AUTHOR: Julia TITLE: Planning Your Spring and Summer Garden (and Give-Away) DATE: 2/18/2009 05:18:00 AM ----- BODY:
Last week’s article in the Boston Globe reminded me that I need to begin my spring and summer garden plans. It’s hard to believe with temperatures hovering around 30F that spring will ever come, but I remain optimistic. In fact, I can start seeds indoors on March 15th so that when the ground begins to thaw in April, I’m ready!

I’m fortunate to have a decent sized backyard (especially for Cambridge). But you don’t need a large backyard to reap benefits from fresh herbs and vegetables. Whether you have a balcony or even a window sill, options abound. Your specific needs and constraints will dictate what you plant. Here are some things to consider.


Limited space

When I lived in an apartment in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, I grew herbs in a window box outside the kitchen and cherry tomatoes on the fire escape. The yield was just enough to enliven much of my summer-time cooking. In one box, I fit four herbs: my favorites: basil, thyme, tarragon and chives.


Bang for your buck
If you have limited financial resources (and who doesn't these days), you want to get the most out of your gardening dollars. Many components go into this. First on my list is avoiding waste. Second, is getting high yields for low square footage, and finally the cost of the seeds vs. seedlings.

Too often, herbs at the supermarket are packaged in quantities greater than what I need. Further, if I have a recipe that calls for 2-3 varieties, I can spend $10 on herbs alone, and half will end up in the compost bin. For $10, I can buy seedlings of 4 or 5 varieties. And as I cook with herbs throughout the summer, I just snip off what I need, and the plant keeps growing. Better yet, some herbs, like sage, tarragon and thyme, are perennial. I bought two plants each several years ago, and the herbs just keep coming back year after year with no financial reinvestment.

Celery is another example of the package size being larger than my need. I buy two or three plants ($5 total) and break off a single stalk as I need it – usually for chicken, tuna or egg salad. Unfortunately, celery does not regrow after the stalk has been harvested. So if I cook a recipe that requires a full head, then I’ll buy it at the market, saving the garden variety for when I need a small amount for a recipe.

Most lettuces are “cut and come again.” That means that if you harvest the lettuce properly (at least 2 inches above the roots) it will continue to sprout leaves. I can cut a mixed lettuce salad throughout the spring and summer with an investment of $6 in seeds (3 packets – arugula, romaine and mizuna).

Cucumbers proliferate in my garden, and can grow upwards on stakes offering economy of space. The fruit can be used in salads or pickled. Last summer, my three plants produced cucumbers well into September and yielded many snacks, salads and pickles. Last year I bought a packet of seeds for $2 and still have enough left over for this year’s planting.

Radishes sprout early. They offer an early fix for locavores craving garden fresh vegetables. Better yet, their season is quick and short, opening up the garden space to other summer vegetables.

A final, but very important consideration is the greenness of your thumb. Do you buy seeds or seedlings? For sure, seeds are cheaper – two dollars, for example will buy you dozens of seed or one seedling. However, some vegetables, like tomatoes, require careful attention to get them from seed to seedling into the ground producing fruit. I have attempted for several years to start tomatoes indoors to transplant them in the late spring. I have never had success, and end up buying the seedlings anyway.

I only buy seeds when I can direct-sow: that is, I can directly plant the seeds into the ground. Seeds that work well in this fashion include: lettuces, cucumbers, zucchini and peas. If you are unsure if a seed can be direct-sowed, check the back of the packages, the information is usually printed there.

Can’t Beat Homegrown
Perhaps the most enticing reason to grow your own vegetables is that nothing beats home-grown – especially when it comes to tomatoes! Supermarket tomatoes and even farmers’ market tomatoes will never compare to homegrown, because they are always harvested before they’re ripe. When growing at home, the tomatoes can absorb sugar producing sunshine until the very second you pluck it from the vine. Better yet, you can grow the most flavorful heirloom varieties such as Cherokee Purple.

Some years, I’ve grown zucchini for the squash blossoms because I never see them in the markets. I enjoy their floraly soft texture that’s perfect for stuffing or just using in a quiche or omelet.

Lettuces taste spicier and crisper home-grown. Potatoes are sweeter and less starchy. And Brussels sprouts can stay on the stalk in my garden until after the first frost so I get sweet, tender sprouts instead of earthy, stringy baby cabbages.

And now for the giveaway…. To help you plan your spring garden, I'll be giving a packet of Even’ Star Organic Farm Seeds. Seeds from Even' Star Farm are cultivated to yield the most flavorful, hardiest plants. They are organic and heirloom and can also be purchased at FedCo Seeds. To give you a sense of their quality, they retail for 10 times the price of similar varieties. I have several varieties of seeds suitable for spring planting and harvesting, so the winner can select his or her favorite. All you need to do is leave a comment on my blog between now and Friday, February 27th at 5pm EST, telling me about your favorite fruit or vegetable to grow.

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----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) DATE:2/18/2009 08:14:00 AM Yesterday I walked outside and noticed that my thyme plant had peeked through the snow, with many of its green leaves intact! I had the same thought -- time to plan the garden. There's a small area on the side of the house where I'm hoping to plant and fence in some tomatoes this year. Maybe I'll get them before the rabbits and the deer do. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Patric Chocolate DATE:2/18/2009 08:44:00 AM Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Tomatoes! There are so many interesting, flavorful heirloom varieties, and I just can't get over how delicious they are. To me, a BLT should really be a TLB, as a thick slab--not slice--of ripe juicy tomato steals the show! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous Kristen DATE:2/18/2009 09:04:00 AM Such a great post, Julia! There is nothing better than being able to snip your own fresh herbs, so I would have to say those are my favorite things to plant. I don't have much of a green thumb, but I love fresh strawberries and tomatoes too! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger trapezeboy DATE:2/18/2009 09:16:00 AM We've just started exploring with container gardening and had the most success with herbs: Dill went crazy. Rosemary is thrilled. Thyme was happy anywhere it landed. We're hoping to get some larger containers going this year on our tiny fire escape, but need to figure out how to divert the squirrels from attacking everything. They're vicious on Lee Street! Keep up the great work!! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Carolyn G DATE:2/18/2009 10:04:00 AM There is nothing like fresh homegrown tomatoes! I can't wait for summer. We eat tomatoes any which way we can. THanks for the giveaway ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger ikkinlala DATE:2/18/2009 11:06:00 AM My favourite vegetable to grow is peas - they're easy to grow, and there's a huge difference between homegrown and anything you can buy. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Heather DATE:2/18/2009 11:39:00 AM what's your reccomendation for someone that manages to kill her whole garden every year? ;) i keep trying, though. i just never have any success :( ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Sharon and Andrew DATE:2/18/2009 01:42:00 PM I just mapped my garden out on excel last night - it's my first garden ever. Of course it has been like 15 degrees, but someday it will warm up in Ohio! I am so excited to grow sugar snap peas. I remember my dad growing them and they were SO GOOD. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger cdziuba DATE:2/18/2009 05:47:00 PM Oh I love this giveaway. This winter has been cold, depressing, difficult. I dream of being in my garden and having fun. Thanks for the chance to win. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger JJ Gonson / Cuisine en Locale DATE:2/18/2009 06:33:00 PM Hey Julia!
I would love to sprout some of your seeds with my kids, do you have them yet?
We keep a meager winter herb garden on the windowsill. It's pretty scraggly at the moment, but it makes the whole house brighter to have some food growing nearby :-) ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger goober DATE:2/18/2009 08:00:00 PM I've never grown my own vegetables but would love to try it this year. We have some space in the back yard and I was thinking of trying peas and cucumbers this summer. I would also like to plant some herbs, since I use a lot in my cooking and I can never seem to have enough. I was thinking of growing herbs indoors too, but I'll think about crossing that bridge after I grow some veggies outdoor first :) ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Melissa DATE:2/18/2009 09:10:00 PM I only had a garden once, and that was when my mom filled our old wooden sandbox with dirt. All of the kids in our family got to choose something to plant. I chose cantaloupe. It was a lot of fun! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Renee G DATE:2/18/2009 10:26:00 PM My favorite vegetable to grow is tomatoes. You just can't beat the flavor of a vine-ripened tomato. Anything you can buy at a store pales in comparison.

rsgrandinetti(at)Yahoo(dot)com ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Plowlady DATE:2/19/2009 09:07:00 AM my favorite is the onion and tomato...both equally as they both do such wonders to almost anything I cook!

mariannakeough at hotmail.com ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Amy DATE:2/19/2009 12:58:00 PM My favorite is tomatoes. We grow 10 or more varieties each year. Harvesting the tomato crop is what I look forward to most. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger jesse DATE:2/19/2009 04:19:00 PM Mmm, what a brilliant idea... I would love to grow my own tomatoes and herbs... ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Mel DATE:2/20/2009 12:34:00 PM Tomatoes grown in the garden are far superior to their supermarket kindred. If I had to pick only one vegetable or herb to plant, it would be tomatoes. Everything else I can "live" with what a store might supply. Luckily, my garden is big enough that I can plant a variety of herbs and vegetables. Too bad our growing season is pretty limited in MT, but we make due with what we've got. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Psychgrad DATE:2/21/2009 01:36:00 PM I love growing herbs and have been thrilled to see my oregano survive inside through the winter. The basil is still alive, but not growing anymore. As far as vegetables go, I've been know to be a cucumber thief. I love garden cucumbers. I tried growing them a couple of times but first had to deal with some crazy black squirrels eating all of the seeds (not sure how to deal with that other that to plant plants that are already sprouted) and then had to deal with a landlord who tore up the cucumbers to mow the lawn around the vegetable beds. I'd love to know more about growing cucumbers upwards on stakes. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous Anonymous DATE:2/22/2009 10:26:00 AM Hi, Julia, You have several new postings ie articles since I last looked. Nice to see. Today the Grand Cayman "Observer" has an article from the New York Times News Service called "Self-publishers flourish as writers pay the cost." I am thinking of trying to find the whole thing online. article by Motoko Rich ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous Sylvie DATE:2/22/2009 11:45:00 AM That's a very informative post, Julia. Herbs is defitively the way to go for anybody who just want to boost flavor and are not sure if they like food gardening.

Ad far as what's my favorite fruit or veg to grow... it's so diificult to ell, because it depends on the season, and although I am no vegetarian, I do love garden-grown fruit & veg, in copious quantities. Right now, started to date are indoor or in the greenhouse: many kind of peppers, some tomatoes (more in March), cardoon, lots of different salad greens and some herbs. Direct seeded: spinach, arugula and hardy lettuce. And I wil be sowing until May, and then start agian in July for the fall & winter harvest.

What fun.
(PS: I can always use another packet of seeds, you know!) ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Nathan DATE:2/23/2009 03:39:00 PM Cucumbers, basil, tomatoes.
Supermarket cucumbers have that waxy layer...fresh from the garden cannot be beat.
And I always make a huge batch of pesto sometime in September with the bushes of basil. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous Anonymous DATE:2/24/2009 11:15:00 AM I've never had my own garden, but I hope to this year! I learned quite a bit from your informative post. Thank you! Dee (sheepish56(at)aol(dot)com ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger simmering DATE:2/24/2009 05:51:00 PM I'm planning on getting an apartment-sized herb garden set up this spring! It is annoying how large herb bunches are at the stores. I've been eating cilantro in everything this week only because I needed a few tablespoons for one recipe!

Basil is probably my favorite thing to grow. It's easy to take care of, super prolific, delicious in everything, and one word: pesto. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Kathy DATE:2/26/2009 08:56:00 AM We've had a garden the last year or two, but not very big-- or very productive. I'm learning as I go; and I'm motivated this year to make a go of it! I have salad greens in a planter in the garage with a grow light, although once they get bigger and the weather calms down a bit, I'll put them in the back yard. Herbs will go in a couple homemade wooden planters (I've had the most fun at the reject lumber bin at Home Depot!)-- and even though I'm not an avid raw tomato eater, I love to cook with them. Planning lots of tomatoes this year! I've ordered a number of brand new varieties of things to plant this year, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all goes! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Toy Soldier Mick DATE:2/26/2009 01:31:00 PM We're lucky to have a sizable garden - I've only been trying to grow for a couple of years and am excited to try again this year. Last year we had great luck with radishes, beets, peas, lettuce, basil and sage.

I'm hoping we do better on the tomatoes, carrots and zucchini this year. I'd also like to try some potatoes.

- mick ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous Stephanie DATE:2/26/2009 03:16:00 PM It's hard to pick a favorite! Tomatoes are the "necessity" for growing. Just nothing like homegrown tomatoes, and they cost so much to buy. It's not summer if I can't pick my own tomatoes.

But the "favorite" is probably broccoli. After the big stalk comes (yum!) and is chopped off, I love the luxury of picking the mini stalks on my way into the house a couple of times a week and stir frying them quickly for my kids' dinner! (Ack, your comments don't give me a confidential email place...I'll keep checking to see if I win!) ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Zahavah DATE:2/26/2009 11:39:00 PM I have an inside herb garden and everything is growing like MAD through the winter, though I bought everything as seedlings in NYC (UWS flea market on 77th). But, I have never been able to keep cilantro alive... Would love to try some tomatoes this spring/summer on my tiny Cambridge "Juliette" balcony... ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger JudyBlueEyes DATE:2/27/2009 08:39:00 AM It just wouldn't be summer without homegrown tomatoes and herbs. This year, instead of sneaking off to the farmer's market for those delicious heirlooms, I'm going to try some myself in addition to our usual varieties. I grow my herbs in pots on the porch to save space in a small city plot - basil (and more basil), thyme, rosemary, and cilantro are essential. We love cukes and zukes which are pretty fool-proof and my son gets to let one zuke grow until it splits or rots. This year I really want to get organized to sow those early so-sweet peas. Aren't they too delicious? I've always wished we had enough space to grow pumpkins, but it's fun to go pick a few out at a farm in the fall - and it leaves garden space for lettuce and peppers which is more productive. Thanks for the boost during the dreary days of February! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous Tom Goddu DATE:2/27/2009 09:17:00 AM CLIMBING SPINACH !!! Grows on a vine, is very heat and drought tolerant, really takes off in the heat of summer and keeps you in fresh spinach (think folate) into October. Pretty little pink edible flowers. Easy from seed or sprout. Looks nice on a trellis, will flourish while you're away on vacation.
A bit different in shape & texture from the supermarket types: the leaves are smooth, round, and a bit waxy for a spinach salad, but works well with hollandaise and a poached egg.
Simply harvest leaves off the vine, it keeps growing & growing! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Julia DATE:2/27/2009 09:36:00 AM Thanks to all for the great comments! Such great ideas. And to everyone who said, "tomatoes".. AMEN!

Lydia, I used chicken wire one year to protect my garden from the birds... maybe that would work for you? Making little cages around the plants.

Trapezeboy -- Sorry about your squirrels, but let's just hope they keep away from my street!

Heather -- There could be many issues -- bad soil (do you fertilize at all?) too crowded? not enough water? Too much water? I'm happy to help you trouble shoot.

Sharon -- I'm impressed! Excel?

Melissa -- You inspired me to try cantaloupe this year. But then someone told me Boston doesn't get enough heat and the season's too short. Maybe I'll try anyway...

Psychgrad -- So glad your basil is still going! I worried it wouldn't make it the winter.

Sylvie -- I'm jealous of the variety you grow!

Toy Soldier Mick -- Beets? Hmm... How much room do they take? I think I need to grow some too!

Stephanie -- I wish I could grow broccoli -- I've tried several years in a row, and found it wasn't worth the space. Just wasn't very good.

Tom -- Climbing Spinach? I've never heard of such a thing! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Mo DATE:2/27/2009 03:16:00 PM I too an enticed by the climbing spinach...

But basil is my favorite (and most successful) plant all summer long. Pesto tastes good on everything! ----- --------