Growing your own fuits, vegetables and herbs is one of the simple steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint and know that you are eating healthy. And it is easy - Most of your vegetables and herbs can be grown from seed.
Growing your own friuts and vegetables is something fun you can do with friends and family. People of all ages can grow their own food. Children will love to help planting and harvesting food and it is a great learning tool to help show them the natural cycle of plants.
Most of your vegetables can be grown from seed but if you are not ready to take that step you can you can purchase them already started either as seedlings or more mature plants.
Most greens are easy to grow and mature quickly making them a wonderful choice for the beginner gardener. They are a large and diverse group with some of the most nutritious edible plants around. Provide fertile soils (sea soil makes a great soil booster) and regular gentle liquid feed for best growth. Full sun exposure is best but partial shade (morning shade) is ideal in the summer. Staggering your crops is always a good idea as well.
Salad greens cover a selection of foliage plants like chicory, lettuce, radicchio, escarole, endive and beet greens. They have great colour and texture and flavours. Mixing and matching can be a lot of fun and provide colourful interest quickly in pots or small garden plots.
Cabbage crops are vega tables staples for many meals. This group includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Large impressive plants, they are the focal point of any vegetable garden.
These members of the pea family are great assets to the vegetable garden as they all fix nitrogen into the soil., These plants are excellent green manures that can be added back into the garden through composting them.
Since beans and peas produce some of their own fertilizer they are not in need of really fertile soil or regular fertilizer. The soil should be moisture retentive but well drained and the plants should be placed in a sunny spot.
Beans come in various shapes and forms. The earliest to plant are the Fava or Broadbean, which are frost tolerant. They are a bush type that can grow reach 1 meter in height,. Some staking is required. Popular in Europe, these beans are shelled fresh and the pale green seeds have a wonderful buttery texture when cooked.
The next most common type of bean are the wax and runner beans which are the classic eating green bean. They come in various colours from pale icy green pods to purple pods, the lighter colour ones being more tender to eat. They come in both a bush type reaching only 60cm in height to the pole bean requiring trellising or poles at least 2 meters in height.
The heat loving beans are Edamame (soy), Hyacinth, and Lima beans. These should all be planted in a sunny, warm location for best and early production of pods.
Peas grow best in cool climates as intense heat tends to burn or slow the plants down. They come in different eating varieties sugar snap where you eat the pod and the seeds or just the seeds as they swell up like shelling peas; snow peas with flat pods that are great for stir fries; shelling peas where the seed is removed from the pod to be eaten. All peas are great raw straight from the vine and in salads. All varieties are vine like, therefore they need staking with netting as their tendrils will hold fast to the netting.
Tomoatoes are a staple in every garden. Their requirements are quite simple, they prefer full sun in a warm sheltered site for best production and ripening. The soil should be fertile and fertilizing regularily with Rain Grow 4-2-3 is recommended especially in pots. Tomatoes do not like being dried out so keep the soil moist but not soggy. Planting a few flowering plants, such as marigolds, around your tomotoes is a good idea to help attract pollinators to get good fruit set. Staking is essential to all varieties except the trailing and dwarf ones that get no more than 30cm tall. Intensity of the fruit colour depends of the amount of summer heat, the warmer and sunnier, the richer the colour and better the flavour.
Cherry or Grape: small tomatoes held in grape like clusters, shape determines which type they are. Usually sweet tasting, early to ripen and great for eating straight off the vine. Kids love these!
Slicer or Beefstake: large classic tomatoes for fresh eating on sandwiches and in salads.
Canning or Roma or Paste: these tend to be oval shaped with few seeds and more flesh than others, perfect for processing and cooking.
Trailing: A new concept with modern breeding involved, cherry types with sturdy stems that cascade over the sides of a pot or bed edge.
Determinate: These grow only so large and stop. They produces fruit over a shorter period of time. Mostly modern varieties bred for container or city garden use and ideal for the outdoor garden.
Indeterminate: These continually grow and produce fruit over a long period of time. Mostly heirloom varieties based on the original tomatoes from South America which were vine like plants. Requires pruning, training and pinching throughout its growth period. Staking or trellising is essential. More varieties to choose from in this section.
Early: These set fruit in a shorter period of time from germination. Many are cool season tomatoes that tolerate cooler temperatures early and late in the season, setting fruit well into the fall.
Mid-Season: Standard tomatoes that require a warm sunny site and will fruit late summer into early fall.
Late: Will require the longest period of sun/heat to set fruit, greenhouse or cold frame is ideal.
These heat loving vegetables should be planted in the warmest location in your garden. Peppers are not heavy feeders so fertile soils are adequate in the garden and in containers a mild fertilizer weekly is all that is recommended. Peppers are also not heavy water users and can tolerate some drying out between watering.
Peppers are broken down into two main forms...
Hot: The hot peppers have smaller fruit usually starting off green going red or orange when ripe. Unripe fruit are often mild flavoured compared to the spicy or hot ripe version. Keep the hotter varieties away from children as the ripe fruit can burn their mouth and eyes. The degree of heat in the fruit is also dependant on the heat of the weather. The warmer the more ripe and spicy hot the fruit becomes. Heat is often measured in the scoville rating system where sweet peppers are rated at 0 , Jalapeno 6000 and the hottest pepper we offer Habanero at 577,000. Most of the varieties can get away with minimal if any type of staking. They are easy and attractive to grow in small gardens.
Sweet: The sweet peppers on the other hand have larger, thicker walled fruit starting off green or pale yellowish green and ripening to a range of colours from yellow to red. They have similar cultural requirements as the hot peppers although they might require some staking as their fruit get larger making the plants somewhat top heavy. Protecting the fruit from intense sun is also important as it can scald, usually the plants foliage is all that is required but in extreme cases some shading may be required.
To round out your vegetable garden here are some of the staples for the kitchen.
Summer isn't summer until you have had fresh picked Corn on the cob. Even in a small city garden planting a few Corn together in a container can produce a number of cobs for one summer barbecue feast. The plants themselves are great as center points because of their vertical height and can be edged with bush beans for ornamental and edible accent. Remember to plant close (15-20cm apart) for best pollination, a small circular groups works well. Corn requires regular fertilizing to grow well.
Along with Corn, Cucumbers are the other necessity for summer cooking. Cucumber sandwiches and salads to help cool down those summer evenings. They prefer a warm, sunny location in the garden, feed regularly with a mild fertilizer. Do not let them dry out as this will cause the fruit to go bitter.
Eggplant, most often associated with Indian and Mediterranean cooking, are great ornamental plants too.There are a range of varieties with colours ranging from pure white fruit to blush pink, striped purple or deepest black. Easy to grow in a sunny, warm location in the garden in soils that are moisture retentive but well drained. Grown in containers they should be fed regularly with a mild fertilizer. Our favourite way of eating eggplant in the summer is to brush slices of eggplant with an olive oil and garlic mix and barbecue them.
The last group of vegetables associated with summer abundance and autumn harvest are the Squash. Very tropical looking they all have large foliage and flowers some with silver markings on the leaves. All require a relatively fertile soil in a sunny location and once established are quite tough plants. In containers do not let them dry out as the leaves will scorch and regular mild fertilizing would be recommended. They come in two distinct groups that are treated differently.
Summer Squash are soft shelled fruit that are eaten fresh off the vine, the smaller the better. These include Zucchini, Pattipan and Scallopini type squash with various uses from salads to deep fried or barbecued. The flowers are also edible and are often prepared stuffed. Keep picking for continuous harvest through the summer.
Winter Squash are hard shelled fruit that you leave on the vine until the fall picking before the first frost. Post harvest ripening and drying of the fruit of 24 hours in full sun is required before storing in a cool, dark place (unheated crawl space or garage attached to home works). This groups covers a very diverse heritage with North American Pumpkins, French heirloom Butternut Squash, modern sweet fleshed Acorn Squash and many others in different shapes, sizes and colours. These vegetables are winter menu staples from pumpkin pie to soups and casseroles.
Fresh culinary herbs, straight out of the garden are a must have. Even the smallest windowsill garden can provide fresh herbs for cooking. Most require a warm, sunny location in the garden but not necessarily the most fertile soils as they are quite easy to grow.
Onions, garlic and chives all belong to the Allium group and all parts of the plants are edible from the sweet mildly onion or garlic flavoured flowers to the bulbs/roots and leaves. Shallow rooted plants they require soils on the moisture retentive side and good fertility is a good idea. Forms to try that we offer are the giant Asian and regular Garlic Chives, Siberian Garlic, regular Chives, Welsh Onion and the garlic tasting but not public offending Society Garlic.
By far the most popular herb for fresh use is Basil. These heat lovers can only be offered mid to late May into June to ensure that your plants will not be exposed to low temperatures which will stunt them and make them bolt to flowering. Grow in a warm sunny site, with good soil fertility for best leaf production. Varieties cover the classic Genovese and Giant Smooth Italian perfect for pesto production and for Asian cooking the Lemon and Siam Queen are popular. For that ornamental touch to a mixed vegetable container add Basil Red Rubin, not as large growing as the green leaf ones but still has good flavour.
The other group of essentials are the Parsley these short lived perennials can tolerate a wide range of conditions though ideal is sun to semi-shade in fertile soils that are well drained but moisture retentive. There are a number of forms from the traditional moss curled used mostly as a garnish to the real cooking Italian flat leaf types we have a giant form and the standard to choose from. Chervil is often used as a parsley substitute with its sweeter almost liquorice type flavour, great in salads to sweeten bitter tasting greens.
Cilantro is an essential for Mexican cooking while the seed known as Coriander is used a lot in Asian cuisine. This plant prefers a cooler growing season and is a short lived annual, several plantings may be required to maintain the plant in the garden during a season though it does self seed. Look for the Topf cultivar as it has been bred for container use, tolerating heat and is more compact in form.
Another staple herb is Dill both the flowers and foliage is used in cooking. Grow in a sunny, cool location in soils that are moisture retentive but well drained and fertile. Bulbing fennel has a similar look to Dill when young and the fine foliage with a mild liquorice type flavour is added to the food, later the bulb or stem can be harvested and cooked to add an anise like flavour to the meal. Both these plants add a lovely fine texture to the garden and their flowers attract a lot of pollinators.
Mints or Mentha are one of the few shade loving perennial herbs. Needing to be contained in a small garden they can be grown in pots as long as they are re- potted every year (this means breaking up the clump and taking the pieces at the edge of the pot to replant with). Slower growing is Ginger Mint with its variegated foliage and Apple Mint with its fuzzy soft green coloured leaves both of these are milder flavoured than the classic Peppermint used for teas and Spearmint the most popular for cooking with. For slightly unusual fragrances try Eau de Cologne Mint or Chocolate Mint (smells somewhat like an After Eight candy).
There is a large group of Mediterranean herbs that like the sun and well drained soils including Lavender, Oregano, Marjoram, Rosemary, Sage and Thyme. They are mainly perennials some forming small evergreen shrubs making them ideal for year round harvesting. Container culture is perfect for these plants provided they can be placed in a south facing, protected location in the winter. Both the flowers and the foliage is edible on these plants and are staples in many types of cuisine.
There are a number of other herbs grown for various purposes like Stevia with its sugary taste to the foliage with no calories, Summer Savory an essential to cook with beans, Chamomile for its calming tea, Fenugreek with its nutty flavour to add to Indian cooking or salads and French Tarragon a staple in French cuisine.