If the first family are doing it, then everyone will be doing it this year – the new residents of the White House have started their own organic vegetable garden. In a few short weeks they will be enjoying chemical-free food from their own back yard, with the environmental impact measured in Food Feet, not Food Miles.
Obviously the Obamas have a few advantages that the rest of us don’t. A big garden, a full time gardening staff, large greenhouses and the help of local school children all spring to mind. Depending on where you are in the country, they may also have a milder climate – or a cooler one.
But it’s easy enough to recreate the White House vegetable patch on a smaller scale. First of all, head over to the White House blog and take a look at the layout (it’s downloadable as a PDF file) to see the garden plan and the list of crops they’re growing this spring. You’ll see that green, leafy vegetables feature very strongly – and they’re easy and quick to grow and don’t take up much space.
Take a leaf out of the First Lady’s book and plant up several varieties of lettuce, and you’ll have fresh salads just outside your door all summer long and into the fall. Add some spinach and some sugar snap peas to pep up your stir-fries and if you’re new to vegetable gardening then try chard as it’s really easy to grow and very productive.
Don’t forget to leave space for a few flowers – the first Lady has chosen marigolds, nasturtiums and zinnias. They’ll brighten up the plot, and also help to attract beneficial insects and deter pests.
All of these crops lend themselves to a Square Foot Gardening technique – planting small squares of each vegetable, herb or flower. As each crop is harvested, it’s replaced with another so there is always something good to eat and in flower.
There may not be space in your vegetable garden for perennial herbs like thyme, oregano, sage and rosemary, but perhaps you can squeeze them into pots on the patio. And, like the White House garden, you should consider keeping your mint patch separate – in many gardens mint grows like a weed and would soon take over!