Seed by Seed: How to Plan and Grow a Beautiful Edible Garden.

Kristen and Gem horseback riding

One of the good things about Kristen’s horseback riding obsession is the time I spend waiting for her at the barn. I know that might sound odd, and without a laptop—I would curse the five hours of enforced confinement. But today, sitting in a rocking chair with the sun beginning to fade behind the mountains in North Carolina, chickens scratching on the hill, daffodils swaying in the breeze, it’s near perfection.

Chickens at barn
Spring is coming, finally. The warm-sweet scent fills the air.

I spent four hours in the greenhouse today, sowing more seeds. The greenhouse shelves soon will be full, and I’m not selling at the market this year.

Tomato seedlings

Instead, I’ve decided to grow for myself.

I plan to grow everything—and I mean, everything—from seed, tuber, or cutting this year.

After growing 184 varieties of heirloom tomatoes last year, I needed something to up my gardening ante this year, right?

Borage seedling

Although I’ve always grown most of our vegetables and some flowers from seed, I’m also a shopper. I can’t resist nurseries, and I spend far too much money on bedding plants, plants for hanging baskets, new fruit bearing plants, and even sometimes veggies to fill in the potager.

Seeds in basket

It’s absurd, really. After all, I have two greenhouses, ten zillion seed packs, and plenty of knowledge on plant propagation—and there’s always more to learn. Plus, plants can be expensive. At the nursery where I buy my annuals, one flat of flowers costs $17.99—and you know I never buy just one flat. (Hint: my Prius can fit 16 flats. Do you wonder how I know this?) There’s also the undercurrent: is it organic? With the plants I buy at the nursery, it’s doubtful. Of course, I raise them organically once I plant them, but still—I’d want my pollinator plants to benefit the bees rather than harm them with neonicotinoids.

Geranium seedling

The intent of my project is to prove that we can all grow beautiful edible gardens—without breaking our budgets. Whether we’re growing in raised beds, containers, window boxes, hanging baskets, or keyhole gardens, we can produce food economically for ourselves and our families, while creating lovely garden spaces. After all, a beautiful garden entices us to spend more time in it, which in turn allows us to see and respond to any pest or disease issues more immediately, resulting in rich harvests. With a bounty of tomatoes and zucchini, the happy gardener can create delicious garden-to-table meals, preserve produce for a taste of summer during winter’s gray days, and share extras with friends and neighbors. Those beneficiaries of summer treats may enjoy homegrown heirloom tomatoes so much that they create their own beautiful edible gardens. A well-planned, well-loved garden can inspire new gardeners. Plus, there’s something incredibly empowering about cooking a meal for your family that resulted from planting and nurturing a teeny, tiny seed.

Heirloom lettuce seedlings

As I sow the seeds, prepare the beds, design the plans, nurture the plants, fight the pests, harvest the fruits, and create garden-to-table meals, I’ll be sharing the adventure here. Throughout the growing season, you’ll find growing tips for specific vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers, including special seed starting techniques. (Which seeds need light to germinate? Which need to be soaked 24-hours in water prior to planting? How do you stratify seeds and why?) I’ll also include companion planting tips in the designs to help keep pests at bay.

The biggest challenge, however, will be to see if I can actually avoid buying plants. It’s a sickness, really. (Does it count if I have gift certificates???!)

Place your bets now, friends. How long until I break down and buy a plant or ten?!

It’s interesting, trying not to grow for market and just for our garden. At least this year, I’ve whittled the number of heirloom tomato varieties down to 80 instead of 184. That’s still about 40 too many for our garden, but I’m also trialing several varieties that make perfect container plants. As the season progresses, I’ll share my experiences with these new-to-me tomatoes.

You know I’m obsessed with heirlooms, and they will always be my first love. (To kick off the season of growing, you can read about the best way to start tomato seeds here.) However, I’ll also share with you the hybrids I’m growing for small space gardens. Many of these I learned about during Veggie Trials last August with the National Garden Bureau. Even land-challenged gardeners can grow gorgeous, delicious food in limited space. I’ll share some good varieties for you to try soon. (Remember: hybrids are NOT the same as GMOs. I'll never promote GMOs here. Also, frankly, GMO seed isn't available to the home grower, so you don't need to worry. Not that I would grow it if it WAS available, just to clarify.)

As spring quickly approaches and as the greenhouse fills with seedlings, my sense of excitement rises. It’s a busy time, which is why I appreciate Kristen’s horse love. As I wait for her to finish exercising her boy, I sketch ideas, make lists of seeds, and contemplate companions to create a healthy garden. It’s a creative time, quiet, and restful.

Sweet peas
The raised beds are freshly topped with compost. The sweet peas and the garden peas grow beautifully in the greenhouse, eager for their permanent garden home, and the weather teases us with 78 degree days this week. It’s so tempting to start planting, and soon, I will. Soon.

Spring IS coming.

Until then, I'll baby the seedlings in the greenhouse and share with you what’s growing, how it’s growing, and what part it will play in our gardens.

Who wants to play along to create beautiful, edible, organic gardens this year?

Happy Gardening!