Most likely, you’ve been planning your vegetable garden since the seed catalogs began arriving in January. Our desire to begin planting increased with the warm days we had in March and finding that stores were beginning to stock their shelves with gardening tools, packages of seeds, and many new products offered for gardening. As if those motivators weren’t enough, the smells of freshly cut grass and newly tilled soil are a sure sign that we should be in our gardens.
This column will be dedicated to helping you find answers to your gardening questions. As you ask questions, the Valley City Community Gardens (VCCG) Steering Committee will do the research for you and publish answers in this column. Our goal is to assist you in having a successful gardening experience. Your questions can be sent to VCCG Gardening Column, 230 4th St., N.W., Rm. 204, Valley City, ND 58072-2947 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips for growing your own garden
Want to boost your intake of healthy, inexpensive, fresh, delicious food? Why not plant a vegetable garden! With some seeds, soil and sun, you can feed your family the best the earth has to offer. Here are some tips to help get you started.
Plan your garden
If you are planting a garden for the first time, start small. Experts suggest that a good-sized vegetable garden for a beginner is 10 by 16 feet. This size should feed a family of four for one summer, with a bit left over for canning, freezing or sharing with others.
If you are a veteran gardener, however, you might want to scale up and sell your produce at a local farmers’ market. Before expanding your garden, ask the market manager for a copy of the market rules. You’ll want to make sure that you can comply with them.
Decide what kinds of veggies you want to grow. Ones that are easy to grow include bush beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, summer squash and leafy greens.
Pick your site
Think about where you will plant your garden. Will you use containers or raised beds, or simply plant your garden in the ground? Whatever you decide, find a spot in your yard that gets at least six hours of sunlight each day. If your garden is going to be in the ground, make sure the spot is not too close to trees or bushes.
Prepare your soil
Your soil should be deep and crumbly. It should drain well and have lots of organic matter (such as compost, manure and chopped leaves). To be sure your soil is healthy, talk with your local nursery. Ask about soil types, testing and enrichment.
Plant your produce
Familiarize yourself with the growing season in your area. When you plant your seeds or seedlings will vary depending on where you live. For instance, in the Northern Plains, the planting season for seedlings begins in May. But in the Southeast, it starts in February.
Take care of
Water your garden deeply, in the morning if possible. It needs about one inch of water each week. Pull up any weeds that appear, and keep an eye out for pests. Finally, once your veggies mature, harvest your bounty and enjoy.
Eat fresh this spring and summer
Spring and summer usher in an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies. Try out these in-season favorites that are packed with nutrients and flavor.
Berries – Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are loaded with antioxidants, fiber, vitamin C, potassium and folate. Eat up, because most people don’t get enough of these nutrients that are important to a healthy diet. When choosing berries, look for containers that don’t have stains, moisture or mold. The berries should be firm, plump and dry.
Summer squash – Zucchini, patty pans and yellow crookneck are all types of summer squash. They are a great source of vitamin C, which is key for growth and repair of body tissues, healing of cuts and wounds, and healthy teeth and gums. Summer squash also provide vitamin A, fiber and potassium. When picking squash, look for smaller ones, which tend to have more flavor.
Watermelon - This summertime staple is a great source of vitamins A and C, and potassium. It’s also high in lycopene which is an antioxidant. Antioxidants can help lower your risk for cancer and other diseases. When selecting watermelons, use your nose – ripe ones will smell great.
Corn - In addition to being a great source of carbohydrates and fiber, corn has phytonutrients that may help promote heart health and reduce risk for macular degeneration. For corn at its best, eat it soon after it’s picked. Look for ones with bright-green husks with silks that are stiff, dark and moist.
Peas – Peas are a great source of protein, which your body needs to build and repair tissues, as well as to ward off infection. Peas are also a good source of iron and vitamins A and C. In the summer, eat them fresh from the peapod. Look for shiny, bright green pods. In other seasons, you can find them frozen, canned and dried.
Reprinted by permission from: Spring 2012 Edition, Spirit magazine, Catholic Health Initiatives.