Grow Your Salad
By Trish Sebastian
What do Jamie Oliver and Oprah Winfrey have in common other than their obvious celebrity status? Both grow their own edible gardens. Well, actually, Oprah grows a farm.
With the growing global awareness on eating sustainably and healthy, the case is pretty compelling for knowing where your food comes from. Overachievers like me have taken it a step further though and started their own edible gardens. Yes, I have drank that Kool-Aid (or should I say, the juiced kale?). I’m on my second year of growing my own vegetables and herbs at home and though I am not an expert, I only know backyard gardening success because of my gardening failures. Since it is salad week at The Fat Kid Inside, I thought I would plant seeds on why, and perhaps how, you could also start your own edible garden.
- From Garden to Table
The secret of a lot of cooking sensations is out: freshest possible ingredients. In Northern America, many reputable restaurants are growing their own vegetables in pursuit of the best tasting, freshest ingredients. That is already half the battle right there. If you grew what you eat and cook, sometimes, refrigeration is rendered moot because you really just pick when you’re ready to eat.
- 2. Pesticide-free tastes better.
I don’t know about you, but if I had the choice, I would not ingest pesticides and toxins. And I do have that choice. By growing a small garden, I am able to control what goes in my veggies. Pesticides, no matter how you spin it, just doesn’t sound like something I would enjoy in my salad.
- 3. It’s the Green Thing to Do.
In the United States, the average carrot travels 1,800 miles before it ends up on a plate. That’s 2,896 kilometers. That’s a lot of greenhouse gas that I choose not to have in my conscience so I can have a carrot. To be realistic, I’m not expecting to boycott anything that’s traveled more than 500 miles, but it feels good knowing that I’m trying to do what I can. Every bit helps, you know?
- 4. Waste Not, Want Not.
I grew lettuce this year and I call it (and its close cousins, kale and chard) the gift that keeps on giving. Here’s why: you just snip off the leaves you need for your salad and leaving the core leaves alone. It regrows.
Remember your science experiment with growing a mung bean from seed in a used coffee can back in third grade? Or the grassheads back in the 90’s? Growing an edible garden is not really a huge departure from these. The principles haven’t changed for many centuries – sunlight, water, soil, and tender loving care. If you think you can manage these, then let’s go! Let’s grow!
- Choose varieties that are right for your climate. In the heat of most parts of urban Asia and the Philippines, cold weather greens such as lettuce and spinach will have a hard time. But all is not lost. Arugula, swiss chard, kale, bok choy and tatsoi do well in the heat! Corn, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers are all heat-lovers as well. Many herbs including basil, thyme, and rosemary are born for hot, even scorching, weather. There are many resources online. Search for “vegetables that thrive in tropical weather” and you will get an abundance of hits.
- The other foolproof way to know what type of variety will thrive in your climate is to visit garden centers who sell seedlings and find out what they grow with success. In the Philippines, you could contact UP Los Banos College of Agriculture. If you’re in Tagaytay, why not make a stop at Sonya’s Garden and nosy what growing tips they could share with you?
- Only have a small outdoor space? Most, if not all, shrub and/or vining vegetables grow well in containers or pots. Just make sure you are not crowding and cramming too many plants in one container. Be aware though that most plants need at least six hours of sunshine a day.
- No outdoor space? It might be difficult to grow vegetables indoors but a lot of herbs love sunny windows. Cilantro, parsley, mint, and basil love that coveted window seat.
- Don’t overwater. Stick your finger in the soil and if it still feels moist, it doesn’t need watering yet. You also need soil that drains well. Plants get fussy in that they don’t like sitting in mud.
- Finally, feed your food – organically! The adage “You are what you eat” applies to plants, too. Plants love a healthy mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. If cannot get a source of good reliable compost in the city (I can imagine that would be hard to find), running a banana peel, Epsom salt (NOT table salt) and eggshells in a blender to make a “smoothie” and then feeding this mixture to the base of the plant will add back lost nutrients.
I have been an urbanite most of my life and I never imagined that I had a green thumb lurking within. But if you love food – amazing food – which I assume you do since you are on this website, then you would understand that there’s little we wouldn’t do in pursuit of that holy grail.
P.S. Information is meant to be shared! If you have had any success growing an edible garden in the Philippines, SE Asia, or wherever you may be, share them. If you have any questions, you can also leave them as comments below.