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Why and How to Grow Your Own Food

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As the summer weather warms and everything greens up, many people turn their attention to the soil and start (or in many cases re-start) a garden. For some gardeners, flowers are their passions. For others, like me, it’s growing their own food.

There are many benefits to starting a garden, including saving yourself some “green.” Growing your own food can often end up being less expensive than buying it, depending on what you decide to grow. There are great health benefits as well:

  1. Fresh food: Your produce won’t have been on a grocery shelf for an undetermined amount of time but will go literally right out of the ground and into your kitchen.
  2. Exercise: While it may not sound all that strenuous, tending to a garden—planting, weeding, harvesting—burns calories. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has included gardening on their exercise list.
  3. Interaction with nature: You get outside and get to breathe fresh air and soak up some sun (or perhaps a little rain depending on the day). There is increasing scientific evidence that being exposed to plants and green space—particularly gardening—has positive benefits on our mental and physical health.
  4. Family time: Involve your loved ones in the care of a garden. It’s a great opportunity to spend time with your kids, parents, or friends.

If you haven’t gardened before and want to give it a shot, there are a few things to consider:

 

HOW MUCH SPACE DO YOU NEED?

How much space do you have and how much of that space do you want to use for growing food? Some people want to jump right in with a decent-sized garden if they have room while others want, or need, to start small. The great thing is that gardens can fit any size area!

If you don’t have much room—maybe you have just a small porch or patio—consider using small pots, planters, buckets, or even bags to plant in. Plants like tomatoes or peppers do well in pots. A long, deep, narrow planter could be used to grow carrots, or even onions, in a pretty small space. Running strings or a small trellis from a pot allows for peas or pole beans to climb just about anywhere. And you can literally grow potatoes in bags right on your porch.

If you have more space and want to start a more traditional garden in your yard or similar space, there are a couple of options—you can plant right in the ground or you can use raised beds. Both are effective, but gardeners tend to have their preferences. Raised beds can be built relatively inexpensively and often drain better and can keep things more organized for some people. Planting in rows in the ground can allow more continuity to your planting and you won’t have to pay for the actual raised beds. We have two large vegetable gardens at our house, both of which had been raised beds, but this spring we changed one over to more traditional rows. So, now we have one of each, making for a bit of an experiment in planting. In either case, you’ll likely want to add some compost to your soil initially to get it charged up.

 

WHAT TO GROW

Now that you’ve chosen your space, the question becomes what do you grow? A good starting point is to consider what your favorite vegetables are and whether they will grow in your climate. If there’s something you really love—say tomatoes—maybe that’s all you’ll grow your first time around. Maybe you’d prefer to mix it up and plant a number of different vegetables. You might be more interested in preserving your harvest, which might guide your planting decisions. We grow large amounts of two kinds of tomatoes at my house so that we can make and freeze big batches of soup and sauce to use for a quick meal during our busy winter months. You might grow something that is normally fairly expensive in the store and save some money. There is no right or wrong answer to what to grow. Grow what you love or what you’d like to experiment with.

 

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SEEDS OR SEEDLINGS?

Now that you’ve decided on space and what you want to grow, you’ll want to decide how you grow it. Do you want to start from a seed or a seedling that’s already been started for you? Many gardeners do both. Organic or conventional? That’s a personal choice many gardeners decide on based on their growing and eating beliefs. Every gardener has their preferences, and you’ll find yours too. You have two options to get started though:

Seeds: You can find packets of seeds for just about anything you can think of growing. It seems like they’re everywhere in the spring and summer. Check out garden stores, hardware stores, grocery stores or coops, maybe even your local general store. Seeds of all kinds can easily be found online as well.

Seedlings: Seedlings are young plants, ready to be planted in the earth. If you’d rather have the instant gratification of putting a plant in the ground rather than waiting for it to germinate from a seed, this might be the right choice for you. You can often find seedlings at garden centers, farm stores, and even local church or community center sales. It’s not terribly challenging to start your own seedlings. I have a two-tiered grow station in my basement where I start a number of plants from seed every winter, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it. There are inexpensive seedling starter kits that come with a light or you could even build one using an old bookcase or table. There are lots of DIY instructions online. A sunny window or skylight area can be a great seed-starting space too!

This is also an area where you can save some money. If a seedling costs two to four dollars and a packet of seeds costs two to three dollars, you can get a lot of bang for your buck. You might grow a dozen tomato seedlings, for instance, for only a couple of dollars.

 

AND YOU’RE OFF AND GROWING…

Once you start reaping the health and financial benefits of growing your own food—not to mention incredible fresh flavors—you may fall in love with gardening. Or maybe you’ll find it’s not really for you. Either way, you won’t know until you try. So, get out there this summer, get your hands dirty, and start growing!

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