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Homegrown: A Growing Guide for Creating a Cook's Garden

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9781605295176: Homegrown: A Growing Guide for Creating a Cook's Garden
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Swap the annuals for edibles, creating attractive beds and containers that both beautify the yard and provide a bounty of fresh produce
As a trained chef-turned-professional kitchen garden designer, Marta Teegen knows what a difference freshly harvested vegetables can make to a meal—and how easy it is to ensure seasonal vegetables are always available when you need them. She touts the joys creating front yard–friendly raised beds and container gardens that take up only a small amount of space and look beautiful to boot, and shares ideas for tucking productive gardens in other small nooks and corners.
Teegen's unique cuisine-based planting methods mean herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers grow next to each other in comingled plots—quickly, reliably, and efficiently. You'll find more than 40 top picks for small-space vegetables that yield big and are trouble-free, plus a variety of menus and 50 recipes for fresh and delicious summer dishes.
With food prices on the rise and concern over pesticide residues on produce ever present, the number of home owners growing vegetables nearly doubled in the last year. Homegrown shows that even urban and suburban dwellers can grow their own vegetables in easy-to-tend plots and spaces.

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About the Author:
MARTA TEEGEN is a trained master gardener and chef. She worked in politics and the nonprofi t sector before pursuing her lifelong love of gardening and cooking. She lives in Los Angeles.
Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
1

GARDEN OF EDEN

What looks good today?

It's a simple enough question when you're at the market, running your fingers over a tomato, subtly squeezing it, and wondering if that waxy sheen is natural or not. It's markedly more complicated when you're shopping for food to serve at an organic restaurant.

One of my restaurant jobs took me to the aisles of the Santa Monica farmers' market, looking for both the staples and the exotic items, mentally keeping track of the changes we would need to make to the menu based on what was perfectly ripe that day.

In my world, my garden, and my kitchen, something is either ready to eat, at the peak of its freshness, or it's not.

It's that simple.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in the produce sections of most supermarkets. There, ripeness is a subjective term, and any appearance of ripeness may be a mere gilding of the lily, as maturity is not actually achieved but rather is applied through the processes of industrial food production. Veggies are taken from the field still green and are then sprayed with chemical showers to protect their skin, speed up coloration, and delay spoilage.

From the cook's point of view, there is no comparison between fresh from the garden and fresh from the grocery store bag. If you don't have the best- quality ingredients to work with, it doesn't matter what you're doing with them: The results will always be average. Once you are able to eat food at peak ripeness after growing it perfectly yourself, you'll never go back to the grocery store.

As a kitchen garden designer, I have developed a few guiding principles: Prepare your garden based on what you eat, have good materials at the start, look to nature as your guide for both diversity and design, and-like nature-be patient as well as ruthless.

PLANT WHAT YOU EAT

It is essential to remember that the goal is to plant your garden based on your eating habits and then to plan meals based on what is harvestable at any given time. While you may have to wait through a long summer to harvest the first Charentais melon, the sweetness of its flesh, still warm from the sun, is incomparable. As I patiently wait for my tomatoes to mature, I enjoy a salad of mixed lettuces, arugula, chives, dill, marjoram, parsley, sorrel, and upland cress. And when my tomatoes do come in, my basil will be at least 2 feet tall, which means I can finally make pasta with fresh tomato sauce that's seasoned with fresh basil I've picked myself.

Ask yourself: What do you like to eat fresh? What do you eat again and again? What grows easily in your backyard microclimate? For me, it is very special to have daily access to fresh greens. This is my personal preference, and it's the reason I can always build a meal around what's in my garden, 50 feet from my kitchen. My first year, I planted a very wide variety of vegetables just to see what would work and what I wanted. I slowly pared that back to mostly cooking greens, salad greens, melons, and tomatoes.

DEFINITIONS

Intensive planting, interplanting, companion planting. These three terms describe three techniques for planting within the microclimate of your garden. Intensive planting means spacing plants close together and allowing them to overlap, sometimes even crowding each other significantly. Interplanting is the practice of planting between plants, although not necessarily as closely as you'd find in intensive plantings. Companion planting is selecting and planting together plants that have a beneficial impact on each other or the plants around them.

But don't think only in terms of individual vegetables-tomatoes or cucumbers, for example-but rather in terms of cuisines. While an Italian garden may include basil, eggplant, garlic, onions, oregano, pepperoncini, pole beans, red bell peppers, rosemary, sage, Swiss chard, and San Marzano tomatoes, an Asian garden may include bok choy, broccoli,cabbage, carrots, chile peppers, cilantro, cucumbers, eggplants, garlic, mustard, radishes, scallions, snow peas, soybeans, and yard-long beans. Such cuisine-based gardens overlap in some ways but are distinctly different in others. Happily, they can coexist, bringing variety not only to your garden but also to your kitchen and, ultimately, to your plate.

THE RIGHT MATERIALS: RAISED BEDS, GOOD SOIL, AND THE FRENCH INTENSIVE METHOD

The French intensive method, in brief, is a style of gardening that is designed to produce the greatest yields possible in a small area. It is organic and focused on maintaining soil health over successive seasons. Many of the aspects of what is now called the biointensive method (or simply "intensive") were used by ancient cultures around the world, from China to Greece to southern Mexico. It first took on a "scientific" mantle in 17th-century Paris, when it was popularized as a way of utilizing small spaces in ways that greatly increased yields. Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, the head gardener to the Sun King, Louis XIV, is credited with systemizing this method for growing vegetables in an intensive manner, crowding the plantings in a closed system and relying upon horse manure to satisfy the nutritional demands of the gardens.

PLANT INTENSIVELY. With intensive planting, let nature be your guide for a beautiful, full, and abundant garden.

Your garden should begin with the right growing medium, as well as the right container. In some parts of the country, especially in the Midwest, excellent topsoil is a given-it's more the luck of the zip code than the luck of the draw. In Los Angeles and most other urban settings, however, yard soil can be clean fill or clay, and it may be rife with diseases or laced with long-outlawed pesticides, herbicides, or lead-based paints. Amending this type of soil is easier said than done; it often requires extensive laboratory tests and is much more complicated than simply scattering the soil with the proper amendments and digging them in, hoping for a miraculous reversal of problems with drainage, mineral depletion, and a lack of nutrients.

The solution I discovered, somewhat by accident, was to create a medium of stable bedding consisting of composted horse manure, wood shavings, and straw, amended with bonemeal and greensand and contained within raised beds of varying sizes. These are "growing-only, no-walking" areas that encourage extensive healthy root growth and limit soil compaction; they also allow more thorough and uniform drainage. While the raised beds can be made out of a variety of materials, from recycled concrete to brick to stone, I use inexpensive, untreated cedar boards that slip together with mortise and tenon joints, held in place by a wooden peg. Raised beds eliminate the heavy work that's often recommended when you start a new garden, such as double-digging soil a foot or more down to remove rocks, roots, and the inescapable accumulated detritus of an urban plot of land.

Remember: This isn't just about landscaping. It's about eating, and the objective is really twofold: to grow great ingredients for your kitchen- quickly, reliably, and efficiently-while at the same time growing great soil for your future plantings. You'll achieve the second objective through easy crop rotation (such as by alternately planting a cover crop or letting the soil rest through a season and planting appropriately the following year), adding amendments, and topping off the bed with a 1- to 2-inch layer of compost from your bins every growing season.

LOOKING TO NATURE

You may think that nature is the guiding force in many gardens. Seems obvious, right? Unfortunately, that's not the case. The "normal" vegetable garden today is very much a man-made phenomenon; there is nothing natural about tidy rows of plants positioned on top of tilled soil that's treated with chemical herbicides and pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. And the additives used in commercial farming were designed to increase harvests without concern for their impact on the environment, human health, or even the taste of the foods they produce.

It's a much better plan to emulate the natural landscape-just look to the local hillside, where there is a great mixture of plants competing for space. Those unlandscaped swaths of land, completely covered with a wide variety of plants standing cheek by jowl, should be your models. When plants have to literally struggle and fight with one another for their nutrients, air, and water, they're going to be stronger as a result. The intensive method I promote incorporates as much nature as possible into this process and calls for a diverse mix of plants in the kitchen garden, including vegetables, flowers, and herbs. This will create a healthy ecosystem where plants will thrive.

It may be hard to let go of what you think a vegetable patch is supposed to look like. But consider the way plants grow in nature-they're not in tidy rows. Your plants don't need wide spaces between them. I never have weeds in my gardens because weeds can't get a foothold-there is literally no room for them to grow. Weeds should never come up in an intensively planted garden. The goal is to have little to no soil surface exposed so there is no opportunity for weeds to grow.

While nature may be your guide in terms of diversity and density, you'll need to make your mark on the garden by deciding which plants earn their keep. The garden is not a democracy where the weak have to be protected from the strong. I am very interested in getting the best produce possible in the shortest amount of time, so if this goal is being stymied by bugs or disease, I'm ruthless-just like nature. If I have an aphid infestation, I'm likely to pull out the plant that's fallen victim and start over rather than nurse and baby it along. The point of growing vegetables is to eat them, and if a certain crop or variety is consuming my precious time because I have to coddle it, it will not be in my garden for long. My garden is filled with potential ingredients, but they are destined either for the kitchen or the compost bin, regardless. Ideally, you won't have many problems, as organic gardening tends to enable healthy plants rather than protect sick ones.

At the same time, be patient. It takes time for the miracle of photosynthesis to work its magic. Farmers plan seasons in advance; it's how they've survived since civilization began. Produce is available at farmers' markets year-round because it was grown in hothouses by growers forcing their vegetable plants during an off-season or using artificial lighting to encourage growth.

It takes time to grow food. Be patient and consistent. Visit your garden every day. Observe and participate.

Remember what this is all about-having amazing produce to cook with. Growing at home means your vegetables are picked when they are fully ripe and are eaten in season. You'll have access to the most tender and remarkable varieties-ones that commercial farmers and farmers' market growers won't grow because they'd never make it to market without spoiling.

Once harvested, let the food speak for itself; manipulate it as little as possible so it keeps its original taste and texture. This is my preferred way to cook and, not surprisingly, my preferred way to garden.

And finally, realize that this can and should be a beautiful experience, from garden to plate. One of my students is also a very gifted flower grower. She could never come to terms with having a vegetable garden because, in her words, they were always so "ugly"-these tidy rows of food just sitting in the ground. After the first season of growing in her intensively planted raised bed, she told me that it had never occurred to her that you could grow food with flowers and herbs mixed right in, or that such a garden could be so full and abundant.

Beautiful, full, abundant herbs and flowers. Throw in heirloom vegetables, and that's my Garden of Eden.

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