- Basil: Chop it up and freeze it in an ice-cube tray, then stir the cubes into soup or other dishes.
- Blueberries: Get an older bush that’s ready to start producing.
- Green beans: Green beans are easy to grow and easy to prepare.
- Peas: Invest in a trellis, to encourage them to grow upwards.
- Peppers: Try the spicy ones; they dry well.
- Perennial herbs: Oregano, rosemary, thyme and sage are all good, easy perennials.
- Salad greens: Lettuce can last throughout the summer; plant it in a shady area.
- Strawberries: You won’t get enough to make jam, but you can have a few for breakfast.
- Tomatoes: Novice gardeners should start with seedlings. Use stakes for support.
There is a certain joy and satisfaction one achieves when able to grow and nurture your own food.
Starting a garden from scratch may sound intimidating, but really all you need is a dollop of land (or several containers), some healthy soil, and the will to do it.
With just a little bit of elbow grease, you’ll get to reap the reward of phenomenally healthy, delicious vegetables that cost you just pennies on the dollar compared to those at the supermarket.
Now that the economic slump of recent years has forced more Americans to be frugal, coupled with a growing trend toward natural food and awareness of where our food comes from, the time is ripe for gardening to really take off -- and, indeed, many Americans are putting their green thumbs to good use.
Home Gardens are On the Rise
From 2008 to 2009, there was a 19 percent increase in the number of U.S. households that grew their own fruits, vegetables and herbs. This amounted to 7 million more households with food gardens, according to the National Gardening Association’s (NGA) survey, The Impact of Home and Community Gardening in America.
Organic gardeners are also coming out in droves, which is an awesome testimony that people’s attitudes about foods are shifting.
The number of U.S. households with an organic garden rose from 5 million in 2004 to 12 million in 2008, according to NGA, and when they asked a sample of U.S. households their thoughts on maintaining landscapes in an environmentally friendly way, 89 percent said it is important!
Organic Gardening is the Way to Go
For those of you just starting out, I encourage you, too, to use only organic gardening methods.
Whereas a conventionally grown garden might include the use of chemical fertilizers and potentially toxic insecticides to protect the crop, an organic gardener will forgo the chemicals and feed the soil with natural fertilizers and insect barriers.
The same goes for weed control. While a traditional gardener may apply synthetic herbicides to control weeds, an organic gardener, just like an organic farmer, will use crop rotation, tillage, hand weeding, and cover crops with mulches to control weeds.
The benefit to this is that you will not only grow more nutritious food, but you will not risk chemical exposures to yourself, your family or the environment.
Among those polled by NGA who said they used only all-natural fertilizer, insect and weed controls, their top reasons bear this out:
- It’s better for the environment (73 percent)
- To reduce the risk of exposure to chemicals in my yard (59 percent)
- To reduce water pollution through fertilizer runoff (54 percent)
- It fits my way of life (43 percent)
- To produce my own, safe, fresh produce (37 percent)
Once you get used to it, organic gardening is just as easy as conventional. For instance, you can make a homemade garden spray that will discourage most pests by combining mashed garlic paste with a little cayenne pepper or horseradish. Add a small amount to a gallon jug of water and let it sit for a day or two, shaking it occasionally. Just spray a small amount onto a few leaves first to make sure it’s not so strong that it will burn them.
For more tips, the following Web sites offer helpful advice and guidelines for the organic gardener:
Are You Ready to Get Started?
I will warn you, vegetable gardening is addictive, and once you start you will probably be compelled to expand your garden year after year.
This is exactly what happened to me, as I have tried extensive gardening in the past but had to abandon it to some extent due to my hectic schedule. I started a much smaller version of my previous garden last year, and the smaller garden is far more in line with my time constraints and travel schedule.
I’m confident that virtually everyone reading this can start a vegetable garden of their own, too, on a level that fits with your available space and schedule.
When factoring in startup and maintenance costs, a well-maintained food garden yields a $500 average return each year compared to the market price of produce, according to NGA. So there is a definite financial incentive there.
But beyond the financial reasons, starting a garden and seeing it through to harvest is very rewarding. You’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment as you sit down to feast, quite literally, on the fruits of your labor.
Children, too, benefit immensely from experimenting with gardening, and on top of learning where their food comes from will likely have a better attitude about eating vegetables. Many also find the act of gardening soothing and use it as a form of stress relief.
The time is right in much of the United States to start planting right now. If you’re not sure where to begin, Better Homes & Gardens has a free All-American Vegetable Garden Plan that can be put into a 6x6 area. It’s a great starting point for beginners.
You can also visit a few local plant nurseries around your home, especially those that specialize in organic gardening. The employees are likely to be a great resource for natural planting tips that will help your garden thrive.