Pizza ovens have become increasingly more and more popular to add to ones yard. Pizza ovens can be portable like the Ooni or a built in. The cost difference between the two options is pretty significant so it will depend on my clients' needs and wants on which options we choose to include in their outdoor entertaining space. However, regardless of the option you choose making pizzas is a great activity that all ages can enjoy together. So if you have already gotten a pizza oven or are planning to get one soon, I want to give you some great plants to grow in your garden to compliment your pizza making endeavors.
I had to start with tomatoes because they are usually the base of most pizza sauces and they are so easy to grow. To start off with it is best to buy these plants as starters from a local nursery. Usually people only want one plant worth of each variety of tomato since one plant will provide a whole bounty full of crop.
For tomatoes, it is best to give them ample sunlight and plant once the chance of frost has passed. The more sun they get the more fruit they will give you. When setting up your plants, plan for each individual plant to get a tomato cage to help support the stems as they grow and produce. Otherwise, the stems get heavy with fruit and can easily break. Tomatoes love nutrient rich, well drained soil so before planting make sure to amend your soil with nutrients to help your tomatoes thrive. Overall these are easy plants to include and you can plant them with companion plants such as onions, basil, garlic or marigolds to help keep the pests away from your precious fruit.
Onions are personally my favorite pizza topping that I grow in the garden. I love the sweetness that comes from onions when they are cooked. When using them as a pizza topping for a pizza oven, you can either use them raw or cook them ahead of time. The pizza oven cooks pizzas so quickly that it won’t have time to cook the onions soft so if you prefer them this way, plan to pre-sauté them on the stovetop.
For onions, I like to get them in 6-packs at the nursery in the spring or fall. I use so many onions in my cooking that it just makes sense to have numerous plants of the same variety. They are not too big of plants so you can fit quite a few of them in a planter (planted just 6 inches apart). I usually add onions to the corners of a few of my garden beds with a different variety of onion used at each location. Since the roots of onions are shallow, it is important to water them often so that the plant don't get too dry. However, the great part about onions is that you can harvest them at any time. The size of an onion doesn't determine how they taste so harvest when you need.
The crunch of peppers and either sweetness or spiciness (depending on the variety) of them can really add tastiness not only to a sauce but also as topping. Before using them as a topping on your pizza decide whether you want to pre-sauté them or not. Peppers are just like onions in that the pizza oven is way to quick to soften them in the oven.
Like tomatoes, I like to purchase these as starter plants. One plant will give you lots of harvest so you will probably want different varieties as opposed to numerous plants of the same variety. Peppers grow best in sunny spots so choose a location for them carefully. Since peppers also get big, they benefit from a tomato cage to help them grow taller and allow more airflow throughout the plant. During the heat of the summer, watch your plants for stress and if there will be a heatwave coming make sure to give these plants extra water (along with most other plants on this list).
Herbs (Oregano & Basil)
I was torn on which one to include as my herb of choice. Frankly, oregano would usually win out since it is used so often in Italian cooking and really a little bit of oregano goes a long way in adding flavor to any sauce or topping. However, I would be remise not to include basil which is the prime ingredient in any Margherita pizza (basil, tomato & mozzarella). Needless to say, I was torn so I decided to just to include them both. :)
Both oregano and basil are planted in the spring after all chances of frost have passed (although they both can be grown year-round in a window sill). They like a sunny spot with well-drained soil that gets a moderate/low amount of water. With both of these herbs, you do not want the plant to flower. If the plants flowers, the leaves can turn bitter so make sure to keep the flowers pruned. You can easily use your finger to just break off the flower buds (or use nippers). Other than that, these herbs are super low maintenance to grow. The one big difference of the two herbs is that oregano can easily take over so it is best to grow oregano in a pot. Basil is not as aggressive as oregano but can be a little bit more temperamental especially if it does not get enough water.
Arugula has a wonderful peppery taste which makes sense since it is part of the mustard family of plants. In recipes and menus you may see arugula referred to as rocket which is in reference to the family of plants it belongs to.
Arugula is a low growing nutritious leafy green annual that grows as a cool season crop. It is very easy to grow from seed and on average can be harvested after only 40 days. It is best to plant arugula in early spring or early fall as it likes slightly cooler days to grow. Arugula prefers a sunny spot but can handle some shade with moist, well drained soil. When considering where to grow arugula, also consider any containers you may have since arugula doesn't need lots of space to grow.
The pungent flavor of garlic is the perfect addition to any sauce or topping to give the pizza a spicy/nutty flavor. Of all the varieties listed in this article, garlic is the trickiest but is still relatively easy to grow. Garlic is planted in late October to December (Zone 9). Varieties are usually refrigerated before planting to help them grow. In zone 9, we grow softneck garlic varieties because they require less winter chill to grow (don't worry this variety will be the only bulb option sold in nurseries in our area).
When thinking about your garlic harvest, make sure to space out your plants as garlic plants don't like to be too close together. I would recommend planting the bulbs at least 6-12 inches apart. Garlic bulbs once planted should be relatively low maintenance other than making sure the bulb does not flower. The flower drains the garlic bulb of energy that will compromise the size and vigor of the bulb. So you should cut the flower off immediately. The garlic bulb will "tell" you when it is ready when the stems are 2/3 yellow/brown. At this time, you can pull out your bulb with the stem. If you want to save your garlic (it can last up to a year depending on how well you cure it) plan to cure (dry it out) it for 4-10 weeks. However, you don't have to if you plan to use right away.
I hope this list inspires you to grow things in your garden to support your pizza making parties. I mean what could be more fun than having your kids harvest fruits and veggies from the garden that they want included in their pizzas. Happy Pizza Making!