Thanks to Executive Chef Drew Tait, the new garden at Kelly Greens Golf & Country Club (Fort Myers, Fla.) is taking the club’s plant-to-plate initiative to a whole new level.
Starting an herb or vegetable garden at your club is a great way to deliver fresh herbs and vegetables to your members year-round. It is also a good way to reduce costs on certain items that you can grow enough of instead of purchasing and it makes for a great teaching opportunity for your culinary team. You can involve them in the entire process to show them how the items we use everyday in the kitchen are cultivated, nurtured and ultimately harvested. As chefs our days are typically hectic and most of our time is consumed, but if you can make some time to maintain a garden it can produce a bountiful reward that will help enrich your member’s experience.
The first thing to remember if you are just starting a garden is to start small. A smaller garden is easier to maintain and costs less to keep going. This will also allow you to see how it will impact your daily schedule, how you will be able to incorporate the items into dishes you prepare and if down the road investing in a larger garden will be worth the time and cost. Once you’ve decided to put in a garden, you will want to decide on a location. Location is everything when it comes to having a successful garden. Most herbs and vegetables require 6-12 hours of sunlight daily. There are some that do better in more shady areas but generally you want to place your garden in a location where it can optimally get full sun all year long. (This is also a great time to connect with your club’s greens team and see if they have any suggestions.)
Pick Your Plants
When you’ve decided on a location of your garden, you will have to decide on the type of garden you want. You can do a traditional in ground garden if your soils are good and are in a good temperate climate. You can do herbs and some vegetables in pots and planters if you have poor soil in your area and your climate tends to change a lot throughout the year. Or you can do raised garden beds and pots, kind of like a combination garden which is what I have here at Kelly Greens G&CC. This option allows me to grow items that take longer and require a more stable soils, like leeks, in the raised bed. The pots allow me to grow herbs and tomatoes which require different watering schedules and light at different times during the year. Plus I can bring the pots inside when it gets to windy or cold outside.
Now that you’ve decided on your location and the type of garden you want, you will need to consult something like the farmer’s almanac to decide on what plants are going to be right for your area and for the time of the year you are starting the garden. There are also many great websites and even a multitude of apps for your phone that can help you decide on what to plant, where to plant it and when. It’s best to do your research before going to a local nursery or big box store to purchase your plants. Plants at a lot of these stores are shipped in from all over the country, just because Lowes is selling basil plants in December in Wisconsin doesn’t mean they will do well during that time. Don’t fight Mother Nature; use it as your guide to plan a successful garden. The other thing to consider is what plants do well next to each other in your garden. Some plants like tomatoes and basil help each other grow ward off pests and create a symbiotic relationship with each other when planted next to one another.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Using the information from whichever source you’ve referenced like the farmer’s almanac you can then plan where the plants are going to go in the garden, what types of soil conditions they need, the type of light they grow best in and anything else particular to that plant that will help it grow and produce. As you start to advance in your garden and decided to try to grow more challenging plants you will need to focus on soil PH. You will most likely want to invest in a soil testing kit to ensure the plants are getting the right nutrients they need to thrive. You can also do research on different types of soil amendments and what kind to use on certain plants. There is a wide variety of items out in the market but not all of them will be right for your plants. Just make sure you research what you are planning on using, how much you need and how to apply it. Too much or too little of anything can be detrimental to a garden.
Once you have your garden established you will want to start planning out your next season’s crops and start to prepare for this. Use whichever reference material you feel comfortable with as a guide to start some plants from seeds in doors, take clippings from existing plants to start for the next season or what to do to prepare for a whole new type of plant that you want to start. You always want to stay ahead of things in the garden, it is easier to plan well and maintain the garden then it is to try and play catchup with plants. Creating a garden can be lot of fun but it can also be very frustrating. There are many things that will eat, infect, damage or destroy your plants so proper planning will give your plants the best chance to overcome any of these challenges.
When you feel confident your garden is off to a good start, it’s producing well and you have a good grasp on planning the next stages feel free to share it with your members via social media or tours. Another fun thing I am planning on doing next year once we’ve cleared more land and installed two new garden beds is to start garden party events. These events would be for 10-20 members and would feature a multi-course menu. The meal itself will take place in the garden and we will prepare the food directly from the garden to let our members really partake in its experience. We are also planning on putting in some more exotic fruit trees. Luckily for me we are South Florida so planting items like bananas, mango, dragon fruit and star fruit do great in our tropical environment. Unfortunately most of them take many years of growing before they start to produce fruit so the sooner we can get them in the ground, the better.
Remember having a garden takes time, attention and patience. But the benefits can far outweigh the frustrations. It can help bring your food to the next level, teach the next generation of chefs how our food is grown and reduce your costs for herbs and vegetables. Have fun getting your hands dirty and enjoy experiencing all the different herbs, fruits and vegetables you produce.