Western Technical College and Mayo Clinic Health System—Franciscan Healthcare has several planters around their campus growing a mix of flowers and edible plants. Each organization has identified employees to “champion” and care for each planter. Growing food doesn’t have to be complicated. You can grow food in containers of all shapes and sizes and make it just as attractive as a pot of flowers. Scroll below to learn what’s growing and how you could do it too! The edible plants used in the planters are from Get Growing partner, Hillview Urban Agriculture Center. The plants in the planters were given a “boost” with Hillview’s VermiGold, a natural plant fertilizer made from worm castings.
Mayo Clinic Health System—Franciscan Healthcare staff, Cindy Shireman and Kevin Challe, pose with their Get Growing edible planter outside of the St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse.

 

Western employees Get Growing by planting an assortment of edible plants in eight different planters around campus. Pictured from left to right is Kari Reyburn, Jenny Vick, Joyce Altobelli, and Robert Schroeder.

 

  • This is a very popular garden herb that takes on the flavor of licorice and is commonly used in tomato dishes.
  • Basil is also used in pesto and that can be made from just the herbs planted in a garden.
Growing Instructions:

Location/planting- Need a fair amount of sun light, however full sun isn’t necessary. Some people like planting them in containers so the basil plants can be brought indoors during colder months and keep producing leaves that can be used.

Harvesting- Cut leaves from the top of the plant being careful not to bruise them while harvesting. Basil can be dried, or frozen, but is best used when the leaves are freshly picked.

Uses
  • Enhances the flavor of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
  • Used in combination with thyme, parsley, chives or garlic on meat based dishes.

 


  • Cabbage is a part of the cruciferous vegetable family and contains an abundance of phytochemicals, folate and vitamins K, C, and A.
  • Phytochemicals can help reduce the risk of a wide variety of cancers, along with strokes and other diseases.
  • The cruciferous family as a whole can help lower inflammation, and tends to be rich in fiber which everyone could use more of.
Growing Instructions:

Location/climate cabbage thrives in cooler climates and needs a mixture of sun and shade.
Soil- Rich soil is important for cabbage and compost use is recommended along with being planted in easily drained soil.

Planting Seeds put directly into the ground are the best planting method. Cabbage can also be put into growing containers and grown indoors so it is available year round, but tend to outgrow their containers.

Harvesting When to harvest depends on the variety, regular cabbage should be picked when it’s the size of a softball and feels firm when squeezed.

Recipe ideas Coleslaw is a common dish however it can be high is sugars and fats. Sauerkraut is also a traditional dish in Wisconsin using cabbage. Many families have their own special recipe. Try to adjust the recipe if it contains an abundance of salt as many of them do.


  • Celery is commonly referred to as a negative-calorie food meaning that it takes more calories to digest than the food provides for the body. This reasoning is a MYTH and is not backed up by any scientific research even though the concept may seem to hold weight.
  • Mostly consists of high amounts of water and fiber which help contribute to lower cholesterol numbers, healthy and regulated bowel movements, and controlled blood sugar levels.
Growing Instructions:

Location Need to be planted in full sun light, however shading them during hot spells throughout the summer is needed.

Soil Because celery originated from a marsh plant it is a general rule that it needs twice as much water as the rest of the garden. The use of more compost or top soil can lead to healthier plants by sustaining the moisture needed for proper growth.

Planting Seeds are an option but most gardeners choose to transplant already started pants into their gardens.

Harvesting Begin collecting individual stalks when they reach a height of 6-8 inches. Outer stalks should be taken first with a knife as the plant will continue to produce new stalks from the center. If the plant starts to flower cut the entire celery plant at once.

General tips:
  • Celery is a great addition to any dish as it can be served raw but also holds up well when being cooked using almost any method.
  • The main contributor to quality of the celery is the amount of water it receives during its life. Not enough water can lead to the celery being tough, cracks in the stalks, and stunted.

 


  • This plant is a perennial meaning it comes back every year without replanting and is very easy to grow.
  • Produces a bright purple flower that can add nice color to any garden especially if the garden contains mostly vegetables.
Growing Instructions:

Location Need some sun but also do well in shadier conditions. Chives also need a cold dormant period so the leaves can die back into the ground.

Soil- Chives are very versatile so also most any soil conditions are suitable for growth.

Planting Chives can be started from seeds or by transplanting a bought plant. If you have a neighbor that is willing, you can take a bulb or two of their chive plant which is free and can be easily transplanted.

Harvesting Snip the leaves/flowers off with scissors whenever chives are needed. The leaves can be frozen so chives are available in the winter when the chive plant is in hibernation.

Uses:
  • Chives have the taste of a mild onion and can be incorporated into many different recipes, even replacing onions at times.
  • The flower along with the leaves can be put into salads which not only adds flavor to the dish but also adds a new color to the plate.

 


  • Peppers are high in antioxidants, yellow, red, and orange are exceptionally high in vitamin C.
  • Consuming peppers can improve eye health, decrease the risk of cancer, and limit the effects of free radicals in our bodies.
Growing Instructions:

Location This depends of the variety of peppers, hot peppers can handle higher temperatures while the sweeter bell peppers will stop producing if temperatures are too high. Peppers do best in full sunlight and avoid planting where tomatoes or eggplants have previous grown to prevent disease.

Soil Plant in soil that drains well as standing water promotes disease.

Planting Seeds placed directly into the ground is best as peppers don’t like their roots being disturbed. Sweet peppers need more room to grown versus hot pepper varieties as the peppers themselves tend to be larger.

Harvesting- Cut peppers rather than pulling them off the plants. Green peppers are just unripe red, yellow, and orange peppers, which tend to be not as sweet compared to the ripened colorful bell peppers.

Recipe Ideas Making pepper boats filled with taco filling is a healthy alternative for tortillas. Peppers hold up very well when being cooked and are great when halved and put onto the grill, however, be careful about charring on the grill as this can create harmful carcinogens.

 


  • Contains high mounts of vitamin E and other antioxidants.
  • Kale can help reduce cancer risk, decrease heart disease, and contains vitamins and minerals that have shown to improve the quality of life for individuals for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Growing instructions:

Location Kale grows best in semi shade and cloudy areas. Hotter temperature tends to make kale tough and bitter.

Soil Keep the soil moist and use mulch for adult plants in order to control weeds.

Planting Plants should be placed 2 feet apart and seeds should be raked into the ground when being planted.

Harvesting Pick the out leaves as needed, leave he last ½ inch to promote regrowth. Harvesting just the leaves and not the whole plant means it can keep growing and producing.

General ips:
  • Frost or cooler climates tend to sweeten the kale taking away its bitter quality.
  • Kale is great for cooking because it maintains its structure and doesn’t go limp like other leafy greens.
  •  Use the young tender leaves for salad and the older tougher leaves for cooking.

 


  • Sage is known to help with digestive issues and settling upset stomachs.
  • Fresh herbs like sage can be used in place of salts and other unhealthy flavor additives which can lower sodium making dishes healthier.
Growing Instructions:

Location Sage thrives in direct sunlight as can be planted almost anywhere.

Soil Needs good drainage and average soil quality.

Planting Sowing seeds directly into the ground is the easiest was to grow sage however there are started plants that can be used as well.

Harvesting The leaves and stems can be clipped throughout the growing season and will continue to grow back as long as conditions are favorable.

Uses/preparation:
  • Leaves can be dried by hanging in a warm, dark space, or being dried in food dehydrator.
  • Can be put onto vegetables, cheese dishes, fish, veal, liver and made into teas that are supposed to be anti-aging.

 


  • Contains a variety of phytochemicals that can promote eye and prostate health.
  • More generally, Swiss chard can assist in heart health, strengthening the immune system, and regulating the digestive tract.
Growing Instructions:

Location Plant in full sun light if possible, Swiss chard can be grown in light shade if full sunlight is unavailable. This plant can survive a wide range of temperatures both hot and cold.

Soil The richer the soil the longer Swiss chard will produce and the more plentiful the harvest will be.

Planting Seeds can be planted very early in the spring; after the plants have sprouted mulching can help maintain even moisture distribution.

Harvesting Swiss chard can begin to be gathered after 6 weeks of the seeds being sowed or when the plants are 6 inches tall. Harvest the leaves when they are a green color as yellowing leaves are a sign of over maturity and shouldn’t be used as they tend to be very bitter and tough.

General tips/knowledge:
  • Swiss chard is used as a heartier spinach substitute as its leaves are thicker making it more durable.
  • These tick leave also give the plant a stronger flavor and is great steamed or used in stir-fries as it maintains its structure well when cooked.

 


  • Contains Lycopene which has similar benefits to antioxidants (not a true antioxidant), also can act as a natural blood thinner.
  • Because of tomatoes high Lycopene content they may reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and keeping blood vessels healthy. Some studies have also shown that tomatoes can help slow macular degeneration.
Growing instructions:

Location Tomatoes should be planted in full sunlight but should be provided shelter from high winds as the plants tend to be fragile.

Soil Grown best in sandier locations which are well-drained. Avoid planting where water accumulates as the tomato plants drown easily. Their root systems need lots of room to grow and spread so the soil should be loosened to around 12 inches underground to promote healthy root development.

Planting Tomatoes need to be started indoors or in a controlled environment and should be a few inches high before planning them into a garden. These young tomato plants are very fragile and will not survive in unfavorable conditions so precautions should be taken to plant 2-weeks after the last expected spring frost, preferably when the soil is above 60 degree F.

Harvesting Never rush the harvest of tomatoes as they ripen from the inside out, days to harvest vary depending on variety (90-140 days). If the weather is hot (85 degrees or above) for long periods of time you may want to consider picking them when they are pink (if harvesting a red variety) and let them ripen indoors.

General Tips
  • Starting seeds in a controlled environment is a key for the success of the tomato plant.
  • Learning when and how to properly trim tomatoes leaves can increase crop yield and decrease disease among the tomato plants.
  • Mulch around the base of the plants to tomatoes from touching the ground and spoiling along with maintaining proper moisture levels.

 


  • This vegetable is a great substitute in recipes by replacing unhealthy portions of common recipes with zucchini; this can be especially helpful to the diabetic population and individuals worried about their heart health.
  • Zucchini is plentiful in B vitamins which have been shown to decrease the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Consuming Zucchini can improve blood cell heath which would help individuals who have blood clotting abnormalities.
Growing Instruction:
  • Growing zucchini is very easy to grow; the major thing to note is that the plant does need a trellis or a similar structure to grow onto.
  • When harvesting, pick the zucchini when they are small so the vine continues to produce more fruit.
  • When the fruit gets to baseball-bat size the energy of the plant is going to seed creation rather than continuing to blossom and growing new “zukes”.
Recipe ideas:
  •  Zucchini is a versatile ingredient and can be added to recipes or used by itself.
  • Sautéing Zucchini coins or a cheesy Zucchini bake which involves baking a whole zucchini almost like a loaf of bread are some options that use a lot of the vegetable.
  • Zucchinis can also be cut in half and stuffed after the guts are removed similar to stuffed peppers.
  • Replacing common food items with Zucchini is also popular. Pastas, mashed potatoes, and dips are foods that can be replaced with zucchini by using different preparation methods.

 


References:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/lycopene/background/hrb-20059666
http://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-health-letter-highlights-from-the-june-2014-issue/
http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/vitamin-e/evidence/hrb-20060476
http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/vitamin-c/background/hrb-20060322
http://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/a-grocery-bag-of-beneficial-antioxidants/
http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/vitamin-b12/background/hrb-20060243
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/expert-blog/aromatherapy-and-cancer/bgp-20056435
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983/
Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver. Written by: Fern Marshall Bradley
Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening, a Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Healthy Garden. Written by: Deborah L. Martin
Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Written by: Fern Marshall Bradley, Barbara W. Ellis, and Ellen Phillips