There are not many things that give a greater feeling of satisfaction than stepping outside to your kitchen garden and harvesting fresh food straight from the plants you grew for yourself and your family.
From February through December, in our region, our seasons allow us to produce some kind of fresh food.
Here at the Tomato Tower, we have been harvesting salad greens, onions, garlic and some herbs since Groundhog Day, and although the lettuce is looking long in the tooth, so to speak, everything else makes up for that staple.
From the new potatoes in April to summer squash and cucumbers in May, to the tomatoes that started coming in last month, there has been fresh food from the kitchen garden all along.
This month, I am celebrating a huge crop of heirloom tomatoes I pick every day. The Cherokee Purples are coming in nicely, as well as the Mortgage Lifter and Black Cherry tomatoes. My neighbors are growing Romas and Brandywine Reds. While they were out of the country last month, one of my neighborly duties was to keep their plants watered. The other duty was to keep their garden picked.
The most fun parts of my kitchen gardens are all of the herbs grown here. They are interplanted with other vegetables and flowers, too.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is planted as a border around the outside edge of a circular row of jalapeño chili plants, which are backed by one section of rose gardens. Sage is a great bee plant and it’s just finishing its bloom cycle. The blooms are allowed to dry on the plant where they are later harvested for seed.
There are more than a dozen Tuscan Blue Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’) bushes planted around the property. Another bee plant, rosemary makes an excellent aesthetic addition to most landscapes and it’s one of my top five most used herbs in meat dishes.
Another herb that should be included in every kitchen garden is thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Grow several varieties for different uses. The common variety is used in meats, soups and stews, and some of the lemon types add a unique flavor to poultry and egg dishes.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a staple in any kitchen garden because of its versatility as a culinary herb and it adds bright-green foliage when interplanted in flower beds.
Borage (Borago officinalis) and Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor) are two salad herbs I always grow. Both have a mild cucumber flavor and along with dill (Anethum graveolens) can be added to green salads, potato salads, bean salads and more.
As long as you are growing herbs for salads, you really should grow one of my favorites, stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) to use in your salads and coleslaw. Julienne the tender leaves and sprinkle them on top of your green salads, or chop them up and mix with your cabbage for a no-calorie, sweet twist to your coleslaw. Stevia is also great in egg dishes like Eggs Benedict and deviled eggs. In fact, Stevia complements most every dish topped with Hollandaise sauce!
Basil (Ocimum basilicum), or in my case basils, (Ocimum basilicum var.) are grown and are definitely the most common staple plants in my gardens. This year alone, I am growing more than 300 basil plants in several varieties. The types are use specific in the kitchen and include Red Rubin, purple ruffles, Pistou, spicy bush, blue spice, Thai, citrus and, of course, Italian Large Leaved Basil. The first crop went into protected garden spots last February and I just set out the second crop last month. Some of the plants only grow to about ten inches tall while others can reach three feet in height. Each variety may have specific culinary values, but they all look great interplanted with flowers and other herbs and vegetables. Most of these make good additions to a fresh bouquet for the table.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) makes a beautiful statement in the landscape and is a must for Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. Allow extra room in your garden for these as they will easily grow ten times their purchased size in a single season.
Marjoram (Origanum majorana), oregano (Oreganum vulgare) and mint (Mentha spicata) make excellent groundcover herbs and these are a must-have for the kitchen garden.
I’m all out of time now. The kitchen garden is calling me on this beautiful, hot summer day. Besides, what better way to get a workout than to do it while gardening and taking in some vitamin D?