Growing Tomatoes, Greens, and Herbs Is Easier Than You Think
Because food tastes better when it comes from your own garden.
Published May 5, 2021 6:00 AM
The days are longer, the air is warmer, and the sun is casting a golden glow across freshly budded trees. Nature is calling us all to embrace new beginnings and growth. And after a long winter cooped up inside (okay, year), this spring feels especially charged. If you’ve got even the tiniest bit of outdoor space, you might as well make the most of it. Whether you have a sprawling yard or tiny balcony, here are the expert tools and tips you’ll need to create your own flourishing garden—and a bountiful, edible harvest.
Before you don gardening gloves, it’s important to first have an understanding of your region’s growing seasons, average amount of rainfall, and frost schedule. “We always recommend checking your planting zone to determine what types of plants will grow best in your area,” says Marika Orkamo, vice president of marketing at Fiskars. Next, observe the amount of sun exposure your soon-to-be garden will get. “That will dictate what plants will thrive,” explains Nick Cutsumpas, the plant coach and urban farmer behind popular Instagram account Farmer Nick. The ideal amount for plants that require full sun? Six to eight hours a day.
Maximize Your Planting Space
A patio, terrace, or balcony can be transformed into a lush garden with the right containers. “Look for pots and other planting vessels that allow for good drainage,” recommends Orkamo. And remember: Vertical growing can really maximize your square footage—even in the tiniest of spaces. “There are some creative ways to trellis your plants that will allow you to use the negative space above,” says Cutsumpas, who recommends natural climbers, such as peas, beans, and squash, that can also be used to provide shade to plants like lettuce, which only require partial sun.
Choose the Right Plants
Now comes the fun part: picking what you want to grow. As long as you keep climate, sunlight, and space in mind, there are plenty of options. Emily Murphy, an author and organic gardener, says the best place to start is by asking yourself what you like to cook the most. “Look to your recipe box for ideas,” she says. “What are the foods you love to eat through the seasons?” Orkamo agrees: “Start with what you love—when you are excited about the produce, you will be more inclined to put in the work to help it thrive.” Some foolproof options include cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, sugar snap peas, and herbs, which grow easily and can be used to amp up the flavor of cocktails and home-cooked meals.
Potted flowers also do well in a balcony setting. “Pansies, marigolds, and nasturtiums are edible flowers that you can easily grow from seeds,” says Jasmine Jefferson, founder of Black Girls With Gardens. Plus flowers don’t just provide great visual appeal—they attract pollinators like bees and butterflies and give you something to enjoy while you wait for your edible plants to mature. And that’s really what it all comes down to. “Think about what brings you happiness in your garden,” says Orkamo. “Whatever is going to bring you joy is what you should focus on.”
Arm Yourself With the Right Tools
“Growing is made easier when you have the correct tools,” says Murphy. She loves a multipurpose hori hori knife, which can be used for both digging and cutting. For those specifically focused on growing produce, Fiskars’s range of Food Gardening tools will cover all your bases. “We developed this line to help the gardener at every step of the gardening phase, from seed starting and transplanting to harvesting,” says Orkamo. For pruning and maintenance, she recommends investing in high-quality pruners, like the Fiskars MicroTip Pruning Snips. “Anytime I’m walking into the garden to harvest, I’m carrying a pair of Fiskars snips,” says Cutsumpas. “Tools like these make clean cuts that limit the spread of disease and infection for the plants, and they make the harvesting process much more time efficient.”
You’ll also need something to harvest your bounty. For that, Murphy recommends a sturdy, slotted harvesting basket—ideal because it can be used to wash vegetables under the hose outdoors. “This way dirt stays in the garden and doesn’t get tracked inside.”
Embrace Natural Methods
Speaking of dirt, make sure yours is high quality. “Every gardener should invest time and money in creating quality soil,” says Jefferson. “Don’t cut corners on creating a good foundation for your garden.” She is quick to add, however, that you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money—composting with food scraps or using natural fertilizers like neem cake, fish fertilizer, and kelp seaweed are all affordable, healthy ways to boost the nutrients in your soil. But all the nutrients in the world won’t help if you forget one basic though often overlooked essential: the correct amount of water. It sounds simple, but over- or underwatering is a common mistake among newbie gardeners. Follow this rule of thumb from chef and caterer Loria Stern, who grows many of her own ingredients: “Water your plants every other day so that the soil is constantly moist but not wet,” she says, suggesting you use a watering can with a rain spout. “It emulates real rain, which plants love.”