Planting a Chef’s Garden

Start small. Rather than ordering everything you see in a seed catalog or the local garden center, consider a plot of herbs along a sidewalk or in a flower bed. Many herbs are drought-resistant and perennials. You can always work up to row plants.

Work with your space. While squared-off garden plots are impressive, you can easily work in plants along a fence, in a large pot on your porch, or along a stone or gravel path. No need to get a tiller or break your back spading up your whole yard.

Choose high-reward plants. A single cherry tomato plant can often produce all you need for salads and sauces, and zucchini, peppers, and cucumbers offer bountiful harvesting for several weeks in the heat of summer. And kale and chard will continue to sprout new leaves even after you’ve cut enough for your dinner.

Aim for early producers. You’ll be less likely to get impatient and let your garden go to weeds if you bulk up on things that are ready early in the season. Radishes, peas, lettuce, and spinach can all be started inside and are ready just a few weeks after the last frost, meaning your Instagram will be full of pics of your harvest by June.

Remember the climate. Most of Indiana is in Zone 6, meaning certain plants grow well here, while others won’t have a long enough growing season or will burn up in our hot summers. Carrots, eggplants, and cabbage grow especially well here. Artichokes and avocados? Not so much. Most seed packets and labels on plants will let you know.

Consider the sun. Most high-yield veggies flourish in full sun, while others, such as tomatoes, require sustained daytime temps to be able to ripen. Don’t make the mistake of planting where trees or your neighbor’s house will shade the plants. You may get a beautiful green plant without any veggies to harvest.

Avoid fussy veggies. While asparagus may be an early-season garden prize, it takes a few seasons before you can cut spears, and it’s prone to pests and changes in weather. Leeks require banking with soil to get usable white flesh. And corn takes lots of acreage and needs consistent watering. Leave these to the pros.

Skip the fruit. Except for rhubarb, which is a perfect perennial that seeks little attention, most fruit crops like strawberries and raspberries, need a good amount of care in covering or pruning. Fruits tend to produce a lot in a short time, so unless you’re willing to can or freeze in abundance, you’ll find what you need at markets.

Beware overproducers. You may think you’ll be able to use all that kohlrabi or tomatillos, but unless you’ve got foodie neighbors or are having nightly dinner parties, it’s often best to stick to plants that produce just what your family needs.

Leave it natural. One of the easiest ways to get some delicious additions to your dinner is to stop weeding or mowing in small patches of your yard. You’ll likely be able to forage some wild onions, tender dandelion greens, or succulent purslane that will add some real pizzazz and cache to your salads and garnishes for dishes.

Learn your needs. Chefs quickly learn what they’ll need for the meals in their restaurants, and you’ll figure this out readily yourself. The key is enhancing your dishes with just-harvested ingredients, while saving yourself a few dollars. Take notes after the first year about what you used most, and scale back what you didn’t use as much. The point is not to have the vegetables needing your attention, but for being tasty companions to the cooking you’re already doing.