Edible Gardening

by Jim McCausland | Photo © Jim McCausland

If you’re all about fresh, local food, try something radical: grow your own.

By planting in May, you can be pulling your own radishes and snipping baby salad greens in just a few weeks, and picking beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, and melons from midsummer on.

Home-grown veggies taste better because you harvest at peak ripeness, when they also have the most nutrients. And, after planting, you can maintain a small food garden in 20 or 30 minutes per day.

How hard can this be?
Your garden’s biggest chunk of time goes to set-up. A Saturday should do it.

Start by clearing 100 or 200 square feet near a hose bib. It needs at least 6 hours of sunshine per day. But if you garden along the coast or near Puget Sound, you’ll need extra hours of sun plus some wind protection to compensate for lack of heat.

Layer 3 or 4 inches of commercial compost on top of cleared soil and till or dig it in. Rake out rocks and weeds, leveling as you go, water deeply to settle the soil, and wait a week. When tiny weed seedlings appear, take a few minutes to hoe them off. The sun will wither them during the day, and you’ll be ready to plant in late afternoon.

What to grow
Plant what you like best. To keep things simple, set out nursery transplants of everything except beans, salad greens, and root vegetables, which you’ll grow from seed.

Plant a 10-foot row of peas or beans along the north side of the garden, and two tomatoes just south of them. Tomatoes grow in cages—the nursery has what you need—and beans need netting or string to climb. Put rosemary and sage just south of the taller plants, and parsley and chives near them.

Allot 30 square feet for root vegetables: half for carrots, beets, and radishes, and half for potatoes. Devote another 30 square feet for cabbage, peppers, lettuce and Swiss chard.

If you have more than 100 square feet, add cauliflowers and bush forms of cucumber, summer squash, personal melons and pumpkins.

Seed packets and plant tags tell how far apart to plant everything. If seeds come up too thick, thin them.

Care and feeding
Vegetables mature fastest when their growth is unchecked. To keep it moving, water deeply whenever the top 1/2 to 1 in. of soil dries out. Feed plants every four to six weeks with organic fertilizer, tapering off as harvest approaches. And hoe weekly, dispatching weed seedlings before they compete for nutrients, water and light.

Harvest will come soon enough, and as each crop comes out it opens up space for fall and winter crops. But that’s another story.

Bon appétit.