squash, okra, beans bush, pole, garlic, potato and sweet potato. If you’re planting a container garden, try growing potatoes in a burlap bag from a feed store or a coffee roaster. Most of us don’t have one of those hanging around but a large, food grade bucket like the kind they use in restaurants will work too.
GC: Many of us have more time on our hands right now due to quarantines but how much time do I need to maintain my garden once I go back to a non-quarantine schedule?
TD: A little focused, purposeful time set aside every day or every other day will provide insurance your garden will grow steadily and give you a bountiful harvest.
The most important thing you can do to care for your edible garden is to water and observe it for pests or diseases and then provide timely remedies if needed.
If this is your first year you probably don’t have an auto-irrigation system installed but that’s not a problem.
When watering, make sure to always water thoroughly and as early in the day as possible. If you’re growing tomatoes keep water away from touching their leaves. If you’re not sure your plants are getting enough water, dig one or two inches down and feel if the soil is wet. If not, water longer. Your plants should get one inch of water per week, including rainfall. Mother Nature usually takes care of watering in spring but once the weather gets hot, it’s important you water consistently.
GC: No one wants to waste the edibles they grow. Any suggestions on how to use the edibles that don’t make it into a salad, smoothie or dinner?
TD: You can share them with neighbors and friends and perhaps a local food pantry. Or stretch your imagination to find a use for them. I like to add cucumbers to my water or infuse them with vodka to give away as gifts. Tomatoes seem to be what everyone gets too much of but I like to simply freeze or pressure-can them for winter use. My favorite is to dry them in the oven. Dried tomatoes are excellent in pasta dishes, added to salads and layered in sandwiches. Plus dried tomatoes can be used long after the growing season ends.
GC: Thanks the great insight and help Tari. I plan on rotating my tomato plants this year and will make sure to keep water off their leaves. Kind of explains why they’ve been looking a little sad year after year. Like most of us lately, they need a change of scenery and a little more attention focused on their roots…
You can get more help from Tari on her website at www.delisidesign.com Find how she can assist you virtually when you’re laying out your edible garden or designing a landscaping plan for your yard.
– Germaine Caprio, MAJAMAS EARTH Company Owner & Designer
Let ME know:
What essential veggies will you grow in your home garden?
Please share your own thoughts with us – let’s get a conversation started in the comments below!