Growing your own food is rewarding and a healthy choice; it also can save money in your family food budget. It also can be easy, especially if you keep it as simple as possible. Here are 5 tips to make growing food for your kitchen easier and more fun:
Grow only Food you Like to Eat
It’s tempting when shopping for seeds or plants to select vegetables you think you should eat more often or to choose plants that just look healthy. But if you never have had a vegetable garden before, you’re likely to enjoy more success if you choose only vegetables you know you and your family will eat. It gives you more incentive to spend some time growing and caring for the plant.
Besides, if you grow 10 different types of food, especially plants that are new to you, it can become confusing and overwhelming. Narrow it down for space, water use and simplicity. By growing food you will prepare in the kitchen, you make the best use of water and your time! After initial success, add a new vegetable or herb the next season or year.
Grow only Enough Food for your Family
It’s also tempting to grow two or three of every plant to make sure you have enough. Just remember how large mature vegetables can get. To keep them from being too crowded and to avoid food waste, plant enough for your family only.
Most homeowners have limited space, so try getting by with only one or two of each plant. It depends on how much fruit each produces and whether it all tends to ripen at once or in a nice long period of time. Unless you are planning to can and stock up for a year, grow reasonable amounts for your family (start with one zucchini plant; trust me on this). If you have a long enough growing season, space apart when you plant. Sow a cucumber seed and wait about two weeks after you see it pop up and begin to grow before sowing another; this spreads out your harvest. It is especially helpful for lettuces and other greens; I try to start seeds for new lettuce as soon as I begin harvesting one set of plants.
Incorporate Edibles into your Landscape
If space is limited, remember that lots of food plants you grow look pretty in your garden. You can trellis cucumbers, beans or snap peas, grow bush tomatoes in containers, or plant kale or pretty lettuce mixes throughout your garden or on your patio. Many herbs are attractive xeric plants and support bees and butterflies.
In addition to greens, I find cilantro, carrots, dill, fennel and basil to be pretty plants. By mixing these and other vegetables in with flowers and shrubs, you help the bees and butterflies and maintain an attractive, but abundant, landscape.
Grow a few Perennial Herbs
We have rosemary, thyme and sage growing among ornamental plants. They blend into the landscape, but are steps from the back door for cutting a leaf or sprig for cooking. Check with your local extension office or nursery for edibles that are perennial in your area. This is a great way to save money by filling an empty spot in your landscape with a plant that looks pretty, uses little water once mature, and provides food or flavoring in your kitchen.
Grow Edibles in Containers
So many edible plants thrive in containers. I’ve had success with tomatoes with smaller fruit (cherry, grape, cocktail sizes). Cucumbers can thrive in containers if you place them against a trellis or fence they can climb on. Sweet peas are pretty cool-season plants and crunchy snacks growing on a trellis near your home. Just select a container large enough (at least 12 inches in diameter at the top and about two feet tall for most tomatoes). It’s fun to rearrange the containers to help them get sun or shade. You also can get creative and mix herbs or vegetables with flowers. I’ve grown marigolds around the rim of my tomato containers, for example.
Be sure to check with local sources or gardeners you know about the best time to grow foods in your area, especially if you live in the low desert. Most of all, don’t stress. Some plants fail to produce, but it’s often because of crazy Southwest weather more than anything you do. And even if a harvest is not what you expect, any food you harvest from your yard is much fresher and tastier than the ones you buy from a grocery bin. Learn from your failures and try again.
Teresa Odle is the author of a blog on low-water gardening in the Southwest. Teresa trained as a Master Gardener in Albuquerque, N.M. She grew up in the Phoenix area, and has lived in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Teresa and her husband now attempt to manage four acres in zone 6B of southeastern New Mexico. The land includes a large xeric garden, herbs and vegetables and a small orchard that borders the Rio Ruidoso in Lincoln County.
Teresa’s blog, Gardening in a Drought, won a 2016 national award for best writing in digital media from the Association for Garden Communicators. When she’s not outside or writing about gardening, Teresa works as editor of African Violet Magazine and as a freelance editor and writer.