A few months back a reader tipped us off to the great work that Marta Teegan has been doing in the edible garden world. She started Homegrown LA 5 years ago and has made it her mission (and passion) to bring edible gardens to everyone. Jump below for an inspiring interview along with tips for what to plant in small spaces and in container gardens.
A trained Master Gardener and Chef, Marta teaches classes in Los Angeles on edible gardening and also has a book out, Homegrown: A Growing Guide For Creating a Cook's Garden in Raised Beds, Containers and Small Spaces".
AT: It's late spring (and feeling like summer in southern california), what are some edibles that can be planted in the next couple of weeks? For those on the east coast, what would you recommend getting started now?
MT: If you still have room in your beds, and even if you don't, but have a good sunny spot for a couple of deep pots, I would recommend planting a few more tomatoes at this point, so that you can extend your harvest well into the fall if you live in a mild climate. For those on the east coast, where the growing season is shorter, I would recommend planting eggplants and melons, which will be just fine with a steady supply of hot weather.
AT: Are there any foolproof edibles that a novice gardener could start with in a container garden or balcony garden?
MT: The key to growing good food is making sure your plants have the basic requirements of fertile soil and adequate sun and water in place from the get-go - taking the time to set your garden up well will definitely pay off in the end.
That having been said, there are some veggies and herbs that are especially hardy, including mint (which should always be planted in its own pot so that it doesn't take over your garden), oregano, thyme, chard, and kale. All do very well in pots. If you have the space for cucumbers to grow up on a trellis or railing, they are natural climbers, grow very quickly, and produce a large quantity of fruit - you will definitely be impressed with how many cucumbers a single plant can make!
AT: What's the most common mistake apartment dwellers make in the gardening arena? Is it not using the space they have efficiently enough? Is it thinking they need more space? Is it planting things in the dark when they need light, etc?
MT: Lack of sunlight and lack of an easy nearby source of water are definitely problems apartment dwellers may encounter. Veggies and herbs thrive in a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight each day, and gardening is so much easier to do if you have easy access to water for your plants. If your location only receives morning sun or dappled light throughout the day, I recommend planting a wide variety of lettuces and chicories, along with parsley, cilantro and mint, all of which will tolerate some shade - you'll have the most delicious salads ever!
When space is sparse, I recommend planting multiple veggies in every pot - a single tomato plant can be flanked by 2 pepper plants and 2 basil plants in an 18-inch deep pot. I also recommend sending any natural climbers up, such as cucumbers, melons, and pole beans. A simple lattice structure behind these plants will do.
AT: What inspired you to start Homegrown LA? Has it grown in directions you didn't foresee? Did you know how big this movement would become?
MT: I got back into gardening as someone who likes to cook - I wanted easy access to the freshest, most delicious ingredients possible. I also wanted to show people how easy it is to convert their lawns to edibles - why use all that water to grow grass, when it can be used to grow food instead?
I'm thrilled that vegetable gardening has taken off around the country - not only do people know where their food is coming from and how it is produced, they also have delicious, seasonal ingredients to cook with. Knowing how to feed ourselves is an incredibly important skill to have, one that was lost for many generations in our culture, but is quickly making a come back.
AT: You have been known to plant quite a few 'exotic' ingredients ( watermelon radishes, Shungiku chrysanthemums) in the garden, are there a few that you would recommend to those venturing out of the norm?
MT: I find many people shy away from artichokes, so I always recommend growing them. They are such beautiful plants, they are prolific producers, and they are delicious to eat! I also always recommend that people with container gardens grow potatoes. Yes, potatoes can be grown in a pot! Nothing compares to the flavor of potatoes, prepared simply with butter and salt, eaten an hour after being harvested.
Some other great edibles to try would include cornichon cucumbers for pickling; the small, red pequillo peppers for frying with eggs; and Catalogna dandelions for a bitter green salad with shallots and bacon.
Find more info on Homegrown Los Angeles on their website.
(Images: Homegrown LA)