by Melinda Myers
Make every meal a special event by bringing the garden to the table! Serve your favorite dishes made from homegrown ingredients and allow guests to add their own herbal seasonings right from the garden. Start by growing the ingredients for your favorite recipes and beverages. Consider planting produce that tastes best fresh from the garden and create a scrumptious salad bar by filling window boxes and raised beds with greens, tomatoes, hot peppers, green onions and more.
Once you compile your list of favorites ingredients, prepare your garden and containers for a productive growing and entertaining season. Add several inches of organic matter to the top eight inches of soil. This will improve drainage in clay soil and increase the water holding ability in sandy soils. This is also a good time to incorporate an organic nitrogen fertilizer, like Milorganite, into the soil. This slow release fertilizer provides much needed nutrients for six to eight weeks. Be sure to add a mid-season boost to keep your garden healthy and productive.
For container planting, select a pot with drainage holes and fill it with a quality potting mix. Add an organic nitrogen fertilizer to eliminate the need for weekly feedings. Don’t forget to give containers a second application mid-season.
Mulch the soil with shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic matter to suppress weeds and conserve moisture. As the mulch breaks down, the soil will improve for future planting. Harvest regularly to keep your plants producing and looking full. Cut the outer leaves of leaf lettuce when 4 to 6 inches tall, and it will keep growing new leaves for your spring salads. Pick peppers and tomatoes when fully ripe, so the plant continues flowering and forming new fruit.
Season on the Spot
You can also dress up your balcony or deck with a few containers of herbs as delicious centerpieces. Add a pair of garden scissors to allow your guests to freshly season their meal to their taste.
Dress Up Your Drinks
Herbs and vegetables can also spruce up your favorite libations. For instance, you can use the hollow stem of lovage, a member of the parsley family, as an edible straw for your tomato juice or Bloody Mary, or pluck a few mint or rosemary leaves to flavor iced tea and lemonade.
Taste and Take Blossoms
Edible flowers add a bit of color to any dish; try daylily blossoms stuffed with cream cheese, calendula petals sprinkled on your salad and mint leaves atop a slice of chocolate cake. Nasturtiums dazzle your tastebuds with peppery flavor.
Be sure the vegetables and flowers you select are free of pesticides and remove the bitter tasting pollen from edible flowers before eating.
Don’t forget to dress up your table with a bouquet of your favorite garden flowers. Pick a few extras to send home with your guests and they’ll surely remember your special gathering filled with homegrown flavor and beauty!
Gardening expert Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books. She hosts DVDs, TV & radio segments and is the contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her website is www.melindamyers.com.