Rob Woodruff is something of a renaissance man, a native Texan turned fly fishing guide turned lodge manager who excels at catching and guiding others to trout, tarpon, bass, and bluegills among other things.
He also loves to cook, particularly with fresh herbs and vegetables, ingredients that fuel his penchant for gourmet outdoor dishes. Challenged for space as he and his wife Jenny Mayrell-Woodruff have lived in lodges and an Airstream trailer in recent years, the concept of gardenless gardening has helped provide fresh produce on a back deck, a patio, or even a walkway.
“It’s seasonal, there isn’t much cost, and you don’t have to worry about too much serious work or pruning,” said Woodruff. “Other than planting, watering, and picking your produce, about the most work you might have to do is adding a stake or two for things like peppers and tomatoes.”
If gardenless gardening is something that you’d like to try, Woodruff suggests several plants as easy to find, simple to grow, and all providing season-long yield that can be enjoyed in the kitchen and on the table:
When it comes to this style of gardening, few things are more easily grown and readily enjoyed than vine ripe tomatoes. From simple fare like BLT sandwiches to Baja style grilled fish tacos to exquisite pasta dishes and Italian cuisine, tomatoes are a key ingredient in the Woodruff kitchen during the summer months. Even if all he has is a pocketknife, a small plate and a little bit of salt on a beautiful summertime day.
Perfect for simple backyard grilling, adding to kabob style dishes, or providing a key ingredient for soups, zucchini and summer squash are fairly easy to grow in such backyard gardening. While these plants can spread out a bit, they are a key addition to your gardenless garden each summer.
When Woodruff and his wife were in the Caribbean, they supervised the daily cooking of gourmet meals for lodge guests about to enjoy cuisine flavored with such things as Jamaican Scotch Bonnet Peppers. And being native Texans, the couple also has a taste for TexMex dishes, regional staples whose flavor is boosted by such ingredients as the habanero pepper. Whether you like to turn the heat up in the pepper department or opt for milder, sweeter tasting things like bell peppers, such things are easily grown in this style of gardening.
From providing a nice addition to a dinnertime salad to serving as the main ingredient for a batch of fresh pickles to even furnishing a nice taste to a drink of cool water, cucumbers are easily grown in a container or raised bed. Not to mention being a great vegetable to enjoy during the summer months, no matter where you might live!
Woodruff is a big fan of fresh herbs in his cooking, things like rosemary and basil. And during his time in Belize, fresh mint was used almost every day in the bar as fly fishing lodge guests returned from the saltwater flats in time to enjoy a cool, refreshing pre-dinner beverage.
Gardenless Gardening Tips
While the sky isn’t the limit in gardenless gardening, there are certainly plenty of plant options available, all starting with the ability for something to be grown in a simple container.
“You can use most any type of gardening container that is sold commercially, the kind of thing that you’ll find at stores like Lowes, Home Improvement, etc.,” said Woodruff. “If you can get access to them, the bigger pots that landscapers get their plants in work well, too. And believe it or not, I’ve even seen old coolers work as long as you remember to pull the drain plug.”
Whatever container you choose, make sure that it has a few holes and maybe some gravel or small rock at the bottom to facilitate with proper drainage.
Once you select a container for growing your produce, then it’s time to get seeds or plants and get started.
“Whether you choose seeds or started plants from a greenhouse, that’s up to you,” said Woodruff. “There are advantages to both.”
For seeds, you can get started in the late winter months by planting them in starter trays and growing them indoors. That can be more economical, it allows you to select the healthiest plants to move to your containers, and you can grow a wider variety of cultivars.
Started plants from nurseries, feed stores, big box stores, and home improvement centers are simpler to use if you choose to go that route. While a little more expensive, they are already established and well on their way to providing seasonal produce. You go to the store, select the plants you want, pay for them at the register, take them home, transplant them into your container, and that’s pretty much it.
Whether you go the seed planting or the started plant route, the next thing to consider is the type of soil that you will use to grow your vegetables and/or fruit. While regular topsoil will work, Woodruff opts to go a different route most of the time.
“I usually buy the better potting soil,” he said. “It’s blended to drain well, it’s generally richer in organic matter, it’s sterilized from weeds and pests, and theoretically at least, it produces a higher yield initially for this type of gardening.”
After the plants have been planted and placed outdoors, care throughout the growing season is generously a simple affair in Woodruff’s experience.
“You can move your containers around as needed and put the plants in advantageous locations for rainfall, sunshine and shade,” he said. “And if it gets too chilly early on, you can even move the plants indoors during the overnight period.”
Woodruff says that with this type of gardening, there’s generally no cutting or pruning involved, only a little daily care to water, provide sunshine, keep pests at bay, and maybe add a little fertilizer as needed.
“You don’t want to overwater,” he said. “Too much water can affect the growth and yield of your plants and it can also affect taste. In essence, it can almost wash the flavor out of certain things.
“Also be on the lookout for insects and pests,” he added. “One advantage to having plants in a container on your back deck is that you can generally remove insects by hand, particularly cutworms, which can be a big problem.
“And remember that one problem in this type of gardening can be birds – you may need some sort of netting or cover to keep them at bay.”
What Woodruff is most convinced of is that gardenless gardening is something that almost anyone can do regardless of where they might happen to live.
With only a little bit of expense and a modest amount of work, growing fruits and vegetables in a container is a great way to keep the kitchen supplied with fresh ingredients that aren’t doused in chemicals, taste great, and provide a season’s worth of memorable meals.