Growing your own food has never been more popular as more and more people try their hand at edible gardening. With the credit crunch hitting families hard, keeping food costs down is one motivation. However, the superior taste and quality of home grown produce is just as important to many. With that in mind, our friends at Growveg.com have given us this guide to what is best to grow for taste. The following fruit, vegetables and herbs are all quite straightforward and just a small vegetable plot or a few large containers will be sufficient for a great harvest. Each and every one of them offers a vastly superior taste to what is available in supermarkets.
Vegetables and Fruit
Lettuce & salad leaves: If you grow nothing else, then this should be it. A container of moist compost and a packet of mixed lettuce leaf seeds will almost always produce good results, as long as they are given water, light and plenty of space as they grow. Picking your own leaves from the garden is much healthier than the chlorine-washed bags of salad and you can grow a much wider variety of colours, tastes and textures. Pick the leaves in the morning and keep them in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator to get the best crisp texture.
Tomatoes: The classic home-grown vegetable, tomatoes are generous plants, often returning hundreds of fruit from each plant. The taste and smell of freshly picked tomatoes is addictive and there are more varieties than you can sample in a lifetime. Personally I would start with a cherry tomato such as the classic variety ‘Gardeners Delight’ which will reward you with bowls of vine-ripened sweet fruits right through the end of the summer. Perfect for hundreds of Italian al fresco meals.
Peas: Most people think of frozen bags of this vegetable but in doing so they miss the best it has to offer. When I grow peas none of them make it into the freezer and very few ever get cooked. Instead, freshly picked and popped out of their pods they make slightly sweet healthy snacks around the garden (perfect for children) and a wonderful addition to salads.
Sweet corn: Sweet corn-on-the-cob is utterly superior to anything you can buy, especially when it is picked, cooked and eaten within half an hour. Just like peas the sugars start to turn to starch as soon as they are harvested and they rapidly lose their sweetness so cut the cobs just before steaming them and serve with a knob of butter. Sweet corn is harder to grow than many other vegetables as it must be planted in blocks, not rows, of at least 12 plants to ensure that the wind-pollination is successful. Failure to do this results in cobs with only a few kernels on.
Strawberries: Many delicious fruit can be grown at home but strawberries have to take the spot on this list because they are so much better when picked directly rather than sitting in punnets in a shop. Strawberry plants can be bought at most garden centres and will need good soil, keeping free of weeds and often some protection from birds who love to get to the ripe fruits before you. In garden centres you will often see strawberry planter pots or hanging baskets where the plants trail over the sides. These look great in the pictures but are hard to achieve in practice because, being woodland plants, strawberries like moist soil and most of these containers dry out too quickly. Instead, choose a sunny or semi-shaded location with plenty of rich soil and they can go on producing for much of the summer.
Basil: Fresh basil is a completely different taste to the dried herb which is why basil plants are available at most supermarkets. But basil is so easy to grow that for much of the year it is worth sowing small pots of 10 or so seeds on a warm and light windowsill. Although it can also be grown outside in summer, indoor growth gives much more tender leaves. There are also several varieties to try including purple-leafed (good for colour in salads) and lemon basil which is popular in Asia. Freshly picked leaves torn up with home grown tomatoes and olive oil are delicious.
Mint: Fresh mint is the perfect addition to many dishes. There are many culinary uses from adding a few sprigs with buttered new potatoes to using it to enhance the flavour of slow-roasted courgettes. Mint is quite easy to grow, just requiring consistently moist soil. However, it can easily spread as a weed throughout a garden, so it is best to confine it to a large pot or container, or a windowsill in winter. There are many different mints available including spearmint and even a chocolate mint!
Coriander: Coriander is a little more tricky to grow than the other herbs listed here and needs to be started off carefully as directed on the seed packet. Once it gets going the leaves can be harvested for use in many Indian dishes or the plant can be left to produce seeds which can then be ground into coriander spice using a pestle and mortar
Rosemary: A very strong tasting herb, even more so when picked fresh from the plant, this is also very easy to grow. Rosemary is best propagated by taking a cutting from an existing bush, putting it into a pot of moist compost and waiting for it to root. Once established it can be left in the garden all year, surviving frosts and harsh weather, and just needs trimming every now and then. Fresh rosemary leaves should be chopped up and added early when cooking sauces for the distinctive aroma. They make a great topping to home baked Italian breads such as focaccia with ground sea salt and olive oil.
Chamomile: Long thought of as the soothing tea that is good for stomach aches, chamomile is rarely grown in home gardens. Yet the pretty daisy-like flowers can be picked and infused into hot water to make a deliciously refreshing tea that is quite distinct and vastly superior to the dried varieties. If you enjoy herbal teas or know someone who does then this is definitely worth including in your garden.
Planning Your Garden
GrowVeg.com have just launched a series of Plant GrowGuides which cover all the essential information you need to know about each fruit, vegetable and herb. There are also articles written by gardening experts in the main GrowGuide section covering topics such as Starting a New Vegetable Plot and Gardening with Children. For those planning to grow several crops, the unique Garden Planning Tool makes the process of deciding what to plant where simple and it will even send email reminders of when to sow and plant each crop.
An excellent book for those growing for taste is ‘The Gourmet Gardener’ by Bob Flowerdew. This is probably the most comprehensive guide to gardening for culinary perfection and the book is beautifully researched with plenty of inspirational photographs from Bob’s own amazing garden.