What child doesn’t like pizza? So, to stimulate their interest in gardening (and to help them learn to eat vegetables without making a face), why not plan a small “pizza garden” (garden where you grow all the ingredients of a pizza except the crust and cheese) for the coming summer? And involve your children or grandchildren in planning, planting, maintaining and harvesting it? Then bring the whole family together for a delicious pizza meal “the kids grew themselves”. Could be interesting!
Just About Anywhere
You can put a small pizza garden just about anywhere: in an existing vegetable garden, or a new one prepared specifically for that purpose, in a corner of a flowerbed or in a good-sized pot or container. The latter would need to hold at least 30 gallons/115 liters of soil, so you’d need something like a big Smart Pot or a Rubbermaid-type tote. And you can place a container pizza garden on a balcony, a terrace, a roof, a lawn or any flat surface.
It has to be a sunny spot (think “sunny Italy” for your pizza garden!), therefore in the sun a good part of the day, and in rich soil. And if you use a plastic container, make sure that there are drainage holes in the bottom. If there are none, drill some.
Here are the basic plants you’ll need:
- 1 paste tomato plant (‘Roma’ or ‘San Marzano’ for example)
- 1 oregano plant
- 1 basil plant
- 1 parsley plant
- 1 rosemary plant
- 5 or 6 onion sets (you’ll use their leaves as green onions)
You can also include a sweet or chili pepper, an eggplant, chives, thyme or other vegetables or herbs: pizza is a very flexible when it comes to its ingredients!
- 3 in 1 planting mix (if you will be gardening in a pot or other container);
- garden trowel;
- compost (vermicompost is the best)
- slow release organic fertilizer;
- mulch (forestry mulch, shredded leaves, straw, etc.)
- watering can or hose with a nozzle;
- coffee stirrers, plastic knives or something else fairly waterproof you can write on to act as plant markers;
- indelible pen to write on the labels;
- tomato cage.
You can buy the materials in advance – one fun project for a spring rainy day would be to get out the art supplies and have the kids prepare a colorful marker for each plant! – but you’ll have to wait until early summer before planting the garden. Tomatoes and basil, especially, like things warm, so there should be no longer any risk of frost and night temperatures should remain above 50˚C (10˚C).
Preparing Your Pizza Garden, Step by Step
- If you’re gardening in a container, fill it with soil to within 2 inches (5 cm) of the top. There is no need to add a drainage layer.
- Enrich the soil by adding 4 or 5 good handfuls of compost.
- Also add fertilizer following the dosage recommendations on the packaging.
- Mix both products in well with the trowel.
- Place the plants, still in their pot, on the surface of the soil to get a better idea of their spacing. Calculate leaving an 18-inch (45-cm) space around tomato plants, pepper plants and any other large vegetable; at least 6 inches (15 cm) around the smaller plants.
- Remove each plant from its pot. To do so, turn it upside down while supporting its stem with one hand and give a sharp rap on the bottom of the pot with the palm of your other hand to loosen the root ball. It should practically fall into your hand! This is the one step where it’s probably best to have an adult or older child do the job.
- Dig a hole large and deep enough for the root ball and place the plant in the center. The top of the root ball should be level with the soil… except for the tomato plant, which will grow best if its lower stem is covered in soil. Bury it deeper than it was in the pot, up to the level of the first leaves.
- Fill the empty space around each plant with soil and gently tamp the soil down at the base of each plant.
- In open spaces between the plants, make holes 1-inch (2.5-cm) deep and place an onion set in the bottom of each one, covering it with soil.
- Cover the soil with 2 inches (5 cm) of mulch to help keep the soil more evenly moist while preventing weed growth.
- Install the tomato cage over the tomato plant, pressing the stakes at the base into the ground.
- Insert a label near each plant.
- Water thoroughly.
Until the plants are well-established, which takes about a week or so, water every two days. Thereafter, wait until the soil feels dry to the touch, perhaps as often as once every 7 to 10 days. This is the most important part of caring for your pizza garden, as dry soil will not result in a good harvest.
Control weeds by hand pulling if any show up. You can often chase insect pests away just by spraying the leaves with water.
If branches from the tomato start to reach outside of the cage, push them back inside.
And finally, wait patiently!
Prepare Your Pizza!
When tomatoes are ripe, about 2 months after planting your pizza garden, harvest your vegetables and herbs and prepare your pizza sauce, remembering that the longer the tomato sauce simmers, the better it will be!
Enjoy your meal!