Have you ever eaten a tomato that tasted like dishwater? Does the idea of consuming spinach make you cringe? Do you avoid most vegetables because you think they taste terrible?
Now — the more important question — have you ever eaten vegetables and fruit from your own backyard?
There’s nothing wrong with buying food from a grocery store. However, if you really want the freshest food, nothing beats locally grown. The farmer’s market is a great choice, but there are also benefits to growing your own.
Growing food can often save you money. There are, of course, initial startup costs. Depending on the space you have, you may need to buy pots, compost, soil, seeds, materials to make raised beds, etc. However, when you start to reap the rewards of your work, it can significantly cut down on grocery store costs.
The big difference between a backyard tomato and a grocery store tomato is the taste. Tomatoes gain most of their flavor as they ripen on the vine. Farmers that provide tomatoes for grocery stores pick tomatoes while they are still green, which means the tomatoes ripen off the vine. It’s true for most produce that the closer to the source you can get it, the better it’s going to taste.
There are also physical benefits when it comes to gardening. For example, appropriate exposure to sunlight has health benefits. Shoveling, weeding, digging, planting, harvesting, etc. is also a good workout. With a big enough garden, it may even be able to replace your entire workout routine — at least in the spring.
Good soil is key to healthy plants. Soft, black soil is often desirable. Soil with lots of clay will need more work and can be helped by adding compost. Some plants like soil that has been turned either by hand or rototiller. Other plants grow better with little disturbance to their environment. It’s important to do basic research on what you’re planting. Adding compost is often a good idea because it provides extra nutrients. Don’t be afraid of earthworms since they are a sign of healthy soil and will maintain your good soil.
Your plants need water. Plants that aren’t watered enough often grow weak and are more susceptible to disease. There is such a thing as overwatering and uneven watering, though. Tomatoes will split if they are watered unevenly. If the soil is too damp and too wet too often, you might encourage fungal growth, which can impede the health of your plants. If you live in a drought area, be careful about using too much water for your garden (consider drought-hardy plants).
Different fruits and vegetables mature at different times. It’s important to know when your plants are ready. Most seed packages have an estimated amount of days from planting time to maturity. It’s also important to know how quickly to use produce after it is harvested. Some options for prolonging the shelf life for fresh produce are canning, drying, and freezing. (Freezing is my preference.) If you can things, make sure that you follow the directions exactly. Food-borne illnesses, like botulism, can occur if canning is done incorrectly, and it can be deadly.
For those interested in gardening on a large or small scale, consider these resources to help you begin:
- Rodale’s Organic Life
- USDA Extension Offices
- USDA’s Planting Zone Map
- A few book suggestions from the Chicago Tribune
- Rural Life Today (especially for southwestern Ohioans)
- Salt Magazine (again, for Ohioans especially)
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