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A True Garden Salad: 10 Tips For Growing Your Own Vegetables

July 20, 2012

If you have a sunny spot on your porch in your backyard, or even your front yard (yep! think outside the box). I highly encourage gardening your own veggies. First, it is a frugal decision, for example:

  • $1.99 organic lettuce seeds produce enough lettuce for June, July, August September. Compared to $4 box of organic lettuce in the store, saves you $64 in lettuce over the course of the summer
  • $3 grape tomato plant continually provides tomatoes in late-June, July and August, which saves you at least $24.
  • Using old sprouting organic potatoes which looked too gross to eat (needs to be organic because they aren’t sprayed to prevent sprouting), we planted four potatoes which will quadruple.

Second, growing your own food can also be a great way to introduce veggies to your child. Serafina knows she can just go up to our tomatoes and grab one for a snack. She understands how her food is produced and that the fresh food out the window tastes better than the ones we find in the store. She is very proud of the potatoes that she helped plant, pointing them out to visitors at every opportunity. It makes me light up when she tells them about Mama’s plants and Serafina’s plants.

Third, it just tastes better. The vegetables take about a one minute trek to our kitchen, and because of that they are fresh. Tomatoes smell like tomatoes, squash is complex, the basil lasts as long as you want it to. I find salads and dishes made with our veggies have more complex flavors.

Finally, growing your own food can be a political act. You gain a bit of control over your own consumption, help the environment, improve your diet, reject pesticides in your family diet, etc. The list is endless.

We grow lettuce, bok choy, green beans, peas, eggplant, jalepeno pepper, two varieties of sweet peppers, spinach, grape tomatoes, swiss chard, potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, and a huge variety in herbs. In August, we will plant the next round of plants, including winter squashes, kale, onions, potatoes. In general, growing food is much simpler than growing flowers, so those who are worried about a green thumb do not worry. A few tips:

  1. Plant, Water, Enjoy. Really the only thing you need to be able to do is water, and voila plants!
  2. No need for fertilizers. You can give your plants time-released food, but fertilizer and sprays are unnecessary and bad for your health.
  3. If you have the ability, build raised beds. Raised beds help drainage, allow fresh unpacked soil, and improve plant growth. AAM built some fantastic beds from cedar planks sold at Loews. Do not use pressure treated wood, as the chemicals leach into the soil. The entire project took two days, and all you need are a hammer, nails, saw, and measuring tape. We used decking brackets to keep the boxes together under pressure from the soil and anchored the boxes into the ground with posts that go several feet underground.
  4. Don’t skimp on soil. We filled our beds with nice soil. It was a little expensive upfront, but not nearly as expensive as having veggies that don’t grow to their potential. Honestly, dirt is not super expensive, I mean it, dirt is cheap.
  5. Invest in a gardening book. I use a local one produced by the Washington Post, so that I can understand the limitations of my region and I pair it with The Complete Vegetable and Herb Gardener. It is a terrific encyclopedia, and helps me discern what is easy to grow and gives me new ideas.
  6. Know your zone/region. Don’t try to grow things that aren’t natural to your region, unless you are a pro. I learned about gardening from my mother. She always said, “If you want English roses, move to England.” Learn what grows well locally, and embrace it.
  7. Don’t let pests stop you. I often hear people say they don’t garden because there are rabbits, deer, bugs, etc. There are fences and natural methods to deter them, people have been doing it for thousands of years, you can too.
  8. Read the packet/directions for each plant. Spacing and depth can be important, plus some veggies needs supports. Try to get them in on time. This year, I wanted to make my own and ended up doing it too late for the peas and green beans.
  9. Know your seed, and don’t be too proud to buy starter plants. Some seeds are regulated by Monsanto, which has single handedly contributed to the lack of bio-diversity in our grocery stores. Embrace unusual versions of common plants, they add flavor, color and texture. I recommend checking out Seed Savers or other unique seed distributors. Additionally, don’t be afraid of going to a nursery or the local farmer’s market to buy starter plants for heavier vegetables. It might be a $3 or $4 more dollars, but they tend to grow better. We buy lettuce, herbs, beans, peas, spinach, bok choy, swiss chard, kale from seed. We buy squash, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant as starters.
  10. Finally, talk to people who garden in your area. Often, they have the best tips for understanding your environment. My mother and my friend have taught me more than any website or book.

Today, when I realized we ran out of bought lettuce, I visited my little garden. Clipping some lettuce, grabbing some grape tomatoes, and a young green pepper, I made a true garden salad.

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