Edible Gardens: 5 Fall Planting Tips from a Pro

Written by Wynter Holden Category: Health & Fitness Issue: September 2015

Fall planting, photo courtesy Greg PetersonWith the first day of autumn just around the corner (September 23), Phoenix metro gardeners are gearing up for the best growing season of the year. Many homeowners are focused on manicured shrubs or eye-pleasing florals, but urban farmers such as Greg Peterson have an eye toward more productive plantings.

A permaculture expert and graduate of Arizona State’s Urban and Environmental Planning program, Peterson is a proponent of growing edibles in containers or home gardens to ease the burden on the food supply system and increase food security in the event of a disaster. “Why would I want to plant something that doesn’t benefit me except for aesthetics?” he quips. “The value of growing edibles is that you get fresh, nutrient-rich food and you know what’s in it.”

Learn how to grow organic food at home from Peterson and fellow sustainability experts including Master Gardener Kari Spencer and Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona director Michael McDonald at the annual fall GrowPhx Summit, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 23, at the Uptown Phoenix Farmers Market. Topics include aquaponics (fish-powered gardens), seed saving and fruit trees. Admission costs $20.

In the meantime, Peterson offered up a few helpful tips to jump-start your edible garden for fall.

1. Start ‘Em Up: August and September are the final months to plant leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard and arugula. Now is also the time to set up rows of broccoli, cauliflower or snow peas in your home garden. “October welcomes more delicate lettuces,” says Peterson. “Try the oak leaf variety for a burst of color and flavor.”

2. Get on the Transplant List: Planting from seed ensures you know exactly what type of plant you’ll get, and where it came from. But transplanting seedlings into properly prepared soil can save time and give you a head start on your fall garden. There are exceptions though, warns Peterson. Root crops, for example, grow better from seed and don’t transplant well. Peterson will offer 70+ varieties of seeds for just 75 cents a scoop at the upcoming Great American Seed-Up event on October 31.

3. Bring in the Flower Power: There’s no need to limit your garden to edibles. “If you plant zucchini and it never grows, that’s probably because it hasn’t been pollinated,” says Peterson. Plant small flowering shrubs, annuals or perennials to attract natural pollinators like bees, birds and butterflies.

4. Don’t Pillage and Plunder: While many harvests involve plucking an entire plant or root veggie, leaf lettuces will continue to grow and produce new foliage if you just take a leaves as they come up. “I have one kale plant I’ve been harvesting for over a year and it’s still growing,” says Peterson. “It’s called ‘cut and come again’ harvesting.”

5. The Dirt on Dirt: Arizona soil is compact and mineral-dense, but planting directly in the ground is a gamble unlikely to pay off. Air space, water, organic material and microbes are also essential for healthy plants. Peterson recommends adding compost or purchasing pre-mixed, already enriched potting soil from Western Organics.

If you go:
Uptown Phoenix Farmers Market at North Phoenix Baptist Church
5757 N. Central Ave., Phoenix