5 Crops To Consider
By Melissa Cameron
More than ever, we are returning to the garden to grow food. Whether an urge to eat more locally, the desire to reconnect with our ancestral traditions or simply a coy ruse to try and engage the children to try more veggies, we are once again growing food in our yards. Urban, suburban and rural dwellers alike are creating what the French call a ‘potager’, or simply put, a kitchen garden. In-ground gardens, raised garden beds and containers on balconies are peeking out of yards across the country. Tended by a hugely diverse demographic, edible gardening is no longer a trend or fad, but a staple that is here to stay.
Propelled by the farm to table movement and local food initiatives, edible gardening is being championed by food security projects in community gardens and extends to the epicurean set who wish to grow something less mundane than what is found at the grocery store. Family tables are now being graced with culturally specific herbs and vegetables and the diaspora of recipes extends to ingredients from the garden.
As an organic master gardener and founder of the garden design firm The Good Seed, I help educate people who wish to grow an abundant home garden as well as champion organic food for all through the charity that I co-founded, the Abermoray Garden Collective. My work truly extends from seed to plate, as students and clients marvel at the first sun-kissed tomato that ripens, still warm from the sun and destined to be paired with freshly pinched basil from the garden in a delicious pasta. While there are many important tenants in edible gardening, one that rings true every time is the need for diversity. Growing herbs, vegetables and flowers together will enhance your garden aesthetic as well as improve your overall yield. This summer, let’s let the diversity in the garden mirror itself on your plate. The more variety you can manage to plant in the garden the more extravagant your harvest. Abundance in the summer garden comes in many forms: homemade pickles with homegrown cucumbers and dill, the prolific zucchinis that come on all at once or the intoxicating herbaceous scent of lavender or roses flocking your garden.
If you haven’t started your garden yet this year and you’re yearning to harvest you needn’t worry – there’s still time. Many crops can be directly sown – that is planted out in the soil from seed instead of seedling – and produce a wonderful yield. Starting your garden later in the season still requires you to begin with healthy soil, so be sure to invest in amending your garden beds or containers with good quality compost or worm castings and don’t scrimp on this most important determinant of success. Here is a list of crops to consider:
- Carrots: one of the most satisfying crops to grow, carrots can be seeded through September in most growing zones and are easily sown in loamy soil. Because carrots have an unusually low germination rate, don’t hesitate to be a little heavy handed as you dispense your seed. To further your chances of success, be sure not to plant your carrot seeds too deep and keep the soil surface moist until you see the first set of leaves appear. Carrots seeded densely can always be thinned as they mature. Don’t hesitate to grow the rainbow with carrots; there are many colours ranging from white to red to yellow to purple which include tasty heirloom varieties.
- Cucumbers and zucchini: these cucurbits grow wonderfully from seed and can be started in July to have a harvest in the early fall. Both of these wonderful fruits require pollination, so take note of the suggestion below regarding flowers as companion plants.
- Bush beans: not the tall and winding variety you might recall from your youth but rather a shorter and compact bean that will mature in record time in the garden. Bush beans come in a variety of pleasing colours, green, yellow and purple and can be sown densely, four or five plants per square foot. Best enjoyed when they are slightly immature, these tender legumes have a surprising sweetness when enjoyed right out of the garden.
- Beets: perhaps the most underrated root crop, beets are both easy to grow and versatile. With both the greens and the beetroot being edible, they are a no-waste vegetable that can be enjoyed in endless ways: shaved thin raw in salads, slowly roasted to bring out the caramelized sugars, pickled, the list goes on.
- Flowers: encourage the presence of pollinators in your garden by directly sowing brightly coloured flowers. Nasturtium is an easy choice, with both the leaves and flowers edible and an excellent peppery garnish to salads and dishes. Calendula can be used in teas and salves.
When considering which crops to add to your garden, whether this summer or beyond, start with your palette. What is it that you use most and enjoy eating? Herb gardens are a wonderful introduction to tending a garden for those new to outdoor edible plants and they are tolerant of container planting, some shade and are easily incorporated into recipes, teas and cocktails. The more adventurous gardener will be quickly rewarded by searching out heirloom and specialty seed varieties. Spicy mustard greens, heritage pea varieties preserved by Italian monks and delicious white buttery salad turnips are always on my must-haves list.
Once you’ve got your harvest in hand, the magic begins. Preparing and sharing your garden bounty is the true garden to table experience, with meals shared outdoors at the table with family and friends inspiring joy and community. The journey from seed to plate is the best way to celebrate the seasonal flavours of summer. À table!
Melissa Cameron is an Organic Master Gardener and founder of The Good Seed, A garden education and design company. For more information, Visit www.Thegoodseedgarden.Com