If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what the top "foolproof" crops would be for an urban garden, I could fund a garden at every school in metro-Atlanta, I think. It's not that there are no crops that fit this bill, because there are certainly ones that don't take no for answer (mint comes to mind) and others that downright thrive on neglect (hello, rosemary). It's just that the question overlooks a key component of a successful garden--the quality of the soil. Good soil for growing vegetables typically needs to have the right amount of organic matter, air, and water; it needs nutrients such as phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium plus a full array of trace minerals; and it needs to be the right pH level (slightly below 7). New gardeners who plant seeds in our compacted red clay soil or the fill dirt that was added around their home after top soil was stripped away are often disappointed when nothing grows and they claim they have a "brown thumb." You'd be surprised how fast that thumb will turn green with a good quality soil and amendments! Come see us for that at our store on Briarcliff Road by La Vista Road or tap in online to order what you need to get growing.
Now, with the whole good-soil-issue covered, let's get on to the nitty gritty of what grows particularly well in our climate.
For fall, you may want to try a plant named tatsoi (pictured). It is a type of mustard but reminds me more of spinach in looks and taste. It is very cold-hardy and can typically be harvested all winter and then keeps on producing in the spring. It looks especially pretty as part of a holiday table with pomegranate seeds tossed on it as a salad, and if you happen to still have yellow grape tomatoes growing at Thanksgiving, that's a total score. Arugula grows well here, too, in the fall, if you like a little spice in your salad. Edible winter cover crops such as turnips and rape (I know, bad name, but delicious leafy green from which rapeseed oil, more commonly called canola oil, comes) do especially well here, too (we have a winter cover crop mix that includes these crop seeds in our store).
Other die-hards here in metro-Atlanta include southern favorites like collards and kale, which will hang on all winter in your garden as well. There's a reason they are a integral part of southern culinary tradition! If you've only had them cooked the way your mother made them, you are in for a healthy twist on that if you simply sauté the chopped leaves (remove the spines if they are especially thick) in some olive oil and garlic just until they wilt but still maintain their green color. if you like greens, experiment with a whole bunch of them and consider covering your winter garden with hoops and a row cover fabric and you stand a good chance of harvesting all winter long.
Other herbs besides mint and rosemary that have a field day in Atlanta include oregano, lemon balm, chives, lemon thyme, and French sorrel (which many children love raw, by the way--they call them "lemon leaves"). Cilantro, by the way, is best planted in the fall for spring abundance. Many people think it's a summer thing because they associate it with salsa, but no. Dill and parsley are cool-weather herbs as well. Basil is happy-as-can-be here, too, in all its varieties, but that's a summer herb, as is stevia, which is supposedly 300 times sweeter than sugar and tastes delicious sandwiched by mint leaves!
Speaking of summer, if you like to plan ahead and peruse seed catalogs during the winter, consider summer powerhouses like okra, eggplants, and hot peppers. They all simply love our heat. Watermelons need our long summer growing season, and tomatoes are worth trying over and over again because they are just plain terrific when they work. If you didn't have success this year, try a different variety (also, add a cup of bone meal to the planting hole). It's kind of hard to go wrong with butternut squash (and, in fact, you might even get two plantings out of it if you plant seeds in May and then again around mid-June). Grains that add beauty, height, color, and interest to your summer-into-fall garden next year could include sorghum, amaranth, and Egyptian wheat, which are all a breeze to grow from seed and actually scavenge nutrients that then get added back to your soil when they decompose.
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