When I started my first home vegetable garden last spring, I’m not sure if I was consciously embarking on the homegrown food movement or if I just needed a new outdoor hobby. Walking my dog, reading garden books on the patio and puttering with a few pretty flowers didn’t seem to be enough anymore. What better inspiration to get me going than a little plot of foodie paradise that would yield dinner ingredients?
With two ambitiously planted raised beds and new recipes waiting, my anticipation grew faster than the little green plants. But when I finally bit into that first tomato and realized I could do this, I was hooked. Something good happens when the fruits of your labor become a meal.
Apparently, I’m not alone in my newfound enthusiasm. The homegrown food scene is flourishing. Experts at garden centers and farmers’ markets are seeing scores of newcomers, from Millennials to retirees, looking to try their hand at edible gardens. Forget the sprawling vegetable patch your grandparents had, with rows of daunting crops to tend. Today’s urban model has a more personalized scope and purpose. You don’t need a grand plan or acres of land, just a few garden pots on the patio or a plot in the yard. This spring, it’s all about incorporating food into gardening and some fun new trends are making it easier than ever.
Don’t Box Me In
Raised vegetable beds are great if you can tuck them around a corner or out of view, but they don’t do much to punch up the zen factor of your outdoor retreat. Gardeners are finding crafty ways to incorporate vegetables into the landscape with bush varieties like peas and beans grown alongside flowering plants, compact berry bushes in patio containers and herbs in pots.
Greenhouse Manager at TLC Garden Center, Brandi Mosley, has seen a definite surge of interest in homegrown fruits, vegetables and herbs. She notes that raised beds are still popular for larger food gardens because you can avoid the difficulty of clay soil, have fewer pest issues and not have to pull weeds. “Mixing ornamental plants with vegetables in the landscape is practical for smaller spaces or gardeners who want to plant fewer varieties,” she says. One caution Mosley offers, though, is to plant carefully so that the edibles don’t get sprayed with other flowers or plants.
For many of us amateur urban farmers with plenty of enthusiasm but limited expertise, it’s helpful to find out some of the most commonly grown and successful edibles in our region. At TLC, Mosley sees many new food gardeners start with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and berries. “Young moms love melons and pumpkins and strawberries,” she comments. “Compact blueberry bushes in pots are popular, too, while lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli are also top garden picks.” One item that doesn’t grow well in Oklahoma is rhubarb and cilantro doesn’t do well in summer heat but can be grown in spring or fall.
Meredith Scott, Project Coordinator for the Oklahoma Nutrition Information and Education (ONIE) project, works closely with farmers’ markets which offer starter plants for gardeners. “Since starter plants from the farmers’ market are grown from the seeds of Oklahoma plants and by local farmers,” she says, “they do well in our crazy weather.” Scott also has seen more heirloom plant varieties becoming popular, contributing to a wider variety of vegetables that aren’t available in bulk at grocery stores.
Even if you don’t get excited about a luscious tomato or just-picked batch of okra, perhaps the perfectly concocted cocktail, herbal tea or smoothie inspires your green thumb. Herbs are one of the easiest and most gratifying trends in food gardening. Lemon verbena, mint, dill, chives, rosemary and countless other herbs take your favorite beverages to the next level. Not only are they beautiful in patio pots and wildly aromatic, they provide endless flavor for favorite foods and beverages alike. Happy hour just got a little happier!
Even if you can’t grow your own food, it’s good to know there are 77 registered farmers’ markets across the state, “allowing you to get the homegrown feeling without getting your hands dirty,” Scott chuckles.