It’s hard not to feel like you’re behind when you look at Martha Stewart’s monthly calendar in the first few pages of Living. No, Martha, I haven’t cleaned my gutters, defrosted my fridge (have I ever?), or chilled with my ponies this month. I don’t even have ponies. But I also haven’t started getting seedlings ready for my garden, either. Every time I think about it, my brain shuts down. Garden? What garden! It’s freezing out! But freezing or not, Martha’s right: it is time to start planning.
As a cook, there’s nothing more empowering than having control over your ingredients. And there’s no better way to ensure their greatness than having grown them yourself. From broccoli to squash blossoms, growing an edible garden is not only a great way to connect with your food, it’s also a fun way to reduce your monthly produce bill.
Creating an edible garden is something you can do anywhere. For years, I grew herbs, fruits, and vegetables in the two windowsills of my postage-stamp sized New York City apartment. Now, we go whole hog on a half acre of loamy land and a shady front porch. From April until November, we have fresh veggies on hand. There’s something about a plant you grew yourself that just tastes better on a plate.
To get started, take a little time to know before you grow. What grows well in your region? How do you get started? Marta Teecan is a trained chef turned kitchen gardener, and her book, Homegrown, can help you get your garden plans off the ground. (It’s also just a really nice read!) I like to have a regional planting guide on hand, too, just so that I avoid any rookie farmer pitfalls. Ask your local nursery if they can recommend a good one — they usually know the best guide for the area.
Next, you’ll want to figure out where you’re going to garden. I like to use our back yard, away from where the dogs play, but I also grow lettuce in the shade of our covered front porch and herbs and potted fruits on the back porch. Granted, as a partial garden, my front door doesn’t welcome you with anything as pretty as twisty-topiaries, but there’s something charming about a guest entering your home near a bed of arugula that will soon become their dinner salad.
After you’ve worked out the basics and mapped out your garden, determine your seedling growing schedule. No matter where you are, it’s probably time to get a jump start on your veggies. This temperature chart for when to start your seeds is really helpful. Starting seeds is a fun activity, and it’s great to do with kids! There are a lot of clever ways to start seeds, too. I’m partial to planting my seeds in eggshells, which are easy to label and a great source of calcium for the plant, but you can also use ice cream cones or create your own mini-green house. It’ll be awhile yet before they go outside, so come up with a plan for where they can live in the meantime that works well with your home (and the two and four legged traffic therein).
As the seeds start to grow, you’ll have plenty of time to work out the rest of the details (like tilling the soil and finding a super cute gardening apron). But taking a few minutes this time of year to sit down and plan for the summer will yield a delicious bounty in just a few months. Plus, garden planning can legitimately include salivating over the Agrarian collection from Williams Sonoma (and dreaming of owning your own chickens who would, of course, live in an Architectural Digest-worthy chicken coop), which is never a bad way to spend an afternoon.
I have no big dreams of micro-farming an organically perfect crop like Martha probably does, but I do love keeping an edible garden that sustains us with fruits, vegetables, and herbs throughout the year. Last year, we nursed to life four different kinds of corn, a variety of lettuce, more tomatoes than I can name (all of them delicious), peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, peas, beans, lemons, strawberries, and all manner of herbs. And for all that bounty, I can thank a little careful planning when it was still freezing cold out. Even if I always fail to do it on Martha’s schedule.
Tell me: Do you keep an edible garden at home? If not, what’s stopping you? (We can do this together! I promise it will be worth it.)