By Barbara Perry Lawton
While it’s currently both political and environmentally correct to climb on the “green” bandwagon, there are other reasons for growing some of your own food that also make eminently good sense. The benefits are high and the costs are low, a real plus during stressful economic times. Growing edibles is creative and will raise the quality of your life. Garden exercise is calming and can reduce stress. Once the plants are grown, there is the satisfaction of harvesting, and then, of course, there is the pleasure of eating truly fresh foods that are organically grown.
I have been greatly surprised to discover that in Great Britain vegetable and other food seeds now outsell the seeds of ornamentals. I see this trend spreading in this country as well. The last time this happened was well over half a century ago. The numbers of community gardens is growing here as well as in Europe and the United Kingdom. So, join the rest of us and grow your own salads and vegetables.
If you have never grown your own food, you might think it is difficult. Far from it – if you take your time to read the seed packets and identify places in your yard or garden that have the right amount of sun and reasonably decent garden soil or commercial medium, the seed you plant will grow and grace your table with fresh salads and other vegetables.
Choose things that you enjoy eating. Note that what you spend on just one bag of commercial salad greens will buy enough seeds to produce many salads. I enjoy salad greens of all sorts – leaf lettuce, mescluns, arugula and many of the Oriental greens that currently appear on the seed shelves. Consider such things as dwarf pak choy, oriental mustards and kales. Parsleys and leafy greens make handsome borders for annual and perennial flower beds.
I enjoy small tomatoes – easy plants to grow in the suburban garden. Green beans and snap peas can be grown on trellises. Cucumbers also will vine-cover trellises as will small summer squashes. Radishes and short carrots will grow well in planters and garden beds as long as the soil is of good tilth. Carrot greens make handsome ferny green borders.
Don’t think that you have to grow your edibles in rows in a dedicated vegetable garden. Grow the greens as shorter ground covers in shrub beds and large containers. The plum and cherry tomatoes thrive in large containers and feature attractive foliage accented by bright fruits. Even shallow clay pots will grow some edibles very well – try ‘Spicy Globe’ basil in a 12-inch round saucer that is three to four inches deep. Sow thickly over the entire surface.
These are but a few suggestions. You will find other ways to grow your foods in your own yard and garden. Once you’ve made a few notes on what you want and where you want to plant, visit your favorite nursery and get re-inspired by their collections of seeds, plants and containers.
Harvesting leafy greens is easily accomplished with sharp scissors. Cut the leaves back every few days, using the clippings for your salads. The leaves will re-grow for several weeks. Harvest basils, parsleys and fennels in this way and you soon will see the leaves growing out once again.
Pick tomatoes when they are at their ripest for best vine-grown taste. You also can pick younger ones and ripen them on a window sill. Thin radishes, carrots and other root vegetable so that the roots have room to expand. Pull the tasty roots when they are still fairly small – they will be milder and tastier. Pick cucumbers and summer squashes when they are still small – they are at their best when young.
The Greatest Bonus of Home-Grown Foods
If you’ve never before grown some of your own foods, you may think that you’re buying fresh veggies at a local farmers’ market. But stop and think how much fresher your salads and vegetables are when they are only five or ten minutes from harvest!
Barbara Perry Lawton is a writer, author, speaker and photographer. She has served as manager of publications for Missouri Botanical Garden and as weekly garden columnist for the St Louis Post-Dispatch. The author of a number of gardening and natural history books, and contributor to many periodicals, she has earned regional and national honors for her writing and photography. Barbara is also a Master Gardener and volunteers at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis MO.