- Smells good and fills your house with colors.
- Provides species to cook with, as well as vegetables and fruits.
- Combines plants in direct soil as well as in pots.
- Provides a nice outdoors space where to have meals on sunny days.
- Produces its own humus from organic wastes.
- Runs on the cheap.
Note 2: Much of the information is contained inside the pictures themselves, so check them out!
Note 3: Start by check these 2 introductory photos with a few examples of what I have (and you can grow too!) at home.
Let me say that all the photos were taken in my garden, and all the plants and fruits shown belong to this garden (unless otherwise stated).
Step 1: Balconies and Pots
You don't need a big area of soil in order to set up a gourmet garden. Even if you have a park, you may want to set up small plants in pots so as to leave the bigger spaces for your trees, as I do.
If you have a balcony with enough sunlight, then it's perfectly possible to grow aromatic plants as well as strawberries and cherry tomatoes. Check the photos where I show plants of tomato, strawberry, mint, oregano, ciboulette, rosemary, thyme, salvia, etc., all of them in pots.
Moisture in pots
Note that soil from the pots will lose lots of water during summer and in dry, windy days, even if it's not that hot, so you'll probably have to water the plants more often than you'd do in an outside garden.
One way to protect plants from excesive sun and wind is to set up a number of combined plants in the same pot, and/or to arrange many pots together. This creates a region with buffered humidity, and also helps protect plants from some plagues.
Size of pots
Strawberries, red cherry tomatoes, ciboulete, tomatoes, and small plants can be grown in rather small pots, may be 10 to 15 cm deep. Many plants can be grown in the same pot, even different varieties. Bigger plants like rosemary or thyme may fit well in such a small pot when they are small, but they will eventually require there own big pot (20 to 30 cm deep, 20 to 30 cm in diameter).
Look at the labels in the pictures for more tips on pots.
You can use wooden or metal scaffolds in order to put some pots above others, thus making better use of the available space. Such scaffolds may also serve as tutors for those plant which require tutors (like some tomatoes).
Step 2: Outside Gardens: Small Parks
- your own "raspberry forest", which we'll need a good amount of sunlight but no hot days.
- big edible bushes like rosemary, oregano, Garden Nasturtium (aka Indian Cress, from which the seed can be eaten and whose flower is sais to be afrodisiac), etc.
- big fragant bushes like lavender, jasmines, etc.
- may be small fruit trees like citrus trees, mango trees, etc.
- tomato plants which don't fit well in pots, like yellow cherry or ordinary tomatoes.
- small areas with lettuce, basil, and mint.
The photos below show some of the plants and trees which I grow directly in the soil of the park.
Step 3: Outside Gardens: Medium-sized and Big Parks
If you have a big park you can set up, of course, the same plants that you can use in a small park. However, each of this parts may be larger (for example, the parts dedicated to lettuce and tomatoes) so that you can really produce the amounts that you need for everyday life. You may also have a bigger raspberry forest. On the contrary, it's not necessary to increase the area dedicated to species, as they are usually used in low amounts so they can be kekp in pots or as a few plants in direct soil.
According to your climate you may put different kinds of medium-sized trees like citrus, apples, peaches, etc, or even bigger trees like avocado or loquat.
Always that you plant a tree take into account what will happen in the future, when it becomes big, specially make sure that no other big trees will compete with it and that it won't take too much sunlight from a part of the garden which needs direct light.
If you have a big park, you may have different plants of the same kind growing at different stages, so that you can have a constant, high yield of edible parts. This could be particularly useful with, for example, lettuce.
You could even build a green house where to grow plants out of season.
Step 4: Hints 1: Producing Plants
You'll find these ways to get plants the easiest ones:
Buy / find / collect seeds or bulbs and plant them:
Check in the package for information about when to plant them, how much water they'll need, how deep they need to be buried, how many days they'll need to germinate, etc. In fact you should do this step before buying the seeds, as you may find that some plants are not good for the conditions in your place.
I get the seeds for tomatoes, alisum, indian cress, and many other plants directly from my own plants. In this way, every year I grow the offspring of the plants which lived the previous year. And when you collect fruits, remember to save a few seeds for the next season!
As a general rule for growing seeds and bulbs, most of them need to be covered by a layer of soil similar in (thickness) to the diameter of the seed or bulb. The best conditions for germination include high humidity and a warm environment. Small plastic bags or cut bottles can be used as greenhouses that store moisture and protect from cold. Most seeds and bulbs will germinate within 5 to 20 days if the conditions are appropriate. I generally put them all together, to high density, and then separate them to small pots when they are between 5 and 10 cm tall. After growing a few more centimeters in the pot, I move them to their definitive place (either direct soil or a bigger pot).
You'll find that most species can be more or less adapted to the conditions of template climates. For example, I live in a template region of South America and I can grow a variety of fruits from Mango (tipically tropical) to strawberries (typical from colder regions). However my raspberries (original from cold regions) were never very good here.
Buy / find plants:
Some seeds are hard to grow, as in the case of most berries; while other seeds can't produce appropriate plants and will need proper injertion with another plant (this is the case of most citrus). In such complex cases, the easiest thing to do is to buy the plants. Later on, you may reproduce them asexually (yeah, cloning at home!).
In particular, buying plants is the prefered choice for citrus trees and your first copies of plants which you can multiply later on, like strawberries, ciboulette or raspberries.
If you want to know about planting trees, check this instructable: How to Plant a Tree
Asexual reproduction (cloning your plants): Several plants are very easy to reproduce by cloning. This results in plants which are identical (regarding their genomics) to their parents. There several ways to achieve asexual reproduction, depending of each plant:
Strawberries produce a specialized branch at the end of summer, which usually contains rooting cells at their endings (see photo). This cells can develop roots as soon as they touch soil. So you can take this endings, bury them, and after 2 or 3 weeks cut the reproducing branch so that the new plant becomes independent. In this way, besides having more plants, you will have better fruits, because young plants give bigger, tastier fruits.
Bulbs like ciboulette give away new small bulbs each year. So, every 1 or 2 years you have to remove the bulbs from the soil (taking care not to brake them nor the leaves), separate the bulbs, and re-plant them in separate places. This procedure not only gives you more plants, but also makes the new plants grow faster. You'll notice it.
Mint, geraniums, and some species like oregano, rosemary and thyme can be reproduced by cutting green branches and putting them directly in humid soil, or first in water and then transfered to soil after they have developed some roots. In some cases the plant may need external help from synthetic hormones. Check this instructable for further info on using hormones: Rooting plant cuttings
Step 5: Hints 2: Water, Light, Soil and Nutrients
Water, light, and a good, nutritious soil are the most important factors that contribute to nice plants:
Water is essential, of course. The quantity used will depend on each plant.
Plants like aloe vera will need little water; other like allisum or tomatoes will need plenty of it, to be provided during the evening and/or the morning. Strawberries also require much water.
Medium-sized and big trees can take water from deep regions of the soil crust, which ussually retains water, so such trees may not require watering (except in some specific dry seasons).
The application of water to pots, as said in step 1, will usually be increased in windy and/or hot days.
If you want to be greener and not spend so much money in water, you can make rain collectors connected to tanks where you store water for later use Instructables on rainwater collectors here
Light is another important factor, which comes together with temperature. Some plants require much sunlight, others prefer sunlight only in the morning and afternoon, and others may not like direct sunlight at all.
The plants we'll tipically use in a gourmet garden, as well as most plants with flowers, are in the medium-to-lots region of optimum sunlight. So make sure where you put the trees so as to avoid projecting shadows on your tomatoes, allisum, strawberries, lettuce, etc.
Soil is the material which gives the plants support and supplies it with nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, pottasium, minor elements and trace elements) dissolved in water. As such, it has to be stable but not hard, it must contain the required nutrients each in its correct amount, and it must be able of buffering pH and changes in water content.
Again, the optimum soil will be different for each type of plant. But a standard soil in which most plants grow well can be made by mixing about 70% humus (or compost) and 30% sand. Just make sure that the humus or compost is well done, since any fermenting material will be bad for your plants. Also make sure that when you use your own humus for a pot, you are not putting worms inside of it (worms will start eating your plants' roots when they run off organic material).
There are a number of instructables on producing compost. In my case, I have an area of 1 x 3 m where I let cut grass, leaves, and other organic materials to decompose into humus under the action of naturally-occuring worms, fungui, and bacteria. Every 6 or more months, I rotate all that compost extracting the part which has formed well, and I store that separately.
Step 6: Use, Consume, Enjoy!
Enjoy summer with the taste of your own mangos and strawberries, and preparing salads with your own tomatoes and lettuce.
Combine tomatoes with basil and chese, or with ciboulette, or with oregan.
Open up your own avocados and fill them with tuna to prepare quick and delicious antipastos.
Take the vitamin C of citrus by drinking grapefruit juices in winter.
Use your own thyme and rosemary to prepare meat and chicken when cooking.
Add the fresh smell of mint and salvia to preparations of meats and fruit salads.
Give colors and a fresh aroma to your house with allisum, lemmon thyme, lavender.
Enjoy having meals outdoors, in you private gourmet garden.