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You Can Have Your Garden and Eat It, Too

Somewhere, sometime, someone started a pesky rumor that growing vegetables is more work and trouble than growing flowers. Let us now lay that rumor to rest – it isn’t so. Keeping a vegetable garden is no more trouble than a flower garden and, for many gardeners; the rewards are even greater because (in one sense) you can have your garden and eat it too.

The Seven Joys of Vegetable Gardening

If you haven’t tried growing vegetables in your garden, you don’t know what you are missing. Not only does a neatly tended vegetable garden look great, but you can enjoy many of the fruits of your labors well into the winter months. Here are seven reasons to start or continue a vegetable garden

Exercise: Gardening does require some work, but this can easily be considered exercise. Stretch to pull that nasty crabgrass…dig to remove that dandelion root…breathe deeply to fill your lungs with fresh air. All of these gardening activities help to burn up calories and increase your physical well-being.

Food: An obvious benefit to vegetable gardening is that it results in good things to eat. And fresh vegetables always taste better than any store-bought produce. In fact, the exceptional flavor of homegrown foods is one major reason why people grow vegetables.

Health: Fresh vegetables are health foods. Most vegetables have traveled hundreds of miles to be on display at the grocery stores. This journey results in lost vitamins and minerals. The vegetables from your garden are the most nutritious, containing the vitamins and minerals for healthy bodies.

Beauty: A vegetable garden is as pleasing to the eyes as a flower garden. And most vegetables flower before they fruit, so you really do get both in one garden.

Knowledge: Experience is the best teacher. When you garden you can see Nature at work. You can’t help but learn about nature and nurturing plants. As a parent, you can share this knowledge with your children.

Self-satisfaction: There is something very satisfying about tending a garden and reaping its rewards. One feels almost virtuous. Plus gardening is an occupation that the whole family can do together.

Money savings: The monetary investment in seeds, plants, fertilizer, etc., is minimal, and compared to buying fresh or canned produce you could save a lot of money, especially if you store some of your bounty for the later months.

Digging In

This is the hard part, but it’s the same whether you do it for flowers or vegetables. And once this is done, the rest is easy. Preparation: If you don’t already have a vegetable garden, choose a sunny location to start one. Dig up the soil, removing grass if this is virgin territory, breaking up large clods and getting things smoothed out. Renting a rototiller may be a good way to dig up the soil. A soil test is always a good idea. Your local county extension agent (listed under county offices in the phone book or on the web at  http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/ is the person to contact. Once you have the soil test results you will now know fertilizer, mineral and soil additions to make to bring your soil up to good growing conditions. All plants need some fertilizer, and almost all types will work for you – granular, liquid or composted organic materials. Adding fertilizer to the soil now is a good idea. Remember that the fertilizer is food for the plants that eventually are going to be your food. After you have added peat or other recommended amendments, rake the top of the soil to smooth things out.

The Easier Part

Sow Seeds: Seeds are available from mail order catalogs, online retailers, or in packets at retail stores. Select your seeds carefully. If no one in your family likes to eat carrots, don’t grow any. Grow the food your family loves to eat. Here are some easy-to-grow vegetables:

Bush green beans

Cucumbers

Leaf lettuces

Garden peas

Pumpkins

Radishes

Spaghetti squash

Summer squash

Winter Squash

Spinach

Sweet Corn

On the seed packet there are specific growing directions. Basically you will make a hole or long trench, called a furrow, in the soil. Place the seed in the bottom of the hole or furrow; cover with soil, and water gently.

Watering: The seed in the soil needs moisture to germinate. If there is no rain, gently water your garden daily to provide moisture. The seed will most likely germinate if the soil temperature and moisture are adequate. Most vegetable seeds will germinate in 7 to 14 days. If sown under cooler conditions, need may take longer than 2 weeks to germinate.

Thinning: Some of your food crops may need thinning. If you grow bush beans, lettuce, radishes or spinach, they will need thinning. This allows the remaining seedlings more space to grow. Continue watering the vegetable plants, weed when needed, and enjoy the sight of your growing garden.

Starting from plants: Some food crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, okra, cabbage, cantaloupe, and watermelons are easier to grow from started plants than from seed. A good selection of vegetable plants can be found at garden centers, nurseries, or other retail stores. Look for young, sturdy-looking, green plants with a label that provides the variety name and planting instructions. Since small tomato plants tend to all look alike, labels can be very important. It is best to plant your plants as soon as you can after purchasing – the same day if possible.

The easiest way to plant started plants is to actually place the individual plants, still in their containers, where you want to put them in the garden. Adjust spacing as necessary, and then dig a hole for them where you put them. Push the soil back over the newly planted hold, just covering the soil the plant came in, and then water the plants when you are done planting.

A Caged Tomato: Caging a tomato plant is the easiest way to grow one. No pinching, pruning or extra labor will be required. You can buy tomato cages at the store, or make one out of the wire used to reinforce concrete, or out of any similar wire. After you have planted the tomato, carefully place the cage over it, and that’s that. Water and fertilize as you normally would.

Indeterminate tomato plants (check the label) will perform best if tied to a stake and pruned. Some gardeners love to grow tomatoes this way. Fussing over your tomato plants can be fun.

Let’s Eat!

By mid to late summer you will start to reap the rewards of your vegetable garden. As the different fruits mature, harvest them and use them in salads and as side dishes for your meals. You, your family, and the friends you share with will all notice the great taste that comes from fresh vegetables picked from your garden.

If you are like most gardeners, you will probably find that you have “too many” of whatever you planted. You can share your bounty with neighbors and co-workers or make donations to a local food pantry or to Plant A Row for the Hungry http://gardenwriters.org/gwa.php?p=par/donate.html. You can make zucchini bread and other special dishes to use up surplus, and there are some fast and easy ways to “preserve” your harvest for later months (blanching and then freezing green beans is one example.) Check your cookbooks, the public library, or search the web for easy ways to save all this good stuff for later.

A vegetable garden is no more trouble than a flower garden, and the rewards of growing vegetables can last you well past the time when flowers ha

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