There's nothing quite like a sun-ripened tomato from your local farmer's market. The taste is incomparable to mealy grocery store tomatoes in December. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could enjoy the taste of heirloom fruits and vegetables without the long lines, early mornings and high costs associated with farmer's markets? Luckily, growing your own edible garden can be a simple endeavour for even the novice gardener. You also don't need a huge yard. You can still grow your own produce if you're confined to a tiny urban backyard or a small balcony or indoor space. All you need is a little room to grow your garden and a few tips to get started before you're on your way to beautiful seasonal ingredients all summer long.
It may be tempting to build a huge garden bed in your back yard, but gardening can be time consuming and potentially costly if you start big. A small soil plot is best if you're planting directly into the ground, think 1-2 square metres at most. Alternately, container planting is an easy way to try your hand at gardening while keeping your space small. Container gardening is also ideal for balcony spaces or even well-lit indoor spaces. Go even smaller and have a counter top garden where you can grow fresh herbs and microgreens. There are many kits available for this very purpose.
Some fruits and vegetables are much easier to grow than others, some need more or less sunlight and some are more prone to attracting pests. Janine Duns, a professional landscaper and gardener on Vancouver Island, recommends crowd favourites such as tomatoes, sweet peas, arugula, kale and basil for the beginner gardener. Other easy to grow fruits and vegetables include spinach, green leaf lettuce, rhubarb, sweet and hot peppers, summer squash, radishes, garlic and beets.
Think about your companions
Companion gardening is a technique where plants that are beneficial to each other are placed next to each other in the soil. This technique extends to fruits and vegetables and will result in happier plants with greater yields. Janine suggests planting tomatoes and basil together to ward off pests and improve the flavour of the tomatoes. She also suggests planting marigolds and bush beans together, as the marigolds will deter beetles from eating the bush beans (in addition to providing a beautiful sunny yellow flower for your garden).
Intimidated? Try growing herbs
Fresh herbs are a great way to introduce small-scale gardening into your life. Basil, mint, rosemary, parsley, cilantro and thyme can be grown in very small spaces as long as they have direct sunlight. Herbs are also wonderful to grow in the windowsill of your kitchen, just snip as they're needed and enjoy the satisfaction of high flavour at a greatly reduced cost. If tended to carefully, fresh herbs will often continue to grow into the fall and even into the winter if the lighting conditions are right.
Enjoy your harvest!
The convenience and appeal of having freshly harvested fruits and vegetables from your garden is immense and satisfying. Eating healthy is a pleasurable side effect of maintaining your own garden, as Janine says "for the past month I've been harvesting my arugula and kale, I think I planted way too many as we're doing salads every night!" It's hard to get sick of tomato and basil together, and if you're tired of salads you can make a batch of fresh tomato sauce full of all your other vegetables. If you grow zucchini or any other plant that grows quickly your neighbours will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labour as well. Rhubarb can be cooked into a simple compote with vanilla sugar to be used on Greek yogurt or folded into homemade muffins. If you have a surplus of tomatoes, peppers and garlic you can make salsa and then can it for intensely fresh flavour in the colder months. Similarly, basil, parsley and arugula can be made into pesto which can then be frozen in ice cube trays for later use.