Good to Grow: Pizza garden a delicious way to get kids into planting

As published in the Charleston Gazette.

As I was thinking of ways to share my love of gardening, I thought of pizza. Yes, pizza. Planting a pizza garden to be exact. Gardening, cooking and eating pizza — a trifecta of delight!

This can be a garden for a gourmet chef or a garden project for kids. I have a few suggestions for each type of garden.

When planting pizza toppings as a way to introduce children to gardening and fresh-on-the-vine ingredients, it’s fun to plant your garden in the shape of a circle, just like a pizza. Pick a spot with six to eight hours of sun. You can have some fun and create a baking pan effect by outlining your garden in stones.

Divide or “slice” your pizza into sections for planting. I would suggest a slice for tomatoes, green bell peppers, oregano and green onions. Kids will have fun watching their garden grow, harvesting, then eating their very own homemade pizza. Too bad we can’t grow the crust and cheese, although this is a great opportunity to scout out local vendors.

My garden at the little house on a big hill is, sadly, not in the shape of a pizza — but I do grow a wide selection of toppings. I like to plant several varieties of tomatoes including red, yellow and heirloom to give added color and depth of flavor to my recipes.

The red Roma tomato is one of my favorite for cooking. Traditionally used for making sauce and canning, I like this tomato on pizza because it will keep its shape while baking.

Any tomato will work, so plant your favorites and experiment with a few new varieties. Romas work on a BLT, but aren’t my first choice. This is an example of where variety in your plantings will pay off. Try better boy, beefstake, or the red and yellow mixed.

I like peppers on my pizza, both mild and hot. Plant bell peppers, but spice it up with banana peppers or maybe even jalapenos.

Fun fact about peppers, especially banana peppers: They may change color depending on their maturity and how long they are on the vine. Check your plant tags or talk with the nursery staff for specifics, but I generally pick them when they are yellow, not waiting for them to turn orange or red.

These plants can produce a lot of peppers, something to keep in mind when shopping for plants. Unless you really love them or plan to use them for canning, set out too many plants and you could end up like Peter Piper, “picking a peck of pickled peppers.”

You may want a few more toppings like onions, oregano, and basil. I grow rows and rows of green onions every spring. I get onion sets from the local feed and seed store and just pop them in the ground. It’s so easy. Onions like it cool, so don’t wait, plant them soon. I also suggest tossing leafy greens on your pizza, maybe arugula or spinach. Both are easy to grow either from seed or starter plantings.

Herbs such as oregano and basil will come in handy for a number of dishes. Both plants like the sun and well-drained soil. I like to plant oregano in pots so that I can bring it indoors during the winter months. With these plants, the more you trim and use them, the more they will produce.

Although they don’t grow in your vegetable garden, you can grow your own mushrooms. They require a different type of gardening. A bit more specialized and something to talk about at another time.

Hungry yet? Have some fun with a child and plant a pizza patch. Have some fun with your menu and plan to have and use fresh ingredients from your garden. Source a local cheese, try a new crust mixture. This spring, plan your garden to be an extension of your pantry.