Grow Your Own Food

Vege Garden

In a few more weeks this year’s primary planting season will be over. If you have never had a vegetable garden you may want to reconsider. It’s easier than you think. Here are the primary reasons to grow your own vegetables.

  • There is nothing better tasting than a vegetable fresh out of the garden, especially tomatoes!
  • There is nothing more local than your back yard.
  • You know your vegetables don’t have chemicals on them unless you choose to use them.
  • Eating vegetables fresh out of the garden have higher amount of nutrients than ones from the store.
  • Getting 10 minutes of sunshine daily helps your body absorbs vitamin D which prevents osteoporosis.
  • Working in the garden exercises the body reducing heart disease.
  • Tending to a garden in the morning can get the blood flowing for the day.
  • Tending to a garden after work can be therapeutic and reduce your stress.
  • Bringing fresh vegetables from your garden to work will make you a lot of friends!

Some people say that you can save money growing your own vegetables, but that’s only after you make the initial investment. Here is what you need:

  1. Seeds or Transplants – Go to your local garden center and talk to an expert about which varieties are easy to grow in your area. If this is your first garden you want to set yourself up for success. I’ve found peas, radishes, zucchini, carrots, beans and lettuce to be the easiest. Some plants grow better from seed, like radishes, carrots, beets, beans and lettuce, and some better from transplants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Squash grows fine either way. To save money, some people save the seeds from their grown vegetables to use the following year. Most seeds are treated so you can’t use the seed the next year. You have to buy new seed packs. The only seeds you can truly collect, dry out and use the following year are heirloom varieties. They are more expensive, but will save you money in the long run. Follow directions on how deep to plant and what the spacing should be between plants. It really does make a difference.
  2. Soil – If you don’t have a yard, you can buy large self-watering garden boxes that you can place on your patio. Fill with soil specific for gardening, not potted plants which may have unwanted chemicals. The good thing about using a garden box is you can start with high quality soil. If you want to grow your vegetables in your yard and it’s never been gardened before, you have some work to do. Dig out all the vegetation down 12 inches and mix a few bags of garden soil/and or compost into it. The other option is to make a raised bed by pouring this garden mix on top of your existing ground. You can hold the soil in with cinder blocks, wood or plastic sides, or just leave it as a mound.
  3. Sun – Make sure to plant your vegetables where there is enough sun. Nothing is more disappointing than to find your plants failing to thrive because they don’t have enough sun.
  4. Water – Water is probably the most important ingredient to a large harvest. If you have self-watering garden boxes, they only need to be refilled every couple days. Regular sprinklers are fine, but tend to lose some water in evaporation. Also, some plants are more open to disease when their leaves are wet. Drip irrigation is a large investment but I found it the most effective for reducing water usage and consistent, even watering. Even better is if you buy a timer to automatically water. It’s one less thing to worry about.
  5. Maintenance – You may want to look for a good organic fertilizer to apply every couple weeks, but other than that, weed pulling and removing dead or dying leaves is the only thing you really need to do after planting. The rest of the time you are harvesting!

Now that you have your garden going, reap the rewards of your first fresh vegetables out of our very own yard! Once you have an established garden, it’s easy to plant a new garden every year for a small price.

Steaming your way to good health

Steamer

What is the best way to cook your produce? You’ve heard from me that the best way to eat your fruits and veggies is fresh. Eating your produce straight, unmodified from the garden usually results in the highest nutrient content.  But what if you want to cook them? Generally, cooking your vegetables destroys many of the nutrients, especially your water soluble vitamins, like vitamins C and B.

Steaming is a great way to bring out the flavor of your food without adding fat or salt. It’s one of the only cooking options that does not significantly change the color or texture of your produce and is also the best option for retaining its moisture.  With steaming, nutrients are maintained well through the cooking process.  In fact, studies now show that some heat can actually improve some of the benefits found naturally in your food.

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are well known for cancer fighting agents found naturally in the plant. Steaming one of these vegetables for 5 minutes will not only maintain natural cancer fighting compounds but also increase them.

Antioxidants are also increased in many cases with such vegetables as tomatoes, asparagus, carrots, peppers, cabbage, spinach and other leafy greens.

If you don’t have a steamer there are a variety of options. There are metal baskets that look like a colander that you can insert into a standard cooking pot. There are bamboo steamers and also electric ones that are found at reasonable prices. When it comes to steaming, less is more. I usually reduce the recommended timing by 20-25% to keep the vegetables firm.  Try out a few different times to find what works best for you.

Happy Steaming!