Flowers are undeniably beautiful, and a garden full of colorful blooms is certainly a joy to behold. However, if you’re hoping to get more from your garden than a few sneeze-inducing arrangements for your dining room table, then it’s time to consider an edible garden. It may sound oddly idyllic — eating food that you grow? You’re not a farmer! But more and more people are taking the time to create edible gardens for many reasons, not the least of which is that food tastes really good when you can eat it right after it’s picked.
Other reasons, of course, like the fact that you’ll be saving money on food and on gas to get to the grocery store. There’s also the immense personal satisfaction that comes from being able to say, “I grew that” as you proudly serve it up for dinner.
Even if you’ve never grown anything other than weeds, it’s remarkably easy to start and sustain an edible garden. Follow our step by step guide, and you’ll put yourself on the path to success — and some of the tastiest produce you’ve ever eaten.
First, pick your edibles
What will you grow? Well, you’ll want to think about what you like to eat, as well as what will grow well where you live. You’re also more or less limited to vegetables and herbs, as fruit often needs a few years to establish itself. Tomatoes are always a popular choice, as are things like cucumbers, peppers, beans, peas, zucchini, lettuces, hearty greens, and herbs. There are common, hearty varieties, though if you’re looking to branch out from the ordinary, tasty heirloom varieties of most vegetables can be found from many plant and seed suppliers.
You’ve also got the choice between seeds and plants. If this is your first foray into edible gardening, you’re probably better off starting with plants for most of what you grow. Items like peas, beans, and herbs can be started from seeds if you’re feeling ambitious, though.
Then, pick a good spot
Most plants want lots of sun — at least six to eight hours a day — so find a spot in your yard that’s unshaded and warm. It should also be in an area that isn’t susceptible to flooding, as that can quickly ruin your attempts to grow food.
Ground, raised bed, or container
You’ve actually got a few choices when it comes to where to plant. In the ground is an obvious one, though if you have any concerns about the quality of your soil or rainwater pooling over your garden, then you’ll want to consider other options. Raised beds are popular and easy to build from untreated pine or cedar boards; they bring your plants off the ground, provide better drainage, and minimize bugs and other pests. But if you want to keep it really simple, containers are the way to go. You’ll just need to make sure your pots are large enough to accommodate the plants you’re putting in them.
Assess your soil
If you’re planting in the raised beds or pots, you’ll need to fill them with soil before you start planting. This doesn’t need to be complicated: several bags of gardening soil from your local hardware or big box store should do the trick. Or, if you’ve got one or more large raised beds, you can purchase one or more cubic yards of soil from a local landscaping or garden supplier, who should deliver it right to your home.
You can safely start planting once the danger of the last frost has passed. For many regions of the US, that’s usually somewhere between mid-April and mid-May, though in more southern areas, the date is earlier. Spend some time looking at the spacing recommendations for each plant so you don’t overcrowd your garden or waste valuable planting space. Then, dig some holes, remove the plants (with roots and soil as intact as possible) from their original containers, and put them in the holes. Pack down the soil slightly around the base of the stem to secure them in their spots.
Water, weed, and wait
They say that patience is a virtue, and nowhere is that more true than in edible gardening. It’s going to take some time before those tiny plants grow and provide the nutrient dense food that you’re after. You’ll want to water them on a regular basis, ideally every day when it’s hot outside. Also, it’s important to pull any weeds that sprout up — and they will sprout up — so that they don’t rob your plants of the soil’s vital nutrients. And of course, it’s a big waiting game, but your patience will soon pay off as early providers like baby lettuce and herbs become ready for picking in just a week or two when started from plants.
Pinch off bolting plants
Plants want to reproduce, and they do that by bolting: creating seeds that will mature, drop, and sprout. Of course, when a plant goes to seed, it’s done producing food. You’ll notice herbs like cilantro, dill, and basil bolting very quickly, and small greens like lettuces and spinach will be close behind. To prolong the life of your food producing plants, pinch off any seeds you see for as long as you can. With plants like dill, it can be a losing battle, but with others like basil, you can successfully keep the plant from seeding out all summer long.
Harvest, eat, and enjoy
Finally, after weeks of watering, weeding, pinching, and waiting, your bounty will begin! Tomatoes will grow into bright red or yellow orbs, cucumbers will hang off the vines, herbs will be plentiful, and beans will show up in bunches. Pick them and enjoy them, either raw, in salads, or cooked very minimally. You’ll be amazed at the intense flavors of what you grow — it’s a much truer taste than anything you can buy at the grocery store. And, because some edible garden plants like tomatoes and zucchini often produce more than you’ll ever be able to eat during the season, you may want to consider freezing or canning your bumper crop. Of course, you can always give away some of what you grow to friends and neighbors, all of whom would probably love a gift of fresh veggies from your garden.
Try and try again
Growing an edible garden is fairly easy for even the most novice of gardeners, though it’s by no means foolproof. While many first timers have a lot of success with growing food, it doesn’t always work out — and that’s OK. If a plant fails early in the season, you always have the option of ripping it out and trying again with something new. Or, if you keep with a difficult plant all season to no avail, remember that there’s always next year. That’s the great thing about growing an edible garden: the seasons keep changing, and before you know it, it will be time to plant again. Re-evaluate what you’re doing, give it another shot, and see if you can get the bountiful edible garden harvest that you’re after.