Why on earth should I start a backyard garden?
Simple! So you can have access to the best produce available. Produce that you’ve grown yourself. Because knowing what can grow and how and when it can grow will improve every meal you make. Because you should have some food available to you and your family that you have planted, raised, and for which you have made the decisions regarding care and chemical use.
Visiting my sister and her great boyfriend in New York last week, I was reminded just how incredible it is to be able to start a garden and fill it with fresh produce. Since the set-up process can be intimidating and there are definitely some expenses involved, I thought that it would make sense to take today to encourage anyone out there who’s considering a backyard garden of their own to get off their butts and just do it!
(All of the pictures here are of produce grown here at Tasting Everything. We have three raised beds and a few pots that we take advantage of all year long.)
We had so much fun in NY going to garden stores, talking to employees, and learning about gardening in her area. We picked out the dirt we wanted to use, chose the compost, and we found seeds and plants. We brought it back to their great apartment, hauled everything up the steepest flight of stairs ever, and had a blast.
The best part was filling up her beds and getting those tiny seeds and little plants in there. Every morning after we filled the beds, we ran outside to check the progress of the little plants, making sure that nothing had gotten to them in the night. (This is New York. She has opossums the size of dogs lurking around her property, waiting for an invite to dinner…) Though they only have two raised beds, soon they’ll have more fennel, endive, romaine, radishes, beans, tatsoi, and miners lettuce than they will know what to do with. It’s so rewarding!
Just imagine being able to simply snip a few herbs for a recipe instead of the usual process of finding them at the store, buying more than you need, and paying entirely too much. Picture being able to head outside to your backyard garden to pull carrots and garlic out of the dirt that you’ve cultivated, warm with sunlight, and filled with unbeatable flavor. Gathering bushels of peppers and tomatoes for the price of a few little plants. More importantly, imagine knowing the quality of the food that you’re eating, the chemicals that have or have not been added, and the way that the food you eat has been handled and transported.
You really can control what you eat if you choose to.
You can also use the space that you have to grow really cool foods that you honestly might not be able to find in a store. Gorgeous edible flowers, shoots, and vines, multi-colored peppers, and beautiful leaves that simply don’t show up even at the best shops. You can pick a single squash blossom or use your baby greens and teeny tiny vegetables without paying a fortune. Use that backyard garden to your advantage!
That’s really how I’m able to add fun garnishes to the food around here even on a tight budget! Nearly every recipe here features food that I’ve pulled out of our backyard garden or a pot in our kitchen. I definitely don’t go out and buy any micro greens or edible flowers you see at Tasting Everything, and I use them all the time. (You can see our nasturtiums on the Cod with Summer Vegetables recipe and the Umami Corn recipe, and micro greens sprinkled over everything from the Homemade Gluten-Free Ravioli recipe and the Happy Accident Brown Rice Bowl to the Clear Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho.
If you start your herbs, lettuces, and vegetables from seed, and you’ll have to thin them out, and there’s simply no reason to throw those nutrition-packed little sprouts in the compost. Use them! Before you know it, you’ll find yourself sprinkling your dinners with shoots, flowers, and micro greens like some of the best Chefs out there. (I call it “backyard garden to table dining…)
Isn’t growing produce a ton of effort?
Growing produce at home doesn’t have to be a massive project. It can be, of course, but it doesn’t have to be. Simply planting some herbs in tin cans and keeping them on a windowsill or hanging a pot or bucket of upside down tomatoes in the summer can be unbelievably rewarding. You have this ability to get your hands dirty and take care of something. You can decide how you want to treat your food and what you want to do with it. Plus you learn so much about how and when things grow and what it takes to successfully raise the food that you eat.
It’s an amazing opportunity to improve the food that you eat and the meals that you make.
You really can control what you eat if you choose to. Click To Tweet
If you don’t have a lot of money to play with there are a ton of plants that will grow well in shallow pots, found objects (like cans, jars, and bottles, gutters, pallets, and so on), and boxes. Herbs and lettuces are great for shallow spots and many don’t even need much in the way of sunlight. (Anything you’re growing for the leaves and not the fruits doesn’t need a huge amount of sunlight.) You can even grow micro greens and sprouts in trays and jars in your kitchen with just a little water and no dirt! (I’ve used this tray set a lot, and definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a super easy, no-dirt way to get started!)
If you can find deeper pots and have a little space in the sun, you can have peppers, tomatoes, fennel, beans, berries, and pretty much anything else. You can even grow blueberries, citrus trees and figs in large pots and barrels. If you have space for more, raised beds and even pallets filled with dirt can yield huge harvests. It’s not that difficult to put together a raised bed or three, and you might even be able to find free wood on Craigslist. (Be careful: you need to source wood that hasn’t been treated with any crazy chemicals that could spread into your beds. Ask questions before you get the wood!)
No space on the ground? Think vertical! Ladder shelves, hanging pots, rain gutters, and pallets (here’s a cool how-to for a vertical pallet bed!) can all grow lots of food without taking up a bunch of ground space. Looking for ideas? I love Pinterest for gardening ideas – check it out! You can search for specific things like “vertical gardens,” “hanging gardens,” “raised beds,” produce garden,” “fall garden,” and anything else you might find interesting.
Invest in your dirt
The most important thing you can do for your backyard garden is invest in your dirt. Here in Napa, we have easy access to great dirt, lots of choices when it comes to compost and fertilizers, and amazing weather. In Stated Island however, my sister and I had tons of fun at an awesome garden store where we met an employee who had about a million ideas for creating a great bed in which to grow produce. He had suggestions regarding soil, peat/soil/compost mixes, plus this cool idea that he called a “lasagna garden,” which is what we decided to do. He also suggested ways to check and improve the quality of your soil. This guy was a fountain of information!
The lasagna garden is working for my sister in her backyard garden! Basically, you layer dirt with brown and green compost, allowing the compost to process inside the bed, giving warmth and food to the plants on top. It’s actually a really amazing idea and it’s working incredibly well for her so far!
Don’t be afraid to head over to a gardening/home improvement store and talk to the employees. There’s bound to be at least one person there who is passionate about gardening and filled with information. If you can’t find anyone, turn to the internet! The number of experts that you can reach in just a couple of clicks is astonishing. There are people out there who will help you for free, people who can teach you what you need to know, classes you can take, videos you can watch, and so on. In fact, my awesome dude has a lovely habit of occasionally falling asleep to YouTube videos about Bonsai gardening. The information is out there!
Just know that whatever you effort you put into your backyard garden, you can reap a thousand times over. The food you grow yourself tastes so much better than anything that’s been sprayed with chemicals and transported hundreds or thousands of miles. Plus, there’s just something so satisfying about coming into the house with baskets filled with produce still warm from the sun and sharing everything with the people that you care about.
Give it a try!
Looking for cool ways to use your own backyard garden produce? Check out: