For the last few years I have tried (and marginally failed) to create a thriving, edible southern backyard garden. The approaches have ranged from incredibly over-attentive and coddling to the totally hands-off method, like last year where we just threw some seeds out and let them hang on for dear life. I long envisioned this dainty, well-manicured and developed garden that would sustain us well through the long summer months, but our summers here in Louisiana are merciless and never ending. On any given day, the sky may open up, dump bucketloads of water, and then the sun come out and literally boil my poor plants to death. Legions of bugs, slugs, and birds descend like biblical plagues on my tomatoes, and dialing in the watering and fertilizing is always a chore. This year, however, I’ve changed my perspective entirely on the gardening enterprise. I’ve stopped letting the Marthas of the world tell me what and how I should plant and have decided to call a spade a spade. I’ll never have an idyllic Hampton-esque garden. I live in a jungle. You know who else live in jungles and create delicious dishes? Asian cultures, especially from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia.
Introducing the Cajun-Asian Garden!
It seems like a natural fit, right? Stop fighting, start embracing. Experiment with new plants, be realistic about the things we can grow, and seize the tasty harvest!
Step 1: What to Plant?
This seems like an easy place to start. Some of the plants that are recommended may be available locally, and nearly all are available as seeds from different online heirloom seed companies. The seed provider I used was Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The first step to deciding what to plant is how much space is available. Crowded plants fight for nutrients and require double the upkeep, so plan accordingly. Don’t forget, we’re in a jungle here, so vining plants are a reality. Another very important aspect of gardens is attracting pollinators, so be sure to include a few flower species in your garden as well.
- Malabar Spinach
- Bok Choy
- Bush Green Beans
- Chinese Long Beans
- Hot-Set Cherry Tomatoes
- Thai Red Chili Pepper
- Cayenne Pepper
- Mint (Asian or domestic varieties)
- Thai Basil
- Japanese Sunflower
Step 2: When to Plant?
The second piece of the diagnosis on my previous failures was that I was getting started far too late, pushing too much into summer, then forgetting to take advantage of the late, cooler fall season that’s reminiscent of everyone else’s regular summer. This year, I have decided to include two growing seasons in my garden. It is currently early February, and it is safe for me to say that I should be able to have healthy plants in the ground the first week or two of March and producing by early April or May. I have given up on battling July and August, and hope to have my first crops over and done with before then. In the two hellish months, I will source and sprout my fall seeds and have them in the ground for mid-September.
Step 3: How to Plant?
This time around, I’m starting from seeds inside. Heirloom seeds, to be exact. It allows me more control, and more chances to get it right. Since we are planting for the jungle, many of the varieties I have chosen are vining, so I must consider trellising and caging the plants when they hit the ground running. Asian gardens, especially in cities, economize space and water. My vining beans will be growing behind my ground-cover spinach or near my fresh herbs. Economize space, but eliminate the struggle between plants. Planting herbs or upright growers like tomatoes? Cover the soil with mulch to retain surface moisture and keep down on weeds. Drainage is important! When an impromptu deluge hits, a key factor to success is keeping the plants from getting waterlogged. Raised beds make for happier plants.
Step 4: Care and Feeding
Now it’s time to reap the rewards! Water in mornings or evenings when sun is not directly on the plants. Feed at the roots with a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer once a month, and yank up those weeds! Don’t be afraid to cull the lackluster specimens, and be attentive to training the vining plants.