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Tips for Creating a Manageable Edible Garden

By Brett Freeman
Tips for Creating a Manageable Edible Garden

For many people, the first foray into creating an edible garden begins--and ends--with tomatoes, which is fitting. The process of growing tomatoes can be an illustrative metaphor for edible gardening in general. Tomato plants start out small and neat and pretty. They rapidly grow, but are still of a manageable size when they first begin to bear fruit. And then the explosive growth starts, and they produce more tomatoes in a week than you can eat in a year, and the branches of the plant aren't strong enough to bear the weight of all that fruit. It ends up sitting on the ground, to be ravaged by ants and other bugs, and you're left with an unsightly mess.

Admit it--this has happened to you. It's happened to everybody. But don't let that stop you from trying again. Growing your own food isn't that hard, it just requires a little planning beforehand.

Out of Sight Means Out of Mind

Too often, fruit and vegetable gardens are tucked into the far corner of the back yard. This is a problem, because gardens need regular tending, and the farther away they are, the less likely they are to get it. Put your garden where you can see it, notice it, and give it the care it needs.

Don't Overdo it (Part I)

A good rule of thumb--the more you maximize your gardening space, the more you minimize your enjoyment of gardening. If you have plants growing in every available space, you have no space to work. Divide your gardening plot into sections that are about six feet long by three feet wide, and make sure you have plenty of room to walk (and squat and kneel) in between these sections.

Don't Overdo it (Part II)

Before deciding what to plant and how much, speak to an experienced gardener about what kind of yield you can expect. A single jalapeno pepper plant, for example, can produce more than 100 peppers. A healthy zucchini plant can average a zucchini a day at its peak, and if you don't keep up harvesting, the zucchinis get oversized and less flavorful. Try not to grow more of any one thing than you expect to use or share.

Grow What You Like

An edible garden requires a fair amount of your spare time, and you're much more likely to spend that time if you're looking forward to the end result. Purple cabbages are pretty, for example, but they only belong in your garden if you're actually going to eat them. And don't fall into the trap of thinking only in terms of the salad bowl. A garden that features tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, and onions, for example, means fresh salsa is always available.

Think Outside the Plot

Finally, remember that your garden plot is but one place where you can grow your own food. Berry bushes do poorly in gardens--they take up too much space--but they make good hedges, particularly if you plant them against a fence. Herbs are easily overwhelmed in gardens, but they do well and are convenient if grown in containers on the back porch.

Anyone can have a successful garden. Just remember to start small, think ahead, and enjoy.

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