A Kitchen Garden

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Fresh aromatic basil growing in a small space right outside your kitchen door. Vibrant cherry tomatoes ripening on the vine along a sunny backyard wall. Varieties of lettuce snipped fresh for your dinner salad. Whether you’re an avid gardener or not, devoting a small amount of time and space to a kitchen garden is rewarding. And May is the perfect month in Colorado to dig in the dirt and plant.

The French have long cooked from a potager, or kitchen garden, knowing that the garden guides us to create seasonal, fresh and simple dishes. It doesn’t matter if you have a large yard with a substantial space for a garden, or live in an apartment with a small sunny balcony; you can successfully grow produce for your own dinner table with minimal effort.

Start by determining what space you can devote to the garden. If you have a large area, plot out the garden to determine how many different types of vegetables or herbs you can feasibly fit. If you have only a small space, pick just two or three different things to grow. If you plan to garden in pots, figure out how many you can fit on a sunny patio.

A kitchen gardening plan should begin with the end in mind, so think through what you and your family enjoy eating, giving thought to what grows in this climate. Then create a short list of those vegetables or herbs you would like to consider growing based on the space you’ve allocated and your preferences.

Consider the time to harvest for each crop you want to plant. For Colorado’s relatively short growing season, you’ll enjoy a longer and more bountiful harvest if you begin with small plants instead of starting from seeds. Peas, beans, lettuce and other leafy greens are an exception to this guideline as they grow fairly quickly, and in the case of greens, can be harvested young. For anything planted from seed, consider planting fewer seeds initially, but then repeating with successive plantings one or two more times, about two weeks apart. Right about the time you finish harvesting the first planting, the second will be ready, providing a longer harvest season.

Not sure where to start? Here are my top picks for my own kitchen garden: basil, chives, parsley, thyme, rosemary, a variety of lettuces, several types of tomatoes, zucchini, snap peas, and green onions. Be sure to plant in early to mid-May so you can begin enjoying the bounty from your garden in June. One taste of a vine-ripened tomato, still warm from the Colorado sun, and you’ll be hooked.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce
Serves 4

Serve this light summer pasta dish warm or at room temperature.

8 ounces pasta, cooked and drained
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus more for garnishing)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
4 large vine-ripened tomatoes, seeded and diced
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat; add garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes and cook for 1 minute. Add pasta, mozzarella and basil, and toss over heat for a minute to combine flavors and heat cheese. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a bit more olive oil if desired.

About the author: Michele Morris leads cooking dinner parties and teaches private and group cooking classes for both kids and adults. For more great recipes, cooking tips, and resources, visit her website www.cookingwithmichele.com.

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