Garden Themes: Plant a Pizza, Pickle, or Freezer-Friendly Garden
What you grow often inspires meals, but in these cases the reverse is true. Plants that taste good together often grow well together. Tomatoes and basil aren’t just a tasty combination — they are also companion plants. Basil’s aroma is said to repel pests, which can result in a more bountiful tomato crop. By thinking about your garden beds according to recipe-based themes, you can ensure plant diversity and get more pleasure out of your garden.
Start by thinking about what you like to eat. If you love kale chips but find them too expensive to buy in stores, you’ll be happy to discover that a few big kale plants will satisfy your cravings for most of the year. If radishes grow well in your cool, shady garden but you aren’t a fan of the taste, don’t grow them.
Take some time to determine what will work well in your particular site. If your garden is small or shady, salad greens are your friend. A big, sunny yard, meanwhile, will allow you to plant just about anything — but only if you have enough time, resources and water to keep things going. Here are some themed gardens to try.
Salad Mix Garden
Salad greens should form the backbone of any home garden. They grow quickly, take up little space and thrive in cool, shady climates and balcony gardens. Once you try homegrown salad greens, you’ll never go back to prepackaged mixes. The freshness, money savings, variety and smaller carbon footprint are truly worth it.
Try growing a mesclun mix offered by a local seed company; a single packet contains several types of seeds. In addition to the usual lettuce, mesclun mixes often contain less-familiar items like spicy mustard greens, baby kales and mâche. Experiment with different varieties and see what you like the best. Be open to the bold flavors of homegrown greens, but don’t make yourself eat something you truly don’t like. Mild baby lettuce is always a great standby.
Pasta and Pizza Garden
Nothing celebrates summer’s bounty like a freshly harvested crop of sun-ripened tomatoes. Make them even more exciting by growing tasty companions, like basil, oregano, chives and even carrots underneath your tomato plants. As long as you prune your tomatoes properly and train them to grow up a trellis, there will be lots of space to grow other plants underneath.
If you love pasta, the combination above will give you all the ingredients you need to make an amazing sauce. Enjoy it fresh, or consider canning or freezing some for a bite of summer during the cold, rainy months. For bonus points, grow some zucchini in a separate bed. It will ripen at the same time as your tomatoes and can be sliced thin using a mandoline or spiralizer for a low-calorie alternative to traditional pasta.
Pickles are delicious and easy to make. When made with brine, rather than vinegar, they can also be a healthy source of probiotic bacteria. Consider dedicating some space in your garden just to crops that are destined for the pickle jar. Cucumbers are an obvious option — just be sure to choose a variety that’s been bred for pickles rather than for fresh eating. Cabbages, for making sauerkraut, are another great option. Carrots, beets and radishes are also great for pickling. Experiment and see what works for you.
To truly bring out the flavors in your pickles, be sure to devote some space in your garden to garlic and dill. Dill a companion plant to cabbage but not to cucumber, so plan your beds accordingly.
Freezing is an easy way to extend the life of your garden. Try devoting a bed just to freezer-friendly crops. Spinach, shelling peas, sweet corn and even kale work especially well.
In some cases, you may need to adjust the specific varieties you grow to freeze more successfully. Chard freezes well, but it’s best to choose a silver rib variety rather than the more familiar rainbow-stemmed types. Silver rib chard doesn’t look as spectacular in the garden, but once your harvest comes out of the freezer, you’ll find that this less colorful variety looks a lot more appetizing than its vibrant cousins.
Prepare crops for freezing by washing them thoroughly and then blanching them, a process that involves briefly immersing the item in boiling water and then immersing it in ice water before drying and storing. This process “shocks” the plant into suspended animation, deactivating enzymes that could make the plants degrade in the freezer. Be sure to portion and label everything before freezing. For a value-added option, try preparing freezer-friendly foods, like spinach and feta pie, soups and even pesto. It’s a lot of work up front, but so worth it in the middle of winter when you get to enjoy your own homegrown convenience foods.
Don’t forget about the sweet side of things. If you have the space, consider growing fruits like apples, peaches and blueberries for pies. These perennial plants need a permanent, dedicated space to grow and may take years to reach full production. Keep in mind that some apples are ideal for baking, while others are best for fresh eating. Ask your local garden center for recommendations.
Vegetables and annual fruits like beets, carrots, zucchini and pumpkins are great for baking as well. Try including them in muffins, cakes and bread for a moist, delicious treat.
"Check Out These Recipes for Delicious Themed Edible Gardens" by Rebecca Cuttler originally appeared on Houzz.com, a place where you can learn more about planning your edible garden and find dining room sets for your farm-to-table food. Photo credit: Dear Garden Associates Inc, original photo on Houzz.