By Glenn DiNella
Like most homeowners, grass and ornamental plants in beds take up the bulk of my landscape. With limited space for growing edibles, I’ve taught myself a few tricks to get the most out of farming in suburbia.
Add edibles to landscape beds. In one bed, bordering the path to my back door, I tucked in a couple of Kiowa blackberry canes and four blueberry bushes. For better fruit production, plant different cultivars. I have a mystery type of blueberry a neighbor gave me. This spring I added three more blueberry shrubs (‘Brightwell’, ‘Home Bell’, and ‘Bountiful Blue’) I found at Lowe’s. They’re not supposed to require a long chilling period, like Northern blueberry plants.
Rotate your crops. In fall, winter, and spring I grow cold-hardy crops in half of my veggie plot: parsley, mesclun mix greens, broccoli, Swiss chard, and onions this year. All winter I continue to add compost, sand, coffee grounds, fireplace ashes, and other good stuff to the naked half of my plot.
After danger of frost has passed, I plant the amended area with summer vegetables. Once I’ve harvested the winter veggies (usually by mid-spring), I start amending that side with compost. In fall I harvest or pull up the summer veggies, and the cycle begins again.
Choose crops carefully. Think of why you want to grow certain edibles. Here are some of the reasons I grow particular crops -- maybe they can help you too.
- Compact habit. I simply don’t have space to grow watermelons, pumpkins, and other space hogs. I select small, bush-type cherry or grape tomatoes rather than the gangly “indeterminate” vine types. To gain space you can add a trellis to grow things vertically. Locate tall plants on the north or east side of your garden. If you plant on the southern or western side, tall plants block the sun from reaching smaller plants.
- Freshness. Often I need only a few sprigs of parsley for a pasta dish, or one green onion for a salad. When I buy these herbs and veggies at the grocery, most of them rot in my refrigerator. If they grow just outside my back door, I harvest what I need for that meal, and leave the rest for another day.
- Cost. I set out a few bell pepper plants each year for a simple reason: For the cost of one mature bell pepper at the grocery, I can buy a plant that provides half a dozen or more peppers that summer. The same with mesclun salad mixes (shown), which are simple to grow and save lots of dough.
- Novelty. I like throwing a few curveballs into the rotation. This year I’m growing garlic for the first time. And when I saw edamame plants at Lowe’s this year, I knew I had to try them. The edamame beans I find in the frozen food section of my local grocery are fine, but I thought it would fun to grow my own this year.
- Family favorites. My wife likes squash, and wants to see it growing in the garden, so I purchased a six-pack of crookneck squash. Plant seedlings no deeper than they grew in their containers. Too much soil around the stem can cause seedlings to rot at ground level and die (called damping off). Also squash is easy to grow from seed.