New This Month

Grow Your Own

You don't need to till a big plot of land or even live near a farmers’ market to enjoy the lively flavors of a summer garden. With a mere pot or two, fresh herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers are just a snip away.
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“Even a single container of basil can make you feel as if you’re participating in the season as a gardener,” says MSL food director Lucinda Scala Quinn, who keeps anywhere from 2 to 10 terra-­cotta pots on her Manhattan apartment terrace. What you see here is a sampling of what has sprouted, including cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, oregano, chives, and, yes, that beloved basil. Read on to discover tips and strategies for producing your own lush bounty, as well as delicious new ideas for cooking with it. Your usual rotation of meals will never look -- or taste -- the same.

Good Neighbors

Plants grow best when sharing a home with others that have similar needs. A few happy combinations:

Parsley + Basil

Both enjoy more water than woody herbs. Chives, nasturtiums, hot peppers, and cherry tomatoes make great container mates with these, too.

Rosemary + Sage

These woody herbs prefer more sun and drier soil than leafier varieties. If you live in a warm zone, they may continue growing until the following year.

Mint + Mint

All types of mint tend to take over a pot, so you’re best off growing them separately from other plant types. Leave plenty of space between them so the fragrances and flavors don’t meld.

Oregano + Thyme

These semiwoody varieties keep good company with their sun-loving cousins, rosemary and sage. Both will stop growing in fall, even in warm zones -- but keep the herbs in the pot; they should sprout again next spring.

Learn the 4 Steps to Starting a Container Garden to Cook From

Get Our Best Recipes for Cooking from Your Container Garden

When to Water

When the soil feels dry an inch below the surface, it’s time to add water. Use a spouted can or a hose (for big pots), and add enough so that the water starts to drain through the holes. Container plants are thirstier than plants in the ground, and those in porous pots, such as terra-cotta or wood, even more so. In addition, the smaller the pot, the more watering it will require. Keep soil moist but not damp. “Aim for the moisture level of a wrung-out sponge,” says Ryan McCallister, head gardener at Martha’s farm in Bedford, New York.

How to Fertilize

Herbs grow just fine without fertilizer, but your cherry tomatoes and hot peppers will need it; check the instructions on the plant tag and fertilizer for the ideal frequency, says Ryan. In general, the plant will let you know it’s craving a feeding when its leaves turn pale or yellow. Make sure to use an organic formula (you're eating these plants, after all), and water thoroughly before applying fertilizer -- the roots won’t take in the nutrients unless they’re wet.

Flavor Savers

Whether you’re a novice gardener or a pro, expect an abundance of riches. Don't let any go to waste! Take steps to preserve what you can’t use right away: Puree basil and freeze it in ice-cube trays. Grind hot peppers with salt and a splash of white vinegar, then bottle the mixture as hot sauce. Dry thyme, rosemary, and sage so you can sprinkle them onto dishes all year round.

Edible Upgrades

The dishes on these pages require little more than common grocery items -- and whatever's sprouting from a container garden.

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