Four tips for a bountiful garden harvest in 2024

A carrot’s journey: Oak Park harvests its veggies from an on-site garden before they reach your plate as a beautifully prepared Carrot Wellington. (Photos: Billy Dohrmann)

By Karla Walsh

In case you missed it, spring officially arrived at 10:06 Tuesday night. To make the most of the hopeful new season, we feel like digging into the garden — and stealing a few secrets from one of the most impressive gardeners in town.

As Oak Park’s multitalented director of operations, Billy Dohrmann oversees its culinary garden. Last year, the new Ingersoll Avenue restaurant partnered with Dogpatch Urban Gardens in June, early enough to harvest some veggies in time for the restaurant’s October opening.

“The beautiful thing about the garden right outside the kitchen door is that you pick and use items on the same day,” Dohrmann said. “This not only allows us to provide some of the freshest ingredients you could ever get on a plate in the dining room, but it also helps limit waste.”

This year, Oak Park has started much earlier (last week, in fact) and used the offseason to plan this year’s crops of fruits, vegetables and herbs.

We asked Dohrmann to give us the dirt on how to plant a successful garden at home.

Ask the experts. Rather than winging it, just planting wherever and watering whenever, Dohrmann suggests talking with local gardeners and vegetable farmers. He took notes from his friends at Dogpatch Urban Gardens, Grade A Gardens and other gardeners who’ve weathered a few seasons in Central Iowa. “A seed packet will give you some good information,” he said, “but someone who has had experience growing in the area knows more about how that seed truly reacts with the local soil, weather conditions and watering frequencies.”

Stock up on seeds. Dohrmann and his team plan to plant more than 45 different plants this year, an even split of veggies and herbs, plus a few fruits. Tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, squash and basil will be in strong supply. For seeds, Dohrmann trusts Row 7, Baker Creek, Seed Savers Exchange and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Make a map. Your best garden actually starts on graph paper, a computer or whatever mapping tool you prefer. Dohrmann said his team plans out each garden plot according to “the ideal planting and growth times for each variety.” Charting this ahead of time enables them to research and then prioritize “companion planting.” Certain varieties play well together, feeding one other the nutrients they need to thrive or deflect pests. (Pro tip: Search for “companion plants” on Google.)

Enjoy the fruits of your labor. At Oak Park, “the garden team and kitchen team are very much one and the same,” Dohrmann said. The whole staff shares garden tasks such as watering, weeding, pruning and harvesting. “So many members of our team, myself included, found the garden to be a place of peace.” They enjoy the garden’s goodies for snacks and staff meals, and guests can savor them in dishes that are, truly, as fresh as they come.

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