So, you want to get your vegetables in. Where to start? For most, it’s the produce section at the supermarket.
It’s got all the staple greens–from chopped celery to prepackaged salad, diced carrots to party platters,
among several others racked up under the misters. There’s no shame in picking up your vegetables from the store, but there’s a better option.
Grow those greens yourself!
Even without taking our current crisis into account, the effort it takes to plant, tend,
and harvest your own bounty is minor compared to the payoff for your kitchen. Not just in terms of diet, but in terms of safety.
Take a closer look at that supermarket produce:
Say you’re doing a typical grocery run. You go to grab a couple things for a nice soup or a stew.
When potatoes and spinach go in the cart, so do the residues of their pesticides.
The same goes for that kale you grabbed for your next batch of smoothies.
The most common pesticide used by the commercial farmlands these vegetables came from is Roundup, the key chemical of which is glyphosate.
Glyphosate is an herbicide used to kill off and prevent weed growth, and while the chemical alone isn’t much danger to us,
the chemical cocktail used to transfer the glyphosate to the crops’ area is.
Ingestion in high amounts causes burning in the mouth and throat, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
“But,” you say, “supermarket vegetables can’t be that bad! They wouldn’t sell it if it wasn’t safe! Besides,
I rinse them off before I eat them!*”
(*This is the best practice, no matter where your produce comes from. Always rinse it before you eat, chop, or cook.)
A fair point. Grocery stores aren’t just laying out poisoned produce.
But those pesticides are still coating a good number of vegetables, because most supermarkets get their produce
from industrial farms forced to rely on pesticide sprays for their crops.
The effects of which mean, one, we’re getting pesticides in our salads no matter what if we take our vegetables from the store,
and two, we’re supporting the hazardous effects those chemicals are having on the environment.
There’s a whole mountain of lethal repercussions for industrial farming–chemical damage to groundwater,
water ways, and precipitation, as well as deadly decreases in biodiversity of helpful birds and insects.
This is just the stuff that’s on the outside of the vegetables. What about the chemicals going inside?
Chemical ‘enhancers,’ are routinely injected into commercial vegetation to improve their visual appeal.
Oxytocin is used to quickly bulk up their size while harmful dyes like copper sulfate and malachite green are used to improve the color,
the better to make for rapid crop harvests and an appetizing look once they’re put on the supermarket’s shelves.
This is a common practice for industrially-farmed fruits and vegetables; as long as the food looks good, the job’s done.
Meanwhile, people who are trying to eat healthy–we’ve all heard how important it is to get some, quote, ‘raw’ greens into
our diets–are left with few if any options that are actually raw, grown without chemicals lacing the skins and insides of our produce.
If we’re lucky, we can find a produce brand, an organic supermarket, or a local farmer’s market to buy from.
But while the number of organic farms is on the rise–14,000 so far–this isn’t a perfect solution for everyone.
Organic produce costs a fair bit more than conventional commercial vegetables, putting a sizable dent in the grocery budget.
Plus, with so many brands claiming to be freshest, the healthiest, and ‘guaranteed organic,’
it can get confusing trying to decipher just how much certain growers are stretching the truth.
The short of it is: the supermarket’s vegetables aren’t the healthiest option, and buying organic gets expensive.
That’s where your gardening skills come in. It is better when you grow your own vegetables in your garden, where you have full control over the whole process!
What’s that? You’ve never gardened before? Even the weeds croak in your yard? You live in a complex with no personal land to speak of?
Not a problem. Whether you have a natural green thumb or have never touched a trowel in your life,
the basics of growing a vegetable garden all come down to a very short list of necessities.
This is a bit of a catchall. Soil is not fertilizer is not compost is not mulch.
But all these things come together to make the churned up bedding for your vegetables-to-be.
So, what’s the difference between all these things, and why do they matter?
-Soil: Whether it’s the stuff already in your yard or something out of a bag, this is the mix of earth,
minerals, organic remains, gases, and liquids that make up the upper crust of the world.
Things you want in your dirt: worms! They keep the soil healthy!
Things you don’t want in your dirt: rocks, weeds, clay. The former two can be removed,
the latter can either be dug up for your planting spot, or else be avoided outright.
-Fertilizer: A chemical mixture to help do just what it says–make the ground more fertile for growing.
Usually includes manure, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
-Compost: Considered one type of fertilizer, it’s essentially decaying organic matter.
Fruit and vegetable leftovers, eggshells, coffee grounds, teabags, pruned bits, and so on.
-Mulch: A shielding, insulating layer of shredded matter to lay over the soil. Sawdust, drier compost, bark chips, et al.
All of these together make the kind of dirt you’ll need for your garden.
This is going to depend on what kind of vegetable you’re dealing with. Some need a cool temperature,
some need mild conditions, some like plenty of sun or an indoor lamp, some need a place in the shade.
It all depends on what each tenant of your garden prefers.
A general rule of thumb is that few vegetables thrive in extreme heat or extreme cold,
other than plants that are native to climates where those conditions are semi-permanent.
If you’re looking to grow something with a little less sunlight-to-shade maintenance involved,
look up which types of produce grow regularly in your climate.
For example, sweet potatoes grow great in baking summer heat and would do well in a hotter area, while carrots do well in the chillier weather.
But if you’re determined to grow a full smorgasbord of vegetables, enough preparation can see you growing whatever you like wherever you are.
A bit of a given. All plants need water. Where a lot of frustrated gardeners run into trouble is not knowing
how much is too much or else blanking entirely on giving their garden a little spritz.
Again, it comes down to a vegetable’s individual needs. Some need to be moist 24/7.
Others need a little trickle in the morning, another at night. Some are built for arid climates and only need a drizzle once in a while.
It helps to think of them like pets with dietary needs.
Double-check the instructions that come with your seeds or seedlings of choice and make a list to leave by your mister,
watering can, or hose: “X plant needs a misting morning, afternoon, and night. Y plant needs a little water in the morning.
Z plant needs a sip every other day.”
Remember to adjust for any changes in the weather, too. If you get hit with a rainstorm that drowns the garden,
you don’t have to be stringent the next day. If you get a blistering dry spell, maybe treat those roots to an extra drizzle.
Half of the work in gardening is just keeping local menaces at bay. You have aphids, slugs, snails, ants, beetles, cutworms,
cabbage worms, mites, and a dozen other creepy crawlies out to get your hard-won vegetables the minute they sprout leaves.
That’s not counting bigger fauna like rabbits, squirrels, and birds.
Tempting as it may be, do not go the route of the supermarket and the commercial farm. Skip the chemical pesticides!
There are less harmful methods to get rid of these pests. For the larger animals, try setting up a cage barrier–double-layered,
so even the critters who can squeeze through small holes don’t have a way to sneak in.
Snails and slugs can be enticed away to a boozy end by leaving out saucers of beer, or citrus pits of grapefruit,
orange rinds, and grape juice for them to get soused and trapped in.
Cutworms can’t get to your carrots if you plant them inside cardboard tubes.
Aphids and beetles can be deterred by the natural bodyguards of ladybugs and praying mantises (you can actually get shipments of them!),
though many gardeners prefer to stick with plant-based barriers.
Mint plants–i.e. peppermint and spearmint–are deterrents for aphids and ants alike.
There are dozens of remedies to garden pests that don’t involve resorting to chemical pesticides and their resultant damage.
Your plants will come out healthier for it, and so will you.
The same goes for dealing with plant diseases. Prune effected parts of the plant, usually leaves that have been
touched by a given vegetable’s form of rot or fungus. There are homemade fungicide fixes that can be used to deter future damage.
An easy fungicide takes a bit of baking soda and water–four tablespoons to a gallon–mixed with a teaspoon of gentle
dish soap with no bleach or degreaser–Dawn is recommended–and a few spritzes on the plants.
However, before you go dousing the whole garden, be sure to do a test spray on a small section of the crops.
If something went wrong with the mix, you don’t want to find out after drowning every row with the stuff.
This is the biggest reason people come back to when they think they don’t have what it takes to make their own vegetable garden.
“I don’t have time to grow all these things! I’m too busy! It takes so long to grow anyway, why not just get it from the store?”
But you do have the time. Everyone does. What it really takes is patience. By all means, get your produce from the supermarket in the meantime.
But work on your garden faithfully, with full preparation and care, and your harvest will come through.
When it does, and you get that first bite of the vegetables you grew yourself versus the chemical-laced and canned greens,
you will absolutely appreciate the difference.
A fresh plate of vegetables will always beat the Del Monte canned substitute. Every time.
That said, if you’ve stuck through the spiel this far and you feel your green thumb itching, congratulations! It’s time to garden!
The first and most important question is this: what vegetables do you want to grow?
Let’s get started with the healthiest options, our dark green powerhouses, the tops of the superfood chain: spinach and kale.
Spinach, or Spinacia oleracea, is a mean green machine when it comes to improving your diet.
Its leaves are absolutely brimming with vitamins and minerals, including:
Vitamin A: Improves vision, supports your immune system, and keeps your heart, kidneys, and lungs running smoothly.
Vitamin C: Another immune system booster, also key to maintaining cartilage, bones, and teeth.
Vitamin K1: Not spoken about as often, but a big player just the same.
This is the vitamin that activates proteins which stop calcium from clogging your arteries, lowering the risk of heart disease.
Also good for strong, healthy bones and blood clotting.
Iron: This is the mineral that keeps your hemoglobin working. Hemoglobin being the protein that transports oxygen through your blood.
Calcium: Everyone knows this one. You want this mineral if you want strong bones. But it’s also vital for muscle functions and blood clotting.
Folic acid: Do you like being able to make and maintain new cells? Then you like folic acid.
Spinach is a common side ingredient in several dishes, but also plays the star of the show in dishes where it’s sauteed
with garlic or packed into folded spanakopitas (spinach pies).
How Do You Grow It?
Once you’ve got your seeds, you’re going to want to hold off on planting until the temperature isn’t boiling, but somewhere in the temperate zone.
Anywhere between 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll need to plant your seeds about 1 foot deep, preferably in cool, moist soil.
If you’re working with land that has clay-rich soil, consider either a raised garden–i.e. a garden in a box–or a
total replacement of the section with nitrogen-heavy soil.
If you’re working with limited ground, using a flower box or pots, the same rules apply.
If you’re living in a hotter climate that doesn’t get much of a winter or a chilly spring, keep your plant in the shade.
When your seedlings start to come in and they have at least two or three real leaves sprouting, make room!
Spinach plants don’t do well when they’re crowded, so if you’re tending more than one they’ll need some spacing out,
or ‘thinning.’ Six inches apart should do.
Skip the pesticides and the weed-pulling by laying a thin mulch made of grass clippings, hay, or straw to suppress the weeds.
Local pests can be deterred by the use of floating row covers–thin-meshed wire cages–and pruning leaves that have died
or show signs of spinach blight, a disease aphids carry with them.
It takes anywhere between six to eight weeks for healthy spinach plants to be ready for harvest.
Leaves should be roughly three or four inches long before you collect them.
Next, we move on to the other healthy heavy hitter, kale.
Kale, or Brassica oleracea, is essentially a small pharmacy disguised as a plant. On top of vitamins A, K, and C, and calcium, it includes:
Vitamin B6: This is the vitamin responsible for making serotonin (a mood regulating neurotransmitter,
as well as a regulator for appetite, sleep, and memory), myelin (the protein-and-fat sheath that covers your
brain and spinal cord and helps electrical impulses flow smoothly along your nerves),
and norepinephrine (the chemical responsible for your stress response).
Copper: Iron’s partner in helping form red blood cells.
Magnesium: Here to help your immune system, your heart rate, your muscles, your nerves, and energy production.
Potassium: The one that helps lower your blood pressure and water retention, regulates how your muscles contract,
and decreases your risk of stroke, kidney stones, and osteoporosis.
Kale’s a bit of a bitter plant, so it sometimes gets a bad reputation, even among vegetarians and vegans.
But it still has a place as a key ingredient in multiple recipes, from teriyaki to tacos.
How Do You Grow It?
Like spinach, these are plants that will suffer in too-dry climates.
They’re even more finicky with temperature, preferring the low 60s–anywhere between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit
–but they will die straight-out in winter if exposed to heavy frost without protection.
Wood chips and straw on the plot will keep the soil warm, as will a frost barrier sheet over the plants.
In cases where heavy winters aren’t an issue, make sure they don’t fry in full-on sunshine.
Partial shade is the best way to go, as well as cool, consistently watered soil.
When planting, make sure the pH is on the acidic side with high nitrogen. Keep it organic with animal manures,
leaf mold, compost; it keeps the soil and the roots healthy. Nitrogen-rich fertilizer should be blended into the top 4 inches of soil.
If you’re starting your kale indoors, make sure you aren’t going to be transplanting them directly into extreme heat
or cold once they’re sprouting; it takes about a week, sometimes as little as five days.
When planting outside, leave about a foot and a half of space between each plant so they have room to spread out.
Once they’re growing properly, keep an eye out for rotting leaves and the many, many pests that have a hankering for the cabbage family.
Slugs and aphids are bound to come around, as will cabbage worms and beetles.
Watch for holes and egg clusters and apply your pesticide alternatives where you can.
Row covers, sharp eggshells to prevent crawling routes, and coffee grounds are also a big help.
It will take about two months before you have any kale ready to harvest; always be sure to take the outer leaves first
and leave a few to mature!
Going a little lighter on the greens, let us turn to lettuce.
Lettuce, Lactuca sativa, is a fairly simple plant to grow; just as comfortable in a window box as in your garden.
It’s a hardy plant that prefers some chill; they flourish in temperatures anywhere between 45 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
For ideal planting, it’s recommended that you plant your lettuce in early spring when there’s still some leftover winter frost,
or else well into fall when summer’s heat has fizzled out. While this makes outdoor lettuce harvests strictly seasonal in their bounties,
if you have their garden indoors with plenty of air conditioning, you can keep those leaves coming almost year-round.
The thing to keep in mind is that there are several types of lettuce to go with.
Head lettuces–the big round globes of green we recognize most often in a grocery store–include iceberg (also known as crisphead),
romaine, and butterhead. There’s also loose leaf, which grows no ‘head,’ endive which grows in an oval shape, among others.
Each will need their own variances in growing period and levels of care.
Loose leaf varieties hold up to heat better than its cousins and can grow to full ripeness in 40 days versus a butterhead
that may go bitter in too much heat and take anywhere between 35 to 70 days to be ready for harvest.
That said, we’ll narrow it down to the favorites: romaine and iceberg.
Romaine lettuce is another vegetable packed with a broad list of nutrients.
Vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium are all in its leaves, as well as:
Vitamin K: A helper when it comes to blood clotting, blood calcium, and bone metabolism.
Beta carotene: An early form of vitamin A, which helps keep our skin, eyes, and immune system healthy.
It’s a big player when it comes to a healthy salad, if leaning slightly on the bitter side. That’s where iceberg comes in.
Iceberg lettuce isn’t quite as high in terms of nutrition, being consumed mostly for its water content
and crisp crunch–a common favorite in summer dishes–it still brings a number of vitamins and minerals to the table.
Vitamins A, C, and K are all present, as well as calcium, potassium, and:
Folate: The stuff that helps us make red and white blood cells in our marrow.
While salads are the go-to for any lettuce, don’t forget to try it with a stir-fry or a healthy snack wrap.
How Do You Grow It?
Romaine and iceberg have slightly different growth patterns.
Romaine will be ready for harvest in just over two months’ time. Anywhere between 70-80 days.
It should bunch toward the center and may grow as tall as a foot when mature. While strong heat is to be avoided,
it can hold up to a few hot days.
Iceberg, on the other hand, requires at least 80 days to mature, and has a far lower heat tolerance.
Keep these ones as cool as possible! When ripe, the ‘head’ comes out in a broad, pale green ball.
For both cases–as with most types of lettuce–it wants to be planted in cool soil with a pH of 6 or 7.
Blend in compost and top with mulch once sprouting starts. When watering, don’t overdo it!
Only water when the top two inches of soil have gone dry, and only then with a light spray at intervals throughout the day.
Moving on to something less leafy, let’s take a look at different kinds of green beans.
Green beans are one offshoot of the common bean family, Phaseolus vulgaris, with the two main varieties being bush beans and pole beans.
Bush beans are fast-growing plants that reach anywhere from one foot to two feet once mature. Pole beans are the type to need a teepee,
trellis, tower, or other support to grow on, as they are climbing plants that can reach up to ten feet tall once mature.
Green beans in general are high up on the healthy diet scale, providing vitamins A and C, and:
Manganese: Helps regulate your blood sugar, keeps your metabolism running, and reduces menstrual cramps.
Fiber: This is the stuff that keeps your digestive system running healthily at both ends.
It eases bowel movements and helps to–forgive the pun–flush out cholesterol from your system.
Green beans of all varieties are often eaten as a side dish all their own–fresh from a skillet, dressed up with garlic, olive oil,
and Parmesan cheese.
How Do You Grow It?
In the cases of bush and pole beans, plant the seeds one inch deep. Green beans are plants that like warmer weather,
and shouldn’t be planted until after the last of the winter thaw has given way to real spring.
They’re also finicky about being transplanted. Wherever you plant the seed, that’s the soil they’re staying in,
give or take some slight thinning as the plants flower and mature. Soil that’s roughly 70 degrees Fahrenheit is preferable.
Bush bean rows should start at two inches apart with the rows themselves being about two feet apart.
Once the plants have sprouted and started expanding into their neighbors’ space, thin them to about six inches apart.
Pole beans should have three inches of distance in their own rows with their support already in place,
with an ideal height being between seven to ten feet high. Thinning should also be about six inches apart.
Note, when in full maturity, these structures can provide great natural shade for plants that don’t appreciate direct sun.
Green beans, be they pole or bush, love, love, love their sunshine. Wherever you’re planting them,
be sure that it’s in a position that catches as much sun as possible. Water both varieties on a weekly basis, provided there’s been no rain.
These are vegetables that produce heaps and heaps of harvest.
The more you pick, the more will grow. For bush beans, the harvest should begin about seven weeks
in with three weeks of potential crop-gathering, while pole beans will be ready in eleven weeks with up to eight weeks’ worth of gathering.
That’s enough greens to eat by the forkful. What about something by the spoonful? Pass the peas, please.
The pea plant, Pisum sativum, and its little pea pods are full of vitamins C and K, folate, and manganese.
Peas are usually a part of meal on their own, if not found mixed in with diced carrot.
Cooked right, they can often be used as a sneakily tasty way to get your healthy greens in while taking in carbs and meat–looking at you,
How Do You Grow It?
Once matured, it is sort of a take-care-of-itself vegetable.
It’s a hardy plant that rarely sees any disease-based problems and only a little trouble with aphids.
It’s another plant that likes to keep cool, with the best planting in early spring to have a harvest before the summer heat hits.
If you want to time it for a fall harvest, it is possible to plant in late summer so long as you maintain a cool temperature
with lots of shade and cool water. The soil pH should be kept between 6 to 7.5.
And be sure to have a trellis ready when they start stretching up!
Keep your watering schedule down to one heavy soaking once a week while they’re in the seedling stage.
The critical time for watering is when the pods start coming in.
If you’re working in a hot climate, it’s important to up the watering schedule to a daily routine,
though not enough to drown the roots. Just enough to keep the soil damp and the pods healthy.
So far it’s been all green, green, green. How about some color? Let’s cut to the carrots.
Wild carrots, Daucus carota, are a root vegetable that was domesticated into our more commonly known,
Daucus carota subspecies sativus–the big, orange favorite of Bugs Bunny and dinner tables today.
While this is the most recognized variety, there’s a rainbow of red, white, purple, yellow, and even black variations to choose from.
They’re rich in beta carotene, potassium, vitamin K, fiber, and:
Antioxidants: The stuff that defends your cells against ‘free radicals’–compounds that increase risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Carrots are a favorite even among those who aren’t in it for the nutritional value. They’re just plain delicious when cooked right.
Sauteed, roasted, honeyed, souped, or, on a cheat day, in a nice carrot cake. Hey, it’s still eating your vegetables.
How Do You Grow It?
Carrots are the VIPs of root vegetables. Everything needs doing with especial care.
While having a rock-free garden plot is always a plus, in carrots’ case–as well as other root vegetables’–be doubly sure
that the soil doesn’t have a single pebble in the way.
Fine, loose soil is a must. This is another vegetable that needs to be planted in cool ground,
and the best practice is to plant the seeds at least three weeks before the predicted end of winter.
Carrot seeds are especially tiny, practically sand grains, and most gardeners will plant about six seeds per hole,
leaving an inch of space between each. Sprouting should begin anywhere from one to three weeks post-planting.
Water lightly; enough to keep the soil moist, but not so much that it washes the seeds or any delicate sprouts away.
Thin the sprouts by an inch or so once the tops have reached two inches high. In two weeks, do the same again,
this time by another two, even three or four inches.
This is to ensure the carrots don’t crowd each other in the soil and come out bent or crooked.
Keep a thin layer of mulch over the plot to help the roots retain moisture.
If you ever forget to water or else are hit by a sudden heat wave that dries the ground,
do not react by giving them a sudden drenching flood of water to make up for it.
Always water lightly over several days, regardless–too much water all at once may cause the roots to split.
It can take up to 80 days for carrots to mature fully. While they can be harvested earlier than this,
it’s been found that the more mature the carrot is, the more flavor it has.
For this reason, harvesting the full crop all at once is common practice.
Also, a cautious one. Gardening tools like trowels and spades are liable to bruise the carrot if used to wedge them out.
Instead, lightly water the plot a last time to soften the soil, then use your tool of choice to loosen
the soil around the area of the top–at least an inch’s berth–and pick the carrot by hand.
Keeping to the roots, let’s take a look at how to grow everyone’s favorite spud. Pass the potatoes, please!
Potatoes, the root of the Solanum tuberosum plant, are a popular staple food, most commonly known and preferred for its starchy varieties.
This includes the russet and sweet potatoes, the former being the most widely-beloved spud in its family.
While it is high in carbohydrates, the average potato also contains vitamins C and B6, potassium, fiber, manganese, phosphorus, folate, and:
Magnesium: A major multitasking mineral that handles, among other things, your immune system, your heartbeat, your nerve control,
your muscle control, your levels of blood glucose, your energy and protein production, and the overall strength of your bones.
Niacin: Sometimes called vitamin B3, this nutrient helps reduce mental sluggishness, lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease,
and increase joint function.
Sadly, potatoes of every kind seem to conjure the image of potato chips and French fries before anything healthy comes to mind.
While potato wedges made from roots your grew yourself are fine now and then,
there are far better ways to serve your spuds than drowned in grease, salt, and gravy.
Baked, roasted, mashed, or, yes, as wedges, there are plenty of healthy recipes for your potatoes–russet, sweet, or otherwise–to choose from.
How Do You Grow It?
The best thing about potatoes, besides their taste, is just how easy they are to grow. So easy that, more often than not,
people will find a forgotten spud has sprouted little offshoots after it’s been left alone too long.
But, effortless as such a ‘method’ may be, it won’t get you full-grown healthy potatoes.
Don’t worry, the gardened version is almost as simple. While there’s more than one way to grow your own spuds,
the version with one of the highest potential yields is the hilling method.
To start, the seed is really just another potato. At least, a halved or very small potato.
You could even use those funky potatoes that started growing offshoots in the pantry once you dice them up.
So long as the pieces are no bigger than your palm, they’re fine.
Drying them out first is recommended, as early moisture will increase the chances of disease.
Check your seed potato for the end with the little dimple on one end–that’s where the natural ‘seed’ is.
Always plant them seed-end up. The optimal time for planting is in early spring, once the soil temperature hits
somewhere around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Pick out a spot where they’ll receive plenty of direct sunshine in the coming months.
The seed potato goes about three or four inches deep in the soil. Cover it with two inches of soil and/or compost.
Be sure to water consistently–don’t drown it, but don’t let it dry out.
Skip any kind of nitrogen-rich plant food; it will only give you more foliage–the stuff you won’t be eating–and less root matter
for the potatoes. Stick with something like fish emulsion; basically fish oil used like liquid fertilizer.
When the resulting plant stem grows about half a foot high, cover half of it with more soil.
Repeat this process until your hill is at least a foot tall.
Wait at least two weeks after the plant blooms before digging away some of the soil. Surprise!
There should be quite a handful of potatoes inside that hill.
But don’t take them all at once. Harvest just enough for a meal, then patch the hill back in shape so the rest of the potatoes can keep growing.
A full harvest shouldn’t happen until the foliage dies, either on its own or from the cold.
When this happens, take a spading fork–a cousin to the pitchfork–and carefully dig around the potato hill’s circumference,
gently prying the hill up. Once the plant and all the hanging potatoes are out, don’t forget to check the hole for any potatoes
that may have fallen off the root system.
Now that you have potatoes, we need some ketchup. Let’s move on to tomatoes.
The tomato, while perpetually lumped in with vegetables is, technically, a berry of the Solanum lycopersicum plant.
While they are good for vitamins C and K, potassium, and folate, their biggest nutritious contribution is:
Lycopene: An antioxidant that’s been shown to improve heart health and lower your risk of cancer.
Tomatoes are easily one of the favorites in any healthy kitchen.
While they’re often seen made into sauces, pastes, and diced up additions to grander dishes,
they can be cooked and served on their own as a baked, roasted, or marinated entree.
How Do You Grow It?
Tomato plants are best grown from seed indoors before ever seeing your outdoor garden.
They’re prone to disease and stress-death if grown too close to each other. Give each seedling its own little potted plot.
They need plenty of direct sunlight and, if you’re growing them in the winter months, sitting them by the window likely won’t do enough.
If you haven’t added one to your gardening inventory already, this is the plant to splurge on a grow light for.
As you may have guessed, a grow light is a special lamp used to replicate sunlight for indoor plants.
Your tomato seedlings will need anywhere between fourteen and eighteen hours of this light a day,
preferably only a few inches from the fluorescent bulbs.
As the seedlings grow taller, maintain this distance by either raising the lights or lowering the plants.
Another tool you’ll need, though unorthodox, is a fan.
Nothing that will blast directly on them; you want a tiny breeze that will get them swaying a bit.
Just enough to toughen their growing stems and get them ready for transplanting to the outdoor garden.
When it is time to move the seedlings to their own garden plot, or else a large enough pot, make sure the soil they’re going into is warm.
They’re a plant that loves the heat and it would benefit the roots to prep the soil with a plastic
covering and a layer of mulch a couple weeks before planting.
Tomato seedlings are ready to be transplanted when the stems are no longer wispy, but sturdy and at least a foot tall.
In a move similar to the hilling method–though the soil is going to remain flat–you’re going to want to bury the stem up to the top few leaves.
You can do this either by digging a deep hole and setting the roots and stem in vertically, or by digging a long,
shallow dip and covering the same amount. The stem’s uncovered top leaves will straighten toward the sun.
This method is what will give your tomato plant strong, healthy roots.
Before you do any of this, however, make sure you have a trellis ready for each seedling planted.
You can stake it before or after, but be wary of piercing the roots.
Let the soil warm up a bit more before you lay any more mulch.
Even with preheated ground, if you’re planting early, you may end up trapping in more chill than heat.
Once you’ve got some warmer weather, then you can lay down a fresh layer to trap in the new heat.
It won’t be long after this before the plant starts climbing–at three feet high, start plucking the bottom leaves.
These are going to be the ones most liable to have fungus issues, being the oldest part of the plant and least likely to catch any sun.
Also be sure to prune any tiny leaves–sometimes called ‘suckers’ or ‘side shoots’–that pop up in the split between branches of the stem.
These little guys will only take energy from the rest of the plant and not bear any tomatoes.
Water the plants regularly as they develop, never letting the plot go dry or cracked.
As for when it’s time to pick the tomatoes, that depends on the gardener’s preference.
You can either pick them after thirty days, when the tomatoes are full in size, but still green, and wait for them to turn color indoors,
or wait another month for them to change on the stem.
These and dozens of other vegetables are possibilities for the beginning gardener,
regardless of what kind of space or schedule you have to work with.
You can grow a privacy wall with cornstalks; it can be done in rows or pots!
You can plant your own spice rack window boxes with basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, ginger,
paprika, and dill! If you have a bulb of garlic, saving one clove to plant in the fall can give you a plant nine months later!
Nor should it stop with vegetables. Branch out to gourds, fruit, and flowers–you can have your own homegrown jack o’ lanterns in the autumn,
strawberries in the spring, and sunflower seeds in the summer.
Just about any greens you might think you need from the grocery store, you can grow those greens yourself
and yours will always come out healthier.
When you get your kitchen’s vegetables from your own garden, you’ll never find an excuse to return to the supermarket’s produce section again.
In summary, it is always better to grow your own vegetables and fruits in your own garden. So you have full control over the growth of the plants and can be sure that no pestiziede or anything else will be used.
You never know exactly where the vegetables or fruit come from the supermarket and what they have already been through or what chemicals they have been used to treat them.
So, if you have a garden, mark out a small area and start growing your first vegetables yourself. It is really worth it!
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