There’s nothing quite as rewarding as stepping into your garden to snip a few fresh herbs or harvest homegrown vegetables to add to that evening’s dinner.
That connection to your food – and commitment to sustainability – is a feeling Patricia Larenas enjoys as she tends to her own edible garden at her suburban home in the heart of Silicon Valley, Calif. The former techie is now an aspiring edible landscaping consultant and sustainable gardening writer/blogger with Urban Artichoke and Eat Drink Better.
Earth911 sat down with Larenas to find out how anyone – the experienced green thumb or novice gardener – can get started growing their own food.
List and captions courtesy of Earth911
1. Start An Herb Garden
One easy way to get your feet wet with edible gardening is to grow your own herbs. <br> Consider growing perennials herbs that will go dormant in the winter, but grow back each spring. Popular perennials include oregano, sweet marjoram, thyme and winter savory, but Larenas also recommends lovage - an easy-to-grow herb that can season your soups and broths - and French tarragon, which can be expensive to buy at the store. <br> Many perennials require little water, so they do well in milder and drier climates. If you're growing them in a region with a harsh winter, you'll need to mulch them or bring them indoors, if they're in containers, to protect them from the cold. <br> You can also grow popular annual herbs like basil, cilantro or parsley, but you will need to replant them each year - from seed or a starter you bought at your local nursery. <br> Herbs make an excellent choice for the home gardener who is worried about the aesthetics of adding edibles to his or her existing landscaping: Many herbs like thyme will produce lovely flowers if allowed to bloom, Larenas says. And flowering herbs offer another benefit: attracting pollinators to your garden and supporting local bee populations. <br> <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2012/05/07/8-things-you-probably-arent-doing-in-your-garden/" target="_hplink">Expert Tips: 8 Things You Probably Aren't Doing In Your Garden</a> <br> But can you eat herbs that you have let flower? Some herb experts will tell you it changes the flavors or textures of the leaves, Larenas says, but personally, she doesn't mind the taste of flowering herbs. If you do, she suggests growing a portion of herbs that you let flower for the bees and some herbs that you cut back for cooking. <br> Where should you grow herbs in your garden? Herbs are perfect plants to grow in containers, or herbs like thyme can make an attractive border to your lawn or existing landscape, Larena suggests. <br> <br> <em><a href="http://www.flickr.com/" target="flickr">Flickr:</a> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/cinderellas_blog/" target="flickr">Image courtesy of Cindy Andrie</a></em>
2. Choose The Right Edibles
Another way to ensure your success with growing edibles is to start with easy-to-grow plants. <br> Green beans are a simple plant to grow in nearly every climate and rarely attract harmful bugs, Larenas says. Kids also love these plants; they can eat the sweet bean right off the vine. <br> Larenas also suggests growing cherry tomatoes, which are one of the easiest edibles to grow and are another favorite of children. <br> Other varieties of tomatoes are relatively hardy and are susceptible to only a few diseases - as long as your climate has the heat to support them, you give them good organic plant food and you meet their water requirements, Larenas says. <br> Another easy-to-grow plant that needs a bit of heat is the cucumber, she says. <br> In milder climates, Larenas recommends planting the incredibly fast-growing radish, and in cooler areas, she suggests lettuce and spinach. <br> <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2012/05/09/how-to-make-top-notch-compost-for-your-garden/" target="_hplink">DIY: How to Make Top-Notch Compost for Your Garden</a> <br> <br> <em><a href="http://www.flickr.com/" target="flickr">Flickr:</a> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/psd/" target="flickr">Image courtesy of psd</a></em>
3. Opt For Attractive Edibles
Maybe you want to try your hand at edible gardening, but you don't want to turn your yard into a small-scale utilitarian-looking farm. <br> You're in luck: There are a number of edibles that are just as attractive as the ornamental plants you grow for their beauty alone. <br> Beans are not only easy to grow and high in protein, they also boast beautiful flowers. Larenas is especially fond of the bright orange-red flowers of her scarlet runner bean that run up a trellis in her yard. <br> "I've grown varieties [of beans including scarlet runner beans] with very pretty flowers that people walking by my yard are stunned to realize are actually edible beans," she says. <br> <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2012/05/18/edible-flowers-for-your-garden/" target="_hplink">Ornamental Edibles: Edible Flowers for Your Garden</a> <br> For another eye-catching edible option, she suggests planting herbs and letting them flower, which will also attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to your garden. <br> And there are many flowers you can grow in your yard that you can also eat. Create pretty salads using the flowers from borage, nasturtiums, calendulas and members of the viola family like pansies and violets, Larenas says. <br> The round green pod that the nasturtium produces after it flowers is also edible, Larenas says, and has a surprising peppery flavor. You can even <a href="http://www.urbanartichoke.com/2012/05/pickled-nasturtium-pods.html" target="_hplink">pickle these pods</a> and use them in the place of capers in recipes. <br> <br> <em><a href="http://www.flickr.com/" target="_blank">Flickr:</a> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/ingamun/" target="_blank"> Image courtesy of IngaMun</a></em>
4. Build A Raised Bed
Not sure where to start growing edibles in your yard? If you have the space for it, Larenas highly recommends using a raised bed, which makes it easier to successfully cultivate edible plants. <br> Your yard may contain sandy or clay-like soil that is not conducive to growing healthy plants; or, the soil may be contaminated with toxics like lead. With a raised bed, you won't need to spend time improving the existing earth; you can simply fill your raised bed with high-quality, nutritious soil, and give your plants a head start. <br> It's also easier to control weeds in raised beds and protect them from snails, slugs, birds and other pests. <br> You can incorporate flowers among the vegetables you'll grow in your raised beds - not just for visual appeal, but because these <a href="http://raisedgardenbedsz.com/best-tips-for-raised-bed-gardening-with-companion-plants?goback=.gde_2069571_member_115885728" target="_hplink">companion plants</a> can assist with pest control and maintain soil quality. In one of Larenas' raised beds, she plants calendula, nasturtiums and cosmos alongside her tomatoes, peppers, basil and lettuce. <br> <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2012/05/03/6-inspiring-community-gardens/" target="_hplink">Bet You'll Love: 6 Inspiring Community Gardens</a> <br> <br> <em><a href="http://www.flickr.com/" target="flickr">Flickr:</a> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/digika/" target="flickr">Image courtesy of PermaCultured</a></em>
5. Create A Container Garden
No yard? No problem. <br> A container garden is the ideal solution for the aspiring home farmer who lives in an apartment or urban environment with limited access to outdoor space. <br> Herbs and tomato plants are both well suited for containers, Larenas says, but there are several special tips you'll need to follow when growing edible plants in containers. <br> Make sure the containers receive regular exposure to the sun, but are not baked in sunlight all day. You'll also need to remember to water the containers frequently. <br> The soil in containers can't hold very much nutrition for your growing plants, so you'll need to add plant food to the container occasionally. She recommends an organic fertilizer from a company like Dr. Earth or E.B. Stone, which won't burn your plants like a synthetic fertilizer can. <br> You can also amend the container garden's soil with compost you made from your own food scraps or water plants with homebrewed compost tea. <br> To make your own compost tea, Larenas suggests soaking a pound of mature compost in a mesh bag in 1 gallon of water for 3-4 days. The resulting tea contains much-needed nutrients for plants, as well as beneficial bacteria and fungi. <br> To get started with your own container garden, check out Earth911's <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2012/05/16/container-gardening-guid/" target="_hplink">guide to yardless gardens</a>. <br> <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2012/05/21/5-reasons-to-start-a-container-garden/" target="_hplink">The Benefits: 5 Reasons to Start a Container Garden</a> <br> <br> <em><a href="http://www.flickr.com/" target="flickr">Flickr:</a> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/rustiqueart/" target="flickr">Image courtesy of rustiqueart</a></em>
Creating an Edible Garden
Come join Dave and learn some tips on creating an edible garden that will grow back every spring. This is an excellent way to grow your own food without needing to re-plant year after year.
How to Use Edible Flowers
Come find out the flavors and uses of many edible flowers.