There’s nothing quite like the wonderful scent and contrasting colors of juicy red strawberries hanging down amongst their jagged edged leaves. This doesn’t have to be the scene in a field somewhere – it can be as close as your balcony or patio. A small edible kitchen garden growing in planters makes a decorative feature which can be individualized to provide your favorite vegetables and culinary herbs. The flavor of home grown fruit and vegetables is hard to beat. They can be picked young and tender as required or in the case of tomatoes, vine ripened to perfection.
There are many things to consider when you decide to plant an edible garden. The first is location. You need to remember that most of the plants in this garden are going to be used in the kitchen. The best place to put them would be close to the kitchen, but you do need a sunny spot so have a look around your home. You want to have the fresh herbs available for cooking, so easy access is always a key role in how many of them actually make it to the stewing pot. When the herbs are right within a few steps of the kitchen, you are much more likely to run out and pick a few leaves to use as you need them. The other great thing is that you can grow varieties that just aren’t available in the supermarkets.
You do not need acres of land to have a fantastic herb garden. You can have more than enough space for the most common herbs in a one meter square area. Make the most of your area by thinking outside of the box and also making use of vertical space. You can make multi-tiered gardens by starting with a large pot filled with potting mix and stack a couple more, getting slightly smaller on top of each other. These will work on the same principles as a spiral herb garden. Plant your drier type Mediterranean herbs on the top layer where they get lots of sun and then the more tender ones on the layers below where they are a little more protected.
Hanging baskets can be used to grow lettuce and salad greens or tomatoes and cucumbers where they hang down so you don’t need to worry about staking. Attach some shelves to a vacant wall and use narrow troughs that will dress up a bland wall and also provide crops for the kitchen.
A sunny location is a requisite for your herb garden. One that gets at least 4 or 5 hours of decent sun light is best. Herbs love the sun, but being exposed to high temperatures can make them wither or sprout up and go to seed quickly. Once a herb goes to seed, it can become bitter, woody and ceases to produce very many leaves. Along with proper growth are the essential oils that give the herbs their wonderful flavors and aromas. With plenty of sun, the plants are able to develop luscious green foliage and intense oils. These flavors will come bursting out when you use them in the kitchen.
You can either start the your herbs and vegetables from seeds in the house towards the end of winter, about four weeks before expecting the last frost, or you can sow the seeds directly into the ground. The ground must be warm and ready for growing. Ideally, some compost or fertilizer can be dug in a few weeks before planting so it’s had time to start feeding the soil.
To start the seeds indoors you can use seedling trays with a seed raising mix. Don’t use straight potting mix as it is generally too coarse and won’t be able to transfer the moisture to the seed that it needs to start germination. You can mark each tray with the seed variety you have planted in them. This makes it easy to know which is which as a lot of plants look similar when they are at an early stage.
Another easy method is to use little peat Jiffy pellets. These come compressed but swell up when you soak them in water. Pop a seed or two in each and leave them in a warm spot. These provide the ideal germinating environment and then you can plant out the whole jiffy which means there is minimal shock from root disturbance.
All plants growing in pots and containers rely on us for their fertilizer and nutrition. There are many good organic or slow release fertilizers that will do the job and remain available to the plants for different periods of time. Mark dates in your calendar as to when the next application is due.
Keep a good eye out for any bug or other insect issues that may be developing. The secret is observation, being aware of how the plants usually look and examine when something doesn’t look quite right. Many of the pests start off under the leaves so take a good look. Some insects can multiply in numbers extremely quickly so it is much easier to sort out the problem when you just have a few rather than trying to have to fight a major infestation. But, by keeping the veggies and herbs healthy, well watered, access to fertilizer and plenty of sunlight, they will be naturally able to ward off most of the pests and disease.
Plan ahead. Take note of how your crops are progressing. Find recipes to incorporate this produce and cut your grocery bill. Plant plenty of loose leaf varieties of salad greens that can be harvested over a long period of time so that they are always available when you need them. If you were to make a habit of planting at least one seed each day, you’ll find that within weeks you’ll be reaping the rewards and always have something to harvest. Get into sync with Mother Nature and be amazed at the wonderful bounty she provides as your tiny seedlings emerge and grow into bountiful crops for you to harvest.