Jun 12, 2010
11:12 AM

Eating Your Way Around the Garden

I don’t think any of us can miss the latest headlines about growing our own food. Growing our food is good for the planet; it’s good for a lot of reasons. But you may already have a landscaped yard, and little room to create traditional raised beds. Fortunately, many edible plants grow very successfully tucked in here and there around other plants in the garden.

As you begin selecting edible plants to tuck in amongst your other plants, there are a handful of things to keep in mind: plants’ sun requirements, water requirements, pest control, and using high quality plant starts.

The first step in your planting journey is to inventory the sun exposures in your yard. As you start narrowing down which edibles to grow, select those that match your yard’s sun exposures. For the most part, edible plants need at least four to six hours of sunlight a day. Some prefer more sun, so check to see what your new plant requires. Take into account the fact that taller plants and trees in the area will provide some shading throughout the day and the amount varies depending on the seasons.

The next planning step is to figure out how you will water your edibles. Many edible plants require more frequent watering than the average ornamentals. This is the tricky part of growing edibles in existing landscape settings – providing adequate water for the edibles, while not over-watering the other plants. Over-watering is not healthy for existing ornamentals, and it wastes water. One solution is to hand-water the areas where edibles are planted. Alternatively, you can set up small groups of edibles in planting areas (almost like small raised beds), where it is possible to add an additional watering zone to your irrigation setup.

The next thing you will inevitably run across in your edible journey is pests. It is a good practice to use only organic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers on and around your edibles. Quarterly applications of quality compost help grow healthy plants, which then can tolerate some pest damage. (Although, a regular application of organic snail bait still might be in order.) Netting is the best way to handle big pests such as squirrels, rodents, rabbits, birds, and deer. It doesn’t look great, but it’s temporary— just in place until you have harvested the gold you waited all season to collect.

Lastly, plant quality starts. It’s very difficult to start vegetable seeds directly in the ground, primarily due to water and pest reasons already mentioned. Start your vegetable seeds in 4-inch pots, and then transplant seedlings into the garden. Of course, the easiest way to start is to purchase seedlings from your local nursery; many have good selections to choose from. Herbs can be started from 4-inch pots.  Trees and shrubs should be started from bare root or container stock.

So, what will you be eating as you meander your way around your productive garden? My recommendation is to start small. Start with herbs, or a tomato plant.  Start a pumpkin and let it grow in and around the garden. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy your edible journey through the garden.

Tina Roushall is a landscape designer who provides consultation for and design of edible and ornamental landscapes in the Mid-Peninsula area. She is a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, and is a graduate of the University of California Cooperative Extension San Mateo/San Francisco Master Gardener program. She can be reached at .

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