Growing season is almost here! To start getting inspired for our spring and summer projects, Studio Shed sat down with Garden Eats co-founders Christine and Kath Dionese to talk about growing your own food, indoor and outdoor gardening, and tips for those considering a greenhouse – like our new Studio Sprout – as we head into the planting season. Enjoy!
Tell us about Garden Eats – what is it and why was it founded?
Christine: Garden Eats was established as an organic kitchen gardening blog that has evolved into a sustainable modern lifestyle community. We started as a response from patients in my private, integrative health care practice. Part of what I prescribe is “food therapy” and sustainable lifestyle suggestions. At the urging of patient interest in growing their own food and learning more about how to create eco-friendly, conscious sustainability in the home and community, Garden Eats was born! Kath, my mom and partner is a gardening genius, so naturally I asked if she’d be up for being our chief garden gal. When we started we were just a blog, but quickly added organic edible landscaping design and food therapy services again at the urging of patients, but also readers and fans. We’ve received a lot of love so far!
Christine: Anytime we can offset huge commercial farming, it’s a plus. Yes, farming keeps Americans employed and we’re happy for that of course, but growing at home equals self-sufficiency and community-building opportunities. When we grow food at home we have an opportunity to pass on heirloom seeds and plant varieties that are now becoming jeopardized by commercial farming. We can control what goes into our food and how it’s grown when we raise food at home or in a community garden. Whether you grow in soil, hydroponically or even waterlessly (you’ll hear more about this trend coming soon), growing our own ensures a nutrient-dense food supply, an awesome opportunity to teach kids about self-sufficiency and an excellent way to promote healthy, inter-dependency within communities. Some people don’t even know their neighbors today- if you grow lemons and swiss chard and you notice your neighbor grows oranges and peaches, it’s time to introduce yourself and get trading!
Can anyone grown their own food?
Christine: There’s never been a better time to grow your own food and it’s easier than people think. We often hear “I just don’t have a green thumb.” Like most new things, it takes experience. The key is to start small so you don’t get discouraged or overwhelmed. It took me a few years to realize that I didn’t need to plant 20 tomato plants. I couldn’t give enough of them away. Basically, all you need is a plot or containers, seeds or plants, dirt and water. Growing your own food provides you the opportunity to plant what YOU want-what your family enjoys eating. And get the kids involved. Research shows that kids who have their own garden or help in the family garden are more likely to eat a wider variety of healthier food.
Kath: Our outdoor gardens get bigger every year. We have four raised beds and our deck is full of potted herbs and different varieties of lettuce. Indoors, herbs and micro-greens grow easily for quick pickings.
What is typically planted in each?
Kath: We have one raised bed that is reserved for tomatoes and peppers only. They live there because it gets the most sun and they both love heat. Another bed houses large leafy greens like kale, collards, spinach, swiss chard and bok choy. Cucumbers and string beans climb in our square trellised garden. The fourth garden is dedicated to garlic, beets, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Basil, rosemary, parsley and cilantro all do well indoors. They need a sunny south facing window to be happy. It’s great to be able to take a pinch of basil or parsley from my windowsill when making homemade sauce. Micro-greens like lettuce, baby spinach, arugula, and kale also perform well indoors.
Do you have certain plants or herbs that you always plant every year – your “go to” plantings?
Christine: What would a home garden be without tomatoes? It’s the first thing to go in the ground each spring. We add new varities every year and it’s fun anticipating the outcome. San Marzano, an heirloom plum tomato, was new to our garden this year and we were pleasantly surprised how well they did. We’ll definitely grow more of these beauties next year. We also tried another heirloom, the Green Zebra tomato. Popular with chefs, I chose it for its unique appearance-green with chartreuse stripes. They taste like beefsteak tomatoes, but with a little “bite” to them.
Because my family loves greens, you’ll find containers everywhere in the yard. The great thing about growing them is that you can continue planting seeds all summer in the same pot.
If you’ve never grown broccoli and cauliflower, they both are a must try. I love that I can cut off exactly how much I’ll need for a meal and the plants will continue to grow “side shoots.” Believe me, these aren’t your grocery store brassicas. Garden to table broccoli is much sweeter.
Being Italian, basil is the favorite herb here. There are so many great varieties; green basil, lemon basil, holy basil, purple basil, all with their own unique taste. Because basil grows so easily from seeds, why not try them all? Rosemary, cilantro, Italian and flat leaf parsley all do well in sun or semi shade, making them easy for most gardeners.
Kath: The major differences between eating healthy foods, receiving suggestions from a nutritionist or having a food therapy program put together that focuses on “medicinal culinary therapy” is that medicinal culinary therapy is suggested based on each person’s individual constitutional needs. It combines the science behind functional clinical nutrition and traditional Chinese medical food therapy down to the genetic level. I look at a person’s genetic history, their current health history and what their ancestors ate/how they lived to determine what you will thrive most with today. If your people were nomadic or herders, they no doubt had a diet that focused on certain proteins from animals part of the year while heavily on plants during other parts. We look at all of that to build the most individualized food therapy plans possible.
And, it’s gourmet- we’re not just talking kale chips and green smoothies here. Think mango and jicama tartare, pistachio, jack fruit and cashew tomato lasagna… It’s exactly what you need and restaurant quality recipes!
There seems to be a lot of interest in gardening to feed a family – how large of a garden do you think a family of 2-4 would need to supply vegetables throughout the year?
Kath: We get asked this question a lot! Remember all those tomatoes I tried to give away? The following year we didn’t plant as many and instead tried some new and different vegetables. If you want to grow tomatoes for freezing or canning, go ahead and plant 20 of them. Typically, a 12×6 raised bed is ideal for a family of 2-4. In addition to that space, growing greens (kale, spinach, lettuce, herbs) in containers on your deck or any sunny location in your yard will add to your yield.
After a year or two, you’ll know exactly how much to plant. Did your family enjoy the greens more than the broccoli? Did all the peppers get eaten? Did the melons and cucumbers like the soil they were in? All these factors will determine next year’s harvest.
Kath: Get a head start on the growing season by starting seeds inside your greenhouse. By early spring your plants will be ready for outdoor gardens and you’ll be harvesting crops by mid-June. Keep planting those seeds throughout the summer for a fall crop. Seeds started in greenhouses have a much higher germination rate due to the controlled environment. You’ll save money by not having to buy “starter” plants at your local nursery.
Extend the growing season by keeping your plants warm year round. This will enable you to grow cool and warm weather crops, thus extending your harvest. In colder climates you can enjoy fresh vegetables in the cold of winter. Greenhouse gardening has similarities to gardening outdoors. You need soil, water, light, sun and heat for plants to thrive, and a greenhouse can provide all those. Unlike outdoor gardening, you’re able to control water, circulation, humidity and temperatures.
Most plants grown outdoors can be grown in a greenhouse. Tropical plants love the heat and humidity and do well, offering you a little bit of your own paradise. Watering is fairly easily, whether you have a large or small greenhouse. A small area would only require hose watering while a larger area will benefit from a drip or overhead watering system.
Proper ventilation and air circulation are vital to a plant’s health. Outdoors, this isn’t a problem, but greenhouses need a form of “wind” for pollination and to strengthen young seedlings. Fans will maintain consistent temperatures and humidity.
Even in the best greenhouse environment, pests can sometimes be a problem. While it’s more easily controlled than outdoor growing, the first line of defense is healthy plants.
What are the important factors to consider when deciding where to place a greenhouse in your yard?
Kath: Sun sun sun, is your greenhouse’s best friend. The sun not only provides the light needed for plants to grow, but also heats up the entire greenhouse. South facing is perfect but east or west locations will work too. Other factors to consider are water and electricity. Is there water access or will you have to install new plumbing? If your greenhouse is fairly small, a nearby hose will be enough to care for your plants. Electricity is a must if you’re using artificial lighting, water pumps or fans.
What are some of your favorite natural pest control tips for both indoor and outdoor gardens?
Kath: You’re going to know if your plants are under attack by the bad guys. Have you seen small white butterflies around your garden this year? Unfortunately, they’re not your veggie’s friends. They lay eggs on the undersides of your greens. The eggs turn into one inch green worms that will devour a row of vegetables in a week. Chemical pest control isn’t used in our gardens. Good old fashioned hand-picking is our solution. A strong shot of hose water helps too. After some experience, you’ll know the good bugs from the bad. Same works for indoor plants but pests are rarely a problem.
For those interested in growing their own food: what are your top 3-5 gardening/maintenance tips you can offer for green thumb success?
Kath: Black gold! Garden success begins from the ground up, great soil. Dirt that is “clumpy” or rocky isn’t going to allow your plants to thrive. Your plants need rich, loose organic soil where roots can grow deeply, drain well and absorb nutrients.
Water deeply! The deeper the roots, the stronger the plants will be, so water until you see puddles on top of the soil. It’s better to really soak the soil every couple of days than to lightly water each day. Soaker hoses that lay in between rows provide a slow drip that’s easily absorbed and will save you time.
Weeding. I actually enjoy weeding. I get out my three-prong garden fork once a week and till the soil between rows. Those ten minutes save me a lot of time had I let the weeds get out of control, and those weeds are competing with your veggies for nutrients. Laying a two inch layer of organic mulch in your garden beds also deters weeds.
Too Many Plants! Come springtime, we’re all eager to get to our local nurseries and begin planting our seedlings and young plants. The varieties can be overwhelming and wanting one of “everything” is typical, but will you really have room for 3 flats of different types of peppers? Probably not. Decide what you’d like to grow and make a list. Keep in mind that those 3-inch tomato seedlings need to be placed 16-24 inches apart, so consider how much space you have for planting.
Thanks for taking the time Christine and Kath! If you find yourself eager to get those seeds started this year, head over to our Studio Sprout page for more information. It’s available in beautiful brushed aluminum or rich bronze, technically optimized for the most discerning gardener, and sets a new bar of quality for a home greenhouse. It’s the perfect addition to the modern backyard garden. Thanks for reading, and here’s to the imminent arrival of springtime!