It feels strange to say it, but it seems as though healthy eating is a hot trend right now. It's hard to believe that something that is good for you, like healthy eating, is 'popular'. Once upon a time, people never had to think about eating healthy; they just did it. It was normal and expected that you would plant, grow, harvest and eat homegrown food. Nowadays convenience has taken over and as a result, healthy eating has become something that people have to work really hard at to accomplish. There are so many options for fast food, snack foods and pre-packaged food. Unfortunately, a lot of the options are not very good for our bodies, especially when they are consumed more often than healthier alternatives.
So what do I do to steer myself and my family toward healthy eating habits? Two words my friends: Veggie Garden! I love growing my own food! Truthfully, it is the one thing I look forward to the most once the snow melts. Long before that happens, you will find me poring over previous years' garden plans, pencil in hand, planning out what I'm going to do to produce the next crop of homegrown vegetables. I have to admit I'm a bit of a gardening keener because I write notes on what worked and what didn't so I can tweak my plans for the next year. I can hardly wait for the snow to melt so I can get in my garden, till the soil and start planting the first seeds of the season. I love everything about it! Everything from the planting, to watching for the seeds to sprout, to harvesting and yes – even weeding. And there's nothing better than contemplating what to have for a snack or for part of meal, and then walking out to your own yard and getting it from the garden! If I had the money and the space, I'd probably try to convince my husband to build me a greenhouse so I could garden year round!
Many people are turned off of growing their own vegetables because it's a lot of work and they think you need a lot of space. One of these is true; vegetable gardens are a lot of work. You have to work the soil, plants the seeds, pull the weeds, water the garden, pull the weeds some more, harvest the vegetables, pull the weeds again and if you have more than you can eat, you have to prepare the vegetables so you can store them for later use. So yes, it is a lot of work, but don't let that discourage you. To me, having my own vegetable garden is worth the effort and I've learned a few tricks to make my garden less labour intensive. For example, once I've planted the seeds, I only water the rows. That way I am only watering my seeds or plants and not the weeds. Once the seeds have sprouted and the plants have established themselves a little better, I lay soaker hoses up and down my rows. This has worked very well because there is less evaporation when watering, the water goes straight down to the roots instead of on the foliage and when you water just the rows, you're not watering the rest of the dirt encouraging weeds to grow. One of the tricks I have learned to lessen the labour of weeding is to lay newspaper in between the rows, dampen the newspaper (so it doesn't blow away) and then scatter straw on top of the newspaper. The newspaper acts like a filter cloth blocking weeds from growing in between your rows and the straw gives you something to walk on without tearing the newspaper. The best part is that when the growing season is done, you can till the newspaper and straw into the soil and it will decompose.
For those who think you need a lot of space for a vegetable garden, this can be true, but it all depends on what you want to grow. Container gardening is a great way to get homegrown vegetables when you don't have a lot of space. You can even use hanging baskets for certain vegetables! If space is a serious issue for you, many towns have community gardens where you can 'rent' a plot or a section of garden and plant your own vegetables. I know of some people who use this option for the vegetables that take up more room and then plant the vegetables that require less space in their gardens (or in containers) at home. This year I came across an article that claimed you could grow 100 pounds of potatoes in a 4x4 box (http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-grow-100-pounds-of-potatoes-in-4-square-feet-81760)! Basically you plant your potato seeds at the bottom and as the plants grow, you add more soil and another row of boards. I am curious as to how well this works, so I'm going to give it a try because potatoes do take up a lot of space. However, instead of building a 4x4 box, I am going to try it using a 20 gallon barrel. I'm not expecting to get 100 pounds of potatoes, but it should be interesting to see how many the plants will produce. The benefit of building a box is that as the growing season progresses, you can remove the bottom boards to harvest a few potatoes at a time. I'll be sure to let you know how it works out!
If you're totally new to vegetable gardening, perhaps you're wondering where to begin. First you need to find a suitable location for your garden. While full sun is best, I have found through experience that it is not an absolute necessity as long as the garden is in the sun for some of the day. My garden is located up against a shed which shades the garden for part of the day. There is also a large tree at the bottom of my garden that casts shade during other parts of the day. Despite this, I have no problem growing an abundance of fresh veggies. In fact, I have used the shade to my advantage! For example, I like to plant lettuce at the bottom of my garden where it gets the most shade. When it gets very hot later in the summer, lettuce will bolt, making it bitter and inedible. Because my lettuce is in the shade a lot of the day, I find that it doesn't bolt until much later in the season. Once you've chosen a location for your garden, you need to decide what to grow. Some of the easiest vegetables to grow are also the ones you can plant the earliest, such as onion, carrots, peas and lettuce. Onion, lettuce and peas can be planted as soon as the ground is thawed, while carrots can be planted a few weeks before the last frost. I also plant potatoes early on and when all danger of frost is past, I plant cucumber, beans and pumpkin (from seeds), as well as pepper, tomato and zucchini plants. If you go to a green house, you can find plants for almost every vegetable, but some stuff I just prefer to plant from seeds and it costs less to buy a pack of seed than it does to buy vegetable plants from a greenhouse. For some vegetables such as pepper, tomato and zucchini, you should definitely buy the plants because the plants need to be well established in order to get a crop off them during the summer.
Another great benefit of growing your own vegetable garden is that you can involve the whole family. And I don't just mean that the family gets to enjoy fresh produce all summer long! My husband gets the job of roto-tilling the soil every spring. My daughter has been helping me plant the seeds since before she was two years old. She loved it when I would dig the holes and let her put the plants or seeds in and pat the dirt around. The past two years, I have given my kids a handful of seeds and their own tub of dirt (or row in the garden if I have extra space) to plant their very own gardens. The excitement on their faces when their seeds started to grow is priceless and I'm looking forward to when they can eat fresh produce that they have grown themselves. We also made a pumpkin patch in the field this year instead of growing them in the garden (pumpkin vines tend to take over in the garden) and the kids are so excited to grow their own pumpkins for Halloween every year. So growing your own garden may be a lot of work, but I have learned that the benefits are worth the effort and it makes healthy eating fun for the whole family!