Gardening Tips From the Pros: Jump-Start Your Edible Garden

From a Lecture Series Taught by Professor Melinda Myers

Nothing beats the flavor of fresh-from-the-garden vegetables. And once you take a bite out of your first edible garden-fresh tomato, buying from the grocery store just won’t be the same.

Image of tomato harvest. Farmers hands with freshly harvested tomatoes for the edible garden article
Delicious, right?

Gardening can help you obtain that fresh flavor while saving you money and ensuring that your family has safe food. This applies no matter how much time, space, or energy you have available, and no matter where you live or what time of year it is, you can start your own edible garden right now.

Microgreens and Sprouts

  • Microgreens and sprouts are great examples of how to save money by growing your own produce. They can range in price anywhere from three to five dollars for a small container. But you can save money by repurposing items and retasking them or investing in sprouting equipment. All you really need to do is buy seeds, and you’ll end up growing that same small container for a dollar or even less.
  • Invest in seeds. One of the things you want to do is go to a health-food store, grocery store, or garden center and purchase seeds specifically packaged for sprouting. Those packaged for the garden may contain chemicals or not be suitable for sprouting or using as microgreens. You can store the seeds in the refrigerator to keep them fresh until you need them.

Learn More: Starting Plants From Seeds

Sprouting Lentils

  • You might want to invest in some sprouting equipment. For example, a sprouting jar is basically a Mason jar that’s been tinted. It just diffuses the light a bit so that you don’t inhibit sprouting. And it comes with lids that have different size openings, depending on the seeds—the bigger the seeds, the bigger the hole.
  • A stackable sprouting container allows you to grow several different sprouts all in a small space. The top and the bottom have slots so that you can rinse and drain and grow sprouts again. You’ll be harvesting in about five days. There are not many plants that you can grow with such quick results.
  • Microgreens have moved in as the new trend. The process of growing them involves using a seed-starting mix, or vermiculite, to sprout the seeds instead of growing them in a jar filled with water and air.
  • You can recycle an old fast-food container by poking holes in the bottom and filling it with seed-starting mix, which is light and fine and makes it easy for seeds to start germinating. The nice part about recycling food containers is that many of them provide a built-in cover, resulting in a miniature greenhouse.
  • After watering the soil for about five days, you should see results. You can harvest the microgreens just as you would sprouts. This process is fun for young gardeners or for anyone who dislikes the waiting game.

Benefits of Growing Your Own Food

  • Food safety is important. Fortunately, more organic foods are readily available. But many people are concerned about the quality and safety of their food with all of the reports about food poisoning and tainted vegetables. And if we grow the food ourselves, we know exactly how it was grown, handled, and stored, as well as whether any products have been applied to the food.
  • Plus, there are other benefits. You’ll save money, and you’ll have better flavor and quality because you’ll be able to harvest your food at the right stage—and right before it’s used. The shorter the time between harvest and food preparation, the better the flavor and the higher the nutrient value.
  • You’ll also have improved health. Gardening is good exercise. Even if you suffer from joint pain or arthritis, gardening helps with flexibility and the building of muscles. In addition, if you grow it, you’re more likely to eat it. Children and adults who are reluctant vegetable eaters are more likely to chow down on some broccoli if they’ve grown it themselves.
  • And you’ll help the environment. Food travels an average of about 1,500 miles from the farm to the table. And that’s a lot of gas emissions. Another way to help the environment is to buy locally. By supporting local agriculture, you’ll reduce your carbon footprint.
Shorter time between harvest and food prep means better flavor and higher nutrient value. Click To Tweet

Herb Gardening

  • There are many ways to grow garden-fresh fruits and vegetables in your backyard, whether your backyard is a balcony, a city lot, or a spacious garden. You can garden year-round, no matter where you live or what time of year it is. For example, anyone can grow sprouts and microgreens anywhere and anytime.
  • You might not be able to harvest tomatoes and oranges year-round, or maybe not at all, in your backyard. But you can add some homegrown flavor with a windowsill herb garden. This is a great way to add flavor to your meals year-round. If you live in an apartment, this might be your only option, or you might decide to rent a garden plot at your local community garden or share space with a friend.
  • Finding herbs can be a little challenging during the off-season, easy in spring, and sometimes easy in fall, depending on where you live. But in the dense part of winter or even the heat of summer, you may have a challenge. You can find them not only at garden centers but also grocery stores in the produce section. If you’re having trouble finding them, you might want to see if a friend who’s an avid gardener is willing to take a cutting. You can also start some plants from seeds.
  • Basil is an excellent herb that is very easy to grow in a windowsill garden. Other herbs you might think about using include chives, oregano, thyme, and parsley.

Herb garden with mint, basel, thyme, and kale.

Learn More: Planting Vegetables and Herbs

Container Gardening

  • Once you master herb gardening, you might want to try some greens, radishes, and other vegetables that tolerate lower light and will grow in a limited space when you’re gardening indoors.
  • You can grow edibles and ornamentals together in containers. And doing this allows you to plant even when space is limited, and it allows you to expand your season. For example, if you live in a colder region, you can pot up your tomatoes early in the season, move them out on warm days, and move them back inside under cover if there’s a danger of frost. So, if you don’t have quite the perfect growing conditions in the ground, containers can offer shade and protection.
  • With containers, you can also expand your planting options. You can grow plants that aren’t hardy in your area. For northern gardeners, citrus won’t make it through a cold winter, but you can bring citrus containers indoors and enjoy the fragrant flowers—and, if you’re lucky, some fruit. You can also grow plants that don’t tolerate your soil conditions, such as blueberries, if you live in the city.
  • To plant a container garden, you need a nice big pot. The larger the container, the more soil and moisture it holds, and the less frequently you have to water. Plus, it allows you to add some big plants to create a good display.
  • You also need drainage holes in the container. And fill it with a well-drained potting mix. If the potting mix doesn’t already contain fertilizer, add a slow-release fertilizer to it so that it fertilizes the plants throughout the season. Every time you water, you’re fertilizing without any mixing.
  • Tend your garden—take care of it—and continue to harvest. If you do this, your plants are going to look great, and you’ll have a more enjoyable, more beautiful container. And make sure to keep you containers in a convenient location. By having your containers near your back door where you cook or by the grill, you’ll have herbs and edibles handy.

Image of group Of Friends Planting Rooftop Garden Together, SmilingGardening with Others

  • If you want to grow more food than your balcony or small backyard will allow, you have many options. Community gardens are a great way to expand your garden area. Community gardens are where people in a neighborhood or a community gather together on a vacant lot, or maybe someone donates his or her land, and people are assigned individual plots. Sometimes community gardens include picnic benches for resting and gathering, because gardening can be a social event.
  • If there isn’t a community garden in your area or if it just won’t work for you, try gardening with a neighbor. If you have a friend or neighbor with a huge backyard filled with sunlight but you live in a condominium with no room to garden, then perhaps you can work it out so that you keep your friend’s yard looking beautiful while sharing the produce.
  • Many churches and workplaces are creating gardens for their members and employees. Gardening is great for stress relief and provides good exercise. In other words, it’s good for the mind, body, and spirit. And many churches and workplaces grow surplus food to donate to the hungry in the community.
From the Lecture Series: How To Grow Anything: Food Gardening for Everyone
Taught by Professor Melinda Myers

Keep reading:
Refresh Your Landscape With These Simple Garden Maintenance Tips
Small Space Gardening — Edibles and Ornamentals
Food for Thought: Getting the Best from Beets