If you’re looking for a way to teach kids (or adults) about how food goes from farm to fork, planting a pizza garden may be an ideal summer project.
At it’s most authentic, a pizza garden is a place where all the elements of a pizza are grown and transformed into a pizza pie. Places like the Pizza Farm in California and ‘R’ Pizza Farm and Restaurant in Dow, Illonois, epitomize the concept. At ‘R’ Pizza Farm and Restaurant, a 2-acre pizza shaped plot is used to grow organic produce and livestock (chickens, pigs, herbs, tomatoes, peppers). Each wedge of land is large enough to grow a single crop or to pasture a goat, a cow or another animal that can be milked to make cheese or raised and processed to make meat-based pizza toppings such as bacon and pepperoni. The on-site restaurant at ‘R’ sells pizzas made only from the grain, vegetables cheese and meat raised on the property. It’s a wonderful place where people can see where the food on their plates comes from. ‘R’ Pizza Farm attracts about 4,500 visitors each summer.
Although I don’t recommend raising goats in the backyard (unless you hate your neighbours and enjoy visits from by-law officers), you can still plant a pizza garden at home. Simply make a round shaped bed, divide it into sixths or eighths and plant your favorite sauce and vegetable topping ingredients.
Use the following info to help you create a plant list and to get the most out of your pizza garden as the season progresses:
• Basil: If you pinch the stems frequently, your sweet basil will grow bushy and full.
• Eggplant: When harvesting, cut each eggplant off the vine leaving about an inch (2.5 cm) of stem remaining on the fruit.
• Garlic: Plant garlic in the fall. Where winter is mild, plant cloves 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep, root side down; where winter is severe, put them 2 to 4 inches (5 to 8 cm) deep and mulch lightly.
• Onions: Spacing the plants widely apart will maximize air movement and help reduce the time that leaves are wet, resulting in less risk of disease.
• Oregano: Don’t begin to harvest the leaves and stem tips until the plants are 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm) high.
• Parsley: Try soaking the parsley seeds for 24 hours in room temperature water before planting to accelerate germination. For large parsley plants, thin sprouts to about a hand-span apart.
• Roma tomatoes: Commercial tomato growers in California are now planting four tomato seedlings in the same hole since trial has shown that the stress caused by the four plants competing for the same amount of moisture, fertilizer and space causes them to bear more heavily.
• Rosemary: As the seedlings become established, pinch the tips to prevent the rosemary from becoming leggy. Once plants are well established, begin to take cuttings; however, never harvest more than 20 percent of the plant at one time.
• Sweet and hot peppers: Peppers of all kinds like hot sunshine, warm nights and moist soil. Stakes can prevent branch breakage when the fruit is heavy.
• Zucchini: since water on the leaves can lead to powdery mildew, water these plants at the roots. Zucchini dehydrates quickly so mulch the soil heavily but leave some room around the main stem to prevent rotting.