#17, 18, and 19 of 31 Tips For a Better Edible Garden in the New Year

We are always thankful for feedback from our readers. Recently we received a suggestion to change the title of our “31 ways to eat healthier in the New Year” series to a title more related to gardening tips. We admit it, we were trying to generate more reader interest by associating with the popular topic of eating healthy in the new year. Our first 16 tips were in fact related to healthier eating. However, their primary purpose was and is to make our readers better edible gardeners. Hence the new title of this series of posts (“Tips for a Better Edible Garden in the New Year”)

We also have heard that we should group the weekend posts into a bundle because people often consume more information on weekends. That made sense to us, so we bundled 3 tips in this one post. Let’s get started!

seed saver exchange catalog, 2014, seeds

2014 Seed Savers Exchange Catalog Cover

#17 – Heirloom edible plants will give you a more interesting garden and allow you to produce really nutritious produce. Heirloom edible plants give you a chance to grow and eat plants that are different from what you find in the supermarket. Here is what is happening on local food market shelves:

  • Big agriculture (Big Ag) is creating what is known as food monoculture. Simply stated, they are eliminating edible plants that do not fit into the neat little characteristics of what food merchants are demanding. Instead they seek or create plant varieties that can travel long distances, grow faster, look perfect, and leap tall building in a single bound. The downsides to this practice include less variety in our diet, potentially lower nutrition from our foods, lost heirloom edibles, and a really boring selection of foods.
  • Foods are being built to last. As mentioned above, food merchants can profit more from foods that can travel farther and sit longer on the shelves. However, most edible plants lose nutrients as they go through this journey to our kitchens. They may not look less nutritious, but most times they are.
  • The produce and Barbie Doll connection. Yes, the similarities are there. Produce has to look perfect and similar to others in its group. A stack of tomatoes shall all be perfectly round, of similar size, and be tough. Is that what nature intended? We think not!
  • GMO – genetically modified organisms are all the rage with Big Ag, food producers, and many food merchants. Big Ag loves them because they patent the seeds, force farmers to buy new seeds year after year, and even require that many farmers grow no other varieties of that crop. There is much more to this story, but we are here to help you grow your own edible plants, not educate on GMO’s. Just know that GMO’s make us all a part of a big science experiment because no one truly knows the impact of GMO’s on our ecosystem (some call this ecosystem Earth).

Why not take control and help preserve heirloom varieties at the same time. In general, heirloom plants are so much cooler looking and often tastier than hybrids. Plus, if you grow heirlooms and save/share their seeds you are helping to ensure those varieties stay in existence.


Fieldstone was used as an economical and effective border to outline our in-ground bed.

#18 – Start small and then expand a little each season until your garden reaches optimal size. You will know the optimal size when you get there because it is when the time, effort, and money you invest in your edible garden feels in balance with the enjoyment you get from it. Do not forget to factor in the enjoyment your family, friends, and neighbors get too. Just put them to work when you feel overwhelmed or just need a hand.

Raised beds are one good way to start small because they force you to work within a confined space. For example, if you build a 4′ x 8′ raised bed then you have 32 square feet of edible garden to work with. Sure you could build more beds, but maybe you should wait until next season to do that. We have yet to find a better beginner book for raised bed gardening than All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

You can try the same technique with direct ground planting by marking off the boundaries of your bed with a somewhat formidable border. We like using the large field stones that are all over our property. They are heavy and imposing enough to discourage us from expanding those beds to make room for plants that are outside the scope of our garden plan. Again, next season you can always move the borders of that bed out a bit further. The picture above is a small example of how we used stone to outline a bed we intended to plant.

Just be sure to start small and go slow. You will thank us!


Little hands explore the upcycled rope gate handle of our backyard, organic edible garden

#19 – Let your creative juices flow and look for ways to reuse stuff to beautify your edible garden and make it look more unique. It seems we all have a hunger for something unique and hand crafted in our lives. Maybe it is the endless parade of mass manufactured goods we are subjected to by the likes of Wal-Mart, Pier 1, etc. Is there nothing worse than visiting a friend and seeing they have the same exact coffee table as you? Even the “handcrafted distressing” is exactly the same.

In the picture above you can see an example of what we mean by “letting your creative juices flow”. That is our gate to the main backyard, organic edible garden at our home. The handles were made from some leftover rope we had from a different project. Our seven year-old helped to drill the holes and test out the handles when they were finished. Two years later we still look at those handles with pride and a sense of accomplishment we could not have gotten if we simply went to the hardware store and bought ready-made handles. In the process we also taught our son the importance and impact of the most powerful R-word in the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra. Reusing is the most clear path to sustainability!

Getting creative can give you a better edible garden because you will be really proud of the look, feel, and products of that garden. You will also be more likely to spend time in the garden enjoying it and looking around for other creative things to do. While you are in there we bet you pluck off a few insects, tie up some tomatoes, and harvest a zucchini that was hiding under some large plant leaves. More time in the garden usually mean you will have a better garden. Just make it enjoyable time! Visit our Pinterest page if you need to get the creative juices flowing.

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