Chatelaine Kitchen

A cook's garden: Seven tips for starting your own

In this new summer blog, I'll be documenting my successes, failures, and tips as a first-time vegetable garden newbie

Vegetable garden: Tips for growing a vegetable garden

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First things first: I am not a gardener. I was not blessed with a green thumb and my record for  keeping house plants alive is dismal. However, I am a cook – and it is every cook’s desire to work with the freshest ingredients possible. This yearning is what has driven me to attempt, for the first time, growing a vegetable garden.

This blog will be a great platform to share my tips, successes, and presumably failures of this garden – as well as for getting feedback from the many of you out there who have a similar interest in growing food and who are likely far more experienced than I.

My goals for the garden are: to grow fresh vegetables that I can use in my everyday cooking, and to develop new, fresh recipes with them; to get my children involved in the growing of their food, hopefully connecting them to the value of food and increasing their interest in cooking; and last but not least important, to prove to myself that I’m not quite as hopeless in the garden as others have suggested. Ahem.

After some chit chat with people who know a thing or two about gardening, here’s the criteria I applied in developing a plan for this garden:

Keep it simple
Select a maximum of 8 to 10 items to plant. If you over plant your garden it may become too hard to manage.

Determine seeds or plants
Decide which items you want to grow from seeds and which from plants. Growing from seeds requires planting earlier – usually in April after the last frost. Some items such as tomatoes and peppers are simply easier to grow from small plants. These items are typically planted around the May long weekend.

Pick a sure thing
Select a few vegetables that are borderline foolproof. (A dangerous statement I know!) Beans, peas, carrots and beets generally fit this category.

Create a staggered harvest
In order to enjoy the vegetable garden throughout the season, select things that will be ready at different stages of the summer. Items like sugar pumpkins and tomatoes will be available later in the summer when other vegetables have already been harvested.

Plant some “everydays”
If you plan on involving kids, you must select produce they like and that they’ll be excited to eat. Cucumbers and lettuce are the only green vegetables consumed by my 3 year old – so they are in!

Something in the dirt
Kids love to get down and dirty, so ensure there’s something they can either dig up or pull out. For this, carrots, beets and potatoes will do the trick.

Treat yourself
After all this hard work, a cook needs to have something on hand that will feels like a treat. For this category, I will attempt to grow ancho chili peppers. Yippee!

The plan: The time is now to plant your seeds. To date, we have planted beets, carrots, beans, peas, pumpkins and lettuce in the ground. In terms of container planters (ideal for urban environments) I will be growing cherry tomatoes and peppers from mini plants instead of seeds. Herbs will also be contained to planters, starting at the end of May. In the weeks to come I’ll share my unique and completely out of my league plan to grow cucumbers.

Up next: How to grow potatoes, with no garden at all…on your back porch!

Originally published May 2nd, 2012.