By Susan Albert
Producing crops in your own backyard can be an exciting adventure. Picking sweet, juicy, small fruits right off the plant or enjoying homegrown vegetables beats any store-bought produce. And seasoning your dishes with fresh herbs from the garden makes any cook even better.
But what if you don’t live in rural America with plenty of room to grow? No problem. There are many edible crops that don’t require a huge space. And it’s now in vogue to interplant fruits and vegetables among the ornamentals. Most vegetables also can be grown in large pots.
Since I’m preoccupied with ornamentals, I consulted fellow master gardeners for crops to grow in small spaces. Washington County master gardeners Maureen and Steve Forsythe grow several vegetables in their backyard raised beds, and they offer the following tips:
- Cool-season vegetables such as carrots, radishes, and leaf lettuce, plus warm season peppers and green beans, can be grown easily in small spaces.
- Tomatoes are a popular backyard crop, but extreme heat can stop the production short.
- To further maximize space, consider growing a vine crop, such as cucumbers, on a trellis.
Your state Extension fact sheets give details on the best varieties and cultural practices for your area. (Go to www.aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.)
This photo shows leaf lettuces interspersed with radishes (the larger leafed plant). Also in the bed are garlic, tomatoes, beans at the right in the red cage, and sweet peas on the left in the other cage.
I like the basics -- common sage, Greek oregano, chives, and rosemary, pictured.
I also grow African Blue Basil separately for the pollinators. I buy it every year at the area herb festivals if I haven’t overwintered a cutting. It’s a magnet for bees and butterflies, and because it’s sterile, it can’t produce seeds; therefore it blooms from spring to frost.
Blueberry bushes are getting a lot of attention these days, partly because they double as a great ornamental with colorful fall foliage. But not all blueberries are created equal. Oklahoma and Texas Extension services recommend a highbush variety in northeastern Oklahoma and a rabbiteye variety such as ‘Tifblue’ in southeastern Oklahoma and Texas. Also, blueberry bushes require acidic soil, so amendments may be necessary.
Strawberries, which send out runners to make new plants, can be kept in check. The sweet fruits are a backyard favorite.
Choose June-bearing plants, which produce fruit from early May to mid-June, or everbearing, which produce from mid-May to mid-June, sporadically during the summer, and then again in the fall. In most of Oklahoma, plant in early spring, but in the southeastern third of Oklahoma and in Texas, it’s best to plant strawberries in the fall.
For edible crops, always choose the disease-resistant varieties when available and only buy healthy transplants.