Anyone with a relatively small patch of fertile ground can grow a considerable amount of food.
The following is a list, in no particular order, of some of my garden favourites.
Perennial herbs and annual herbs that tend to sow themselves, including things like sage, savory, rosemary, oregano, thyme and cilantro, are easy. Once established, they only require a little weeding and thinning and a bit of compost. Fresh or dried, they add flavour to what otherwise would be bland dishes and promote good health.
The broccoli grown in a garden is the same as what can be had in grocery stores but should be treated differently. Once the initial heads have been harvested – typically in July – allow the plants to keep growing. As long as you keep the plants from flowering, they will produce secondary heads and then mini-heads until freeze-up.
Egyptian walking onions can not only provide a year-round source of onion flavour, they’re easy to grow and maintain. A perennial, the leek-like underground portion of the plant can be harvested in early spring or even over the winter. Through much of the summer and into the fall, the plant produces tiny onions at the top of the leaves that can be harvested any time onion flavour is required in a meal.
Once an Egyptian walking onion plant is established, it begins to live up to its name. The top onions, if left unharvested, will eventually root themselves next to the mother plant. To start a new mother plant or a clump of new mother plants, simply move a few plantlets to a new location.
Given the price of potatoes in the fall, one might argue there’s little point of growing your own in a limited space. However, it’s hard to beat the flavour of a garden potato, especially if the soil has a significant clay content. I’ve found common scab can be a problem, but if your potatoes are rotated in different parts of your garden for a few years, the issue will resolve itself.
Black raspberries are an annual treat in our garden. They can bear for close to two weeks around the end of June but do require trellising and the annual removal of the old growth, snipped away at ground level. Take care to wear gloves.
The pole bean variety we’ve been growing since our children were small was obtained from the Macaulay Heritage House in Picton in Prince Edward County. According to the woman who gave me a few seeds, they have been grown there since the 19th century and one might suspect were once cultivated by indigenous peoples. Indeterminant, they produce a flat green bean, perhaps four to five inches in length which takes on a creamy texture with a pleasing, nutty flavour when cooked. The dried beans, harvested in the fall, are a great addition to soups and chili and other dishes but make sure you save 50 or so to plant the following year.
Red beets are planted in a wide bed in our garden and so take up relatively little space. We grow them to make pickled beets, an annual ritual that generally occurs sometime in July but don’t give up on your patch until the fall. Borscht – beet soup – has become a fall favourite in our home. We’ve also found that the greens, when still tender in the spring, are a good, if not superior, alternative to spinach.
Leeks should be planted in a traditional row and well-spaced within the row. I plant seedlings into a shallow trench and later fill in the trench when the plants are large enough to maximize the length of the white portion.
No garden is complete without tomatoes, or a lot of them. This year I’ve added a few additions to my “big-pointy” variety – an old-fashioned canning type. My Boxcar Willies, Captain Lucky’s and two beefsteak types obtained from a private breeder will begin producing by August. For gardening, choose an indeterminant type and if leaves begin to yellow from disease, especially near the bottom of your plants, remove them. If you want an early harvest, spend the money for a larger plant from your local greenhouse supplier. ◊