Planting for the Cook

WRITER | MEGAN WESTERS

In our house, my husband is the cook. As a culinary school graduate and someone who grew up with a mom akin to Betty Crocker, he’s the obvious choice. Besides, many people have told me that I don’t stand a chance when it comes to cooking within our family. This is completely fine with me, considering I have a history of destroying even the easiest recipes (yes, microwave sausages can be burned).

One thing I do enjoy, however, is gardening, which allows me to grow fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs that my husband can turn into something delicious! Planting a garden useful for everyday cooking is easy as long as you choose the right number and variety of plants to grow in the space you have available.

Determining what to plant depends on the space you have to grow it in. A few pots of basil and oregano on a sunny windowsill work great, but you just can’t grow corn indoors.

Outdoors, the options are much wider. If you’re planting with the cook in mind and have the square footage, make room for it all – fruits, vegetables, herbs, and a few flowers (many are edible!). Diversity in what you grow will keep the ideas in the kitchen interesting as well.

Many crops require a decent amount of space if you’re planning to harvest enough for a meal, so keep this in mind when you’re mapping out your garden area. If it’s a small space, you’ll need to either limit the plant variety or plant crops that don’t require a large area to grow. Think vertical wherever possible.

Most herbs can be grown in Michigan and can be used in virtually any recipe, from burgers to soups to pasta. Many can be grown both indoors and out, so the cook in your home will always have something fresh on hand. Some, like rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, garlic, and chives are also decorative, so you might consider growing them alongside your favorite perennials instead of giving up vegetable garden space.

Tomatoes are great in a home garden, and one plant will go a long way, but when it comes to fruits, the space required for healthy growth is often larger than many of us have available. Bush berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries) can work in a garden, though they may be more suited to a more open or natural space in your yard. If you love to create dishes with strawberries, you’ll need a lot of plants and great critter fencing, as this fruit is a magnet for wildlife.  Vine-grown melons need a lot of space, so they’re better left to the farmers unless you have a large garden plot.

Many above-ground vegetables such as peas, broccoli, and beans are not only easy to grow and versatile in the kitchen, but they’re also delicious eaten straight from the garden as a snack. Peas and beans can require a lot of space but are beautiful when grown over an interesting tower or up a lattice wall. Still, you need several plants to have enough for a meal. Many root vegetables such as radishes, carrots, turnips, and onions require very little space and offer a high yield. As with vine-grown fruit, cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins generally require more room.

There are a few fruits and vegetables that are perennial in Michigan. These include berries, asparagus, rhubarb, garlic, chives, ostrich fern (really!), lovage, and horseradish. The plants take longer to mature and produce, but they are worth the wait!

Unless you live on a farm, your home garden probably won’t provide everything the cook needs to create a flavorful meal. Still, with a little planning and research, your most frequent “go-tos” can be just steps away.