It’s no secret that cooking with local produce makes for flavourful and healthy eating, and there’s nothing more satisfying than creating a meal with fresh edibles you’ve grow with your own two hands, right at home.
While most of us busy people don’t have the time or space to create a huge backyard vegetable garden, there are still lots of ways to grow an outdoor garden space that is easy to care for and yields lots of fresh produce throughout your province’s growing season.
I call my own small patch of soil and collection of random growing pots ‘The Experimental Kitchen Garden’ – harkening back to those British walled gardens of yore that had a dedicated plot feeding the family and staff of an estate. The ‘Experimental’ part keeps me eager to try new things, and forgiving of the mistakes I make along the way as I learn how to garden at home. It’s an exciting and rewarding venture and well worth giving a go, no matter where you live there are always ways to grow your own food at home
Where To Plant
When deciding where you will plant your edible garden, consider the sun (and shade) of your space and choose a spot with protection from the wind and no frost pockets. Also keep in mind how you will water your garden – is there a hose nearby or an easy way to move through your space with a watering can? Don’t be discouraged if you’ve got some shady areas to deal with, plant veggies that ‘fruit’ (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers) in sunny areas and veggies that ‘leaf’ (lettuce, spinach, greens) in less bright spots.
There are many different choices of what to grow your plants inside of, from traditional garden plots and raised garden beds to patio and balcony-friendly containers, grow bags, and hanging pots. Adding vertical gardening to your small space helps increase yields: try growing peas, cucumbers and beans up along a vertical trellis in a container, or attach chicken wire to the edge of a deck or wall to grow from the ground up.
Hang pots of cherry tomatoes and strawberries from hooks in sunny spaces or try a ‘gutter garden’ attached to the edge of your deck or balcony. I’ve had great success with the gutter garden on my deck, growing juicy strawberries in the summer and a variety of lettuces and spinach in the fall and early winter.
What to plant
While it might sound a little funny, a great way to decide what to plant is to actually think about what you like to eat. Do you love Italian sauces and Mexican salsas? Plant a variety of tomatoes, peppers and herbs. Are you a big fan of pickles and canning? Plant cucumbers, carrots, beans, beets and other canning-friendly veggies.
Along with your vegetables of choice, choose a variety of salad greens to grow – they usually flourish well across Canada. With small space gardening, you want to get maximum value from each plant, so don’t bother taking up room with veggies you don’t like and stick to the flavours that fire up your palate.
Tips For Choosing Plants
- look for dwarf and bush varieties that don’t hog the garden, as well as container-friendly plants
- read seed packets and seedling tags for information about how the plant grows, what kind of care it needs and when you can expect to start harvesting
- chat with your neighbours and local garden centre about what grows well in your area and what doesn’t
- ask questions about when to plant in your location
- learn the approximate date of your last frost, as many tags use this information to indicate when to start planting
Planning for your kitchen garden to have different things ripe and ready to harvest at different times will help keep enthusiasm going for the whole ‘growing your own food’ adventure. Harvesting weekly baskets of fresh snow peas and lettuces in early summer while your tomatoes and peppers ripen in the background will help keep you motivated.
You can grow plants right from seed or buy seedlings started in a greenhouse nursery, ready to be transplanted. Growing lettuces, peas, carrots and radishes from seed is usually quite successful. Buying nursery seedlings for larger plants can give you a larger yield with less babysitting in the early stages of growth. A good rule of thumb when growing new things is to select mixed packs with different varieties of the same plant. Mixed packs of lettuces, beans, peas, spinaches, chards, and kales sold together are a great bet for finding the varieties that grow best in your space while discovering which flavours you enjoy in your cooking.
Don't Forget Herbs and Edible Flowers!
Herbs are always a great addition for your home garden and can be planted alongside other veggies to keep away insects and improve flavour. Consider planting a herb garden in place of a decorative flower bed, container or pot. Rosemary, oregano, thyme and mint will look attractive and yield tons of fresh flavours to add to your cooking throughout the growing season (and in some areas well into fall and winter).
Don’t be afraid to harvest your herbs often, the more you take, the better they grow, use kitchen scissors to snip off bunches for your kitchen. Garlic, shallots and onions can also fit into empty spaces in your soil to ward away pests. Adding edible flowers to your garden spaces will attract helpful bees and make your salads gorgeous throughout the summer.
Get ready to feast
Once your plants are growing happily, it’s really just a case of watering, weeding and waiting with the occasional bit of care, following the advice of plant tags, seed packets, gardening books, neighbours and local gardening pros to help guide you along the way.
Harvesting, cooking and eating things that you have grown at home can be highly rewarding and well worth the effort. Create your own personal kitchen garden this year, no matter how big or small, and you’ll be delighted with the tasty results.
Creating Your Own Edible Small Space Garden was written by Gwen Wright of Devour and Conquer. Gwen is a freelance writer living on Vancouver Island who specializes in food and travel stories. A dedicated home cook and baker who grows her own year-round kitchen garden, Gwen is always seeking out new ways to use local and seasonal ingredients to create new dishes. When she's not laptop-deep in a writing project, knee-deep in garden dirt or elbow-deep in bread dough, Gwen can be found hiking around Vancouver Island foraging for wild chanterelles, or covered in sand playing beach volleyball on the shores of Parksville, British Columbia.