Before Mary Demeny starts a salad, she steps out the back door.
Lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, Brussels sprouts, oregano, African blue basil, Genovese basil, chives, shallots, scallions, sage, cilantro and thyme can all be gathered at one time or the other during the year. Fruit trees grace her backyard boundaries.
“I call it kitchen gardening,” said Demeny, who has taught classes for 10 years on how to garden on a small scale, using vegetables interplanted in flower beds and pots.
“Within 5 to 7 feet of the back door, I am in my garden.”
With just a small lot of land, raised beds, pots and a plan, kitchen gardens in Galveston County can thrive. Whether you’re a green thumb or a greenhorn, an edible backyard is within reach.
“You can get a lot in just a few feet,” Demeny said. “In fact, there are a lot of things you can plant in pots.
“All of your lettuces do beautiful in pots — lettuces, kales, all the leafy greens do wonderful in pots.”
Homegrown herbs, vegetables and fruits sandwiched in the landscape can trump a trip to the grocery aisles. Kitchen gardeners can pick produce at its tastiest peak, in contrast to grocery fare that must travel far before it reaches your table.
“There is nothing like eating your own fresh vegetables,” Demeny said. “It’s healthy, it’s easy, it’s right there; it absolutely tastes better.”
The backyard bounty does not require a large spread. Start small. Plant your favorite salad fixings in the flower beds.
“You don’t have to have half an acre of vegetables all at one time,” Demeny said. “You can start small in pots and in your flower beds.
“Then if you’re successful with that, try a little 8-by-10 bed, and you can always keep adding on.”
Demeny’s kitchen gardening started 45 years ago after she moved here from Wisconsin. She had been used to working an ample plot of land there.
But in Clear Lake, Demeny found herself on a small city lot with large-garden ambitions.
So Demeny and her husband, retired space program system analyst Roger Demeny, planted 18 fruit trees. Flower beds were used for onion plants and strawberries, a tomato bush or two and spinach, with herbs filling in open spaces.
She plants blackberries and is known for her jam and other recipes.
A Master Gardener since 2002, Demeny also is known for her can-do approach. To counter the hot fall temperatures of the Gulf Coast, she freezes seeds in ice trays and plants the frozen cubes.
For mulch, she sprinkles dry detergent between rows and layers newspaper and pine needles around plants.
Demeny has been gardening for 67 years.
“Everything I know I learned from my parents or other gardeners, and then, sometimes trial and error is the best teacher,” she said. “Just get out there and do it.”
Kitchen garden plotting
Start with a salad garden in a raised 8-foot-by-10-foot bed.
Plan for the salad vegetables you like, including kale, lettuce, celery, spinach, Swiss chard, carrots and bok choy.
Herbs could include oregano, African blue basil, Genovese basil, chives, shallots and scallions, sage, cilantro and thyme.
In the early spring, consider squash, tomatoes, green beans, okra and sweet potatoes.
7 tips for gainful gardening
- Build a raised bed.
- Use good soil or compost, preferably both.
- Ensure proper germination by soaking the seeds at least 4 hours.
- Build your garden in an area with adequate sunshine.
- Practice even watering, starting the next day after planting.
- Practice proper fertilization or organic fertilization.
- Don’t forget to mulch.
(SOURCE: Master Gardener Mary Demeny)
Seeds in ice cubes
In hot fall planting weather, Master Gardener Mary Demeny takes an empty ice cube tray and puts 5 to 7 seeds in each compartment. She fills the tray with water and puts it in the freezer.
When the tray is frozen and her garden rows are ready, she just pops out the ice cubes, plants them in the row and covers them up.
The next day, she waters them. Within a week or so, the seeds will be germinating.
This works well with kale, lettuce, celery, spinach, Swiss chard and carrots that prefer cooler ground when they’re planted in the fall.
Fill a 20-gallon trash can 7⁄8 full with water. Put in 2 to 3 cups of Epson salts, four cups alfalfa pellets, 20 drops of Superthrive plant food liquid, 12 cups of Hasta Gro and 1 cup of liquid fish emulsion.
Mix it all up and pour it at the base of your plants. The recipe can be cut in half to make a smaller quantity.
Okra under the broiler
Harvest about 1 pound of okra when it’s 4 to 5 inches long. Wash and dry it and put it in a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons oil and garlic salt to taste. Mix it well; place the okra on a cookie sheet with sides and put it under boiler until it’s as crisp as you like it.
Bok choy salad
Pick about 10 Bok choy leaves, wash them, roll them and cut them into bite size pieces.
Put them in salad size bowls. Mix up a dressing of 2 tablespoons oil, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons honey or jam and 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar.
Top the bok choy pieces with chopped almonds and chow mein noodles; then pour dressing over them.
- Master Gardener Mary Demeny likes to buy from Texas seed producers. She uses Willhite Seed Inc., based in Poolville, www.willhiteseed.com.
- Gardening classes hosted by the Galveston County AgriLife Extension Office this month include “The Fabulous Fragrant Frangipani (Plumeria)” taught by Galveston Master Gardener Loretta Osteen at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, and “Perennials for the Gulf Coast: Plant Sale Preview” taught by Heidi Sheesley of Treesearch Farms at 9 a.m. Saturday. The seminars will be at the Wayne Johnson Community Center and highlight the plants that will be available at the Oct. 12 Ornamental and Perennial Sale. Visit http://galveston.agrilife.org/events or call 281-534-3413 for registration information.