There is something very wonderful about holding a sun warmed strawberry in your hand and taking that first bite, sprinkling a handful of fresh chives right from your garden into a grilled cheese sandwich or biting into a crunchy apple picked right from the tree.
There are many ways to grow your own food from the very complex to the very simple. You can start mapping out the heritage apple orchard and underplanting or simply add parsley to your pots instead of the centre Dracaena. Edible gardening, no matter how large or small the yard or even balcony, is an incredibly rewarding and absolutely do-able project!
The most important aspect of the edible garden is the plan. I don’t just mean a map of the extensively planned veggie garden including the multiple heritage bean varieties you just saw in the latest Martha Stewart magazine, I mean a plan of what you like to eat. If you are planning for you and your family or partner, ask them what they like as well. If you happen to have kids and they are like mine, your list will be fairly simple as you cannot grow Kraft dinner.
This way you can avoid planting the huge square footage of multiple kale, bean and tomato varieties, red currants and gooseberries, black currants, purple potatoes and exotic oriental salad greens only to come to the realization after countless months of toil not to mention cost of fancy seeds, sea soil, organic fertilizer, a set of mauve hand tools and a really cool hat that your family really only wanted some carrots, lettuce (so they would have something to pick out of their sandwiches) and a couple of apple trees.
So make sure you know what you want, and taste before you buy. For example, my old neighbor had an apple tree which bore fruit regularly each year but the apples were not picked but fell to the ground. I finally asked her and she said they planted a terrible apple and that no one in the family liked the taste of it. She liked the picture when she picked it out of the nursery. I identified it as a Belle de Boskoop, a lovely slightly russetted cooking apple from the Netherlands originating in the 1850’s. There are many farmers markets and growers out there if you check out the farm fresh guide. It’ll give you a chance to taste and decide if you really do want those tayberries or currants in your garden! I know this sounds funny but plan for harvest time too. If you always go away in late August, don’t get a Gravenstein apple. If you’re away in July, maybe get a fall raspberry.
Once you have your food map you can start to prepare. It is better to spend more time and money on the area prep. You can plant an intensive dedicated fruit and veg garden, or you can mix edibles throughout your existing garden.
Colourful lettuce varieties look great as edging in an annual bed, blueberry plants work nicely in the shrub border if given some nice acidic soil. Apple trees can be espaliered along a wall or fence to cut down on the space needed and there is a fantastic gardener I know who is planting a lovely raspberry border between her and her neighbor for sharing.
Tomatoes work great in pots at the front of a south facing house, just under the overhang. I plant a cherry tomato in a pot at the front steps with a “please try some” sign for the mail person or whoever comes to the door. If you’ve always been a Geranium and Dracaena in pots kind of person, try something new like adding some colourful “Flashing Lights Kale” in the centre surrounded by mixed colour lettuce and “Lemon Gem” Marigold (edible flowers).
Start small, start with the battles you can win a wise man once said.
If you only have a small balcony, get a nice pot you can live with. Believe it or not, the matte black plastic ones may be your best bet as they are not a bear to move, and the black shows off any leaf colour. Get the right kind of soil.
If you compost, that stuff is like gold!! If you don’t compost, now might be a great way to start. There are many different kinds of kitchen and balcony composters. They’ve just got a new one (Bokashi) at Art's that I have my eye on.
If the food that you like to grow requires sunlight, position your garden accordingly. Most berry and pomme crops require about 6 hours of sunlight a day to produce the most flavorful fruits. Most apples require another variety blooming at the same time to make fruits, as do pears, blueberries, and many plums and cherries so plan accordingly.
Bugs!!!! Ackkkk. Yes, you will have bugs you will have to wash off your produce, dirt too. There will also be bees, you hope, to pollinate stuff, slugs that will share some of your lettuce and strawberries, voles, moles and possibly a chunky little dog that will eat all the blueberries off of your plants. You will learn to accept these imperfections with a Zen like sense of calm. You will learn that the odd bit of dirt or sand in your lettuce is just fine; it will remind you of camping.
You will plant a marigold decoy crop for the slugs. You will learn speed and cunning when protecting your next blueberry crop, you will become a dead shot with the supersoaker. You will learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Be forgiving of yourself and learn from your mistakes. Have fun, get dirty and try something new.