Three Essential Plants for Your Organic Kitchen Garden

The days are stretching out with gorgeous summer sunshine streaming through the kitchen window. Now, picture this: growing in that window, bathed in a warm glow, are fresh and organic greens and herbs that can be quickly tossed into the freshest salad you’ll ever eat.

Whether you live in a condo or have a heavily shaded yard without access to any type of garden plot, bringing fresh, home-grown veggies into your life is easier than it sounds. The best part about it is that these plants are simple to grow and enjoy without fussing with issues like outdoor weeding.

To help you get started, here are three essential plants for your kitchen garden.

Leafy Greens

Greens are the versatile and fresh foundation for summer salads, sandwich fillings and even smoothies. Growing greens from seeds is incredibly easy, and a fun way to add simple veggies to your meal.

By growing leafy greens at home, you can literally pick a fresh Mesclun (mixed) salad faster than you can fill a tray from the salad bar. Originating in Provence, France, this mix of young, assorted lettuces provide beautiful variety in colour and bite. Chervil, arugula and endive are traditional components of this collection of greens, but common varieties contain a wide range, such as frisée, Mizuna, oak leaf lettuces and cress, among others.

Fresh spinach is an early sprouter in the season, so get some seeds in the soil as soon as possible to allow the required four to six weeks to grow from seed to harvest-ready leaf. Baby spinach greens, for one, are incredibly versatile and easy to add to a salad or smoothie.

Although spinach has relatively high amounts of naturally occurring iron, it also contains high amounts of oxalic acid, which decreases the absorption of it in the digestive tract. When adding spinach to a salad, opt for an acidic (vinegar-based) dressing instead of a creamy one, as this may help to improve iron absorption.


Basil: the “King of Herbs”

A perfect addition to a fresh summer salad is basil. Sometimes called the “king of herbs,” this fragrant herb has been used for millennia around the world, from the shores of the Mediterranean to the gardens of Southeast Asia.

The most common basil used in salads, sauces or pesto is the glossy green Genovese variety.  You can also find Dark Opal, a deep purple-leaved variety with a secret nutritional kick: the purple pigment is due to anthocyanins, the same family of compounds that make blueberries so healthy for you. The leaves stop growing when the flowers start to bloom, so be sure to pick off the flower buds to keep the leaves coming.

Basil is truly a versatile and productive herb, one that is perfect — especially for a beginner’s kitchen garden — due to its fast growth and low maintenance.


Mint

Another versatile and powerful herb for your kitchen garden is mint. There are more varieties of mint than you can shake a stick at, but this fresh herb packs a health punch. Mint is a resilient plant that does particularly well in containers, making it a perfect part of a kitchen garden.

Mint was traditionally used to treat stomach aches in the Middle East. More recent research suggests that it may help to protect from gastro-intestinal upset, including reducing the symptoms of diarrhea.

It’s amazing freshly picked and is versatile as a tea (just pour hot water over fresh leaves and steep for five minutes), in cold water after a summer jog, or even crushed into summer cocktails on the patio!

A happy mint plant will take over your kitchen garden, so make sure you contain it in a separate planting pot.


Planting Tips

Here are some quick instructions to keep in mind when getting your plants set up:

  1. Find a wide, shallow pot and fill with high-quality potting soil.
  2. Pat the soil down lightly and refill with soil so there is 2.5 cm (1 inch) below the rim.
  3. Make depressions of about 5 cm (2 inch) by poking your finger into the soil.
  4. Make holes 2.5 to 5 cm (1 to 2 inches) apart.
  5. Drop a few seeds in each hole and lightly cover with soil.

After that, keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate, which can take anywhere from six to 14 days depending on the seed (check your seed package for details). Place the plants in a sunny window that gets about six hours of sun each day.

If you find yourself craving fresh veggies but don’t have a garden to scratch that farming itch, look no further than the kitchen window. You can grow almost everything you need for a fresh and nourishing salad with greens, basil and mint!

For materials to help you set up and seeds to plant, check out your local CHFA Member health food store. Click here to find the one nearest you.