Home & Garden

Grow and assemble your own edible salad. (Photo by Jennifer Porwit)

By Jennifer Porwit, master gardener

Many of us live where our yards are small or we don’t even have a yard of our own at all. How can we grow our own food under those conditions? That situation requires thinking out of the box (or the garden). There are many tactics that can be used.

Scenario #1: All outside space is taken up by flowers or concrete.

Solution – Sneak edibles in amongst the strictly ornamental plants. In the background a shorter vining type of winter squash such as “Ponca” can be tied up onto a sturdy tripod. The diminutive ‘Bush Baby’ and ‘Raven’ zucchini varieties can be grown in the ground or in a large container. All of the squashes have large decorative leaves. Speaking of decoration, four-foot-tall ‘Red Burgundy’ okra has striking burgundy colored fruits and stems, as well as deep red flowers that look like small hibiscus blooms. A smaller red okra is ‘Little Lucy.’

Groups, rather than rows, of ‘Rainbow’ swiss chard can be tucked in here and there for glimpses of red, yellow and orange stems. As the plants grow the outer stems and leaves can be harvested on an on-going basis. Beets, the cousins of swiss chard, have dark green ruffled leaves with burgundy or yellowish stems, as well as the enlarged root. These are best placed where other plants will fill in when the beets are harvested. ‘Golden’ and ‘Detroit Dark Red’ are both varieties where the entire plant is edible. ‘Golden’ has the advantage of not having juice that stains.

Most of the tall varieties of tomatoes are best hidden at the back of a decorative garden and supported by sturdy stakes or enclosed in a large wire cylinder. However, the newer varieties of dwarf indeterminate tomatoes can be placed more centrally. These varieties range in height from 2 feet to 4 feet, and the fruit come in all colors. Some support is best. Varieties sold locally include ‘Rosella Purple, ‘Golden Gypsy,’ and ‘Heartland.’ Very short varieties like ‘Tiny Tim’(cherry) and ‘New Big Dwarf’ (slicer) and can be placed front and center.

Carrots have fine feathery foliage which is ideal as a front edging for a bed. It has the advantage of looking good until late in the season. Individual plants can be harvested on an ongoing basis while maintaining the overall look. Another edging choice is lettuce, which comes in many colors and textures and can be harvested a few leaves at a time from many plants or whole plants can be removed where there is a crowd. In a couple days the remaining plants grow and the harvested one isn’t even missed. When lettuce goes to seed it can be easily pulled as part of regular maintenance.

Herbs such as dill, basil, rosemary, and chives all are small plants that can be tucked in here and there in a decorative garden very easily. Dill and chives are annual plants that need to be replanted each year. Rosemary is a perennial that is not winter-hardy here, but can be potted up and used as a houseplant in the winter. Chives are perennials that slowly multiply in place and can be harvested for many years.

Many flowers are edible and add color to a salad or stir fry. Included are nasturtiums, violets, basil, chamomile, pansy, rose, marigold, and daylily. Remember, do not eat any plant parts that have been sprayed with insecticide.

Unused edges or corners of patios, sidewalks and driveways are good places for large pots. Most all medium and small-sized edible plants can grow in pots as long as they do not have really large root systems.

Scenario #2: Very little of the yard has sun all of the time.

Solutions – Plant edibles that don’t require full sun, but tolerate partial sun (four to eight hours of direct sun per day), such as: arugula, asparagus, beets, bok choi, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, garlic, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, parsnip, potatoes, radish, rhubarb, rutabaga, scallions, spinach, tatsoi, and turnip. Note that these all are leafy or root crops, not fruits.

Chase the sun – a dwarf variety of tomato plant in a large pot can be moved around the yard by means of a small wagon or wheelbarrow.

Scenario #3: There is no ground to plant in where one lives.

Solutions – Rent a plot in a community garden. Help a friend or an elderly person with his/her garden and share the produce. Where potted plants are allowed at multifamily units fill the pots with edibles instead of strictly decorative plants.

When growing vegetables in pot it is advisable to fill the pot with well-draining potting soil that drains well, not soil from a garden that tends to compact and get hard. Growing plants in pots requires regular fertilization. It is important to read the label on the fertilizer packaging and follow the advice given regarding how much fertilizer to use and how often it should be applied. Too much fertilizer is as bad as too little.

Grow sprouts of various kinds in your kitchen. Common seeds to sprout are alfalfa seeds, broccoli seeds, red clover seeds, lentils, mung beans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds. The only equipment needed is a glass jar with a sprouting screen lid. Besides being nutritious, sprouts can be grown year around. Bean sprouts are an essential ingredient in many Asian dishes.


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