Grow Your Own Food

By Jill Kohn, MS, RDN, LDN
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Nothing compares to the taste of a tomato just picked from the vine or a cucumber from your own backyard. Gardening is a fun physical activity, providing you with great tasting produce and, ultimately, saves you trips to the store. In addition, it's a perfect way to teach children about where food comes from.

Here are a few easy steps to get you gardening and growing your own nutritious food.

  • Calculate your space. Before buying plants or seeds, calculate how much space you have. This is important, regardless if you are planting a garden in the ground, a raised garden bed or in containers. Rooftop, balcony, patio and windowsill gardens work well for people without yards. Some communities even offer a shared area for people to garden. Another option is container gardening. You can improvise for pots by using rinsed milk or juice cartons, empty cans, or plastic buckets. Just be sure the containers you use have holes at the bottom for drainage.
  • Determine how much sun. You will want to select a location that gets adequate sun. Most vegetable plants require at least six to eight hours of light each day. Some plants, like spinach and lettuce, require a little less.
  • Know what grows. When buying your plants, ask what varieties will do best in the conditions you have to work with. For example, several compact tomato plants, as well as herbs, do particularly well in containers. If you have neighbors who garden, ask them what has grown well in their yard. It’s also important to consider a plant’s growing season. Some plants produce vegetables earlier than others. Depending on the crop, multiple plantings might be required in order to have produce in the spring and summer or fall. Another option is to stagger the vegetables that are planted. For instance, radishes and peas are considered to be "early-harvested crops". After they have been picked, later producing plants, such as carrots or sweet corn, could be planted in the same area.
  • Check your soil quality. If you aren't sure about the quality of soil in your backyard, use a testing kit to see if you need to reinforce it with any nutrients. It’s possible that a fertilizer which provides a specific percent of various nutrients will be recommended. The use of compost can also be beneficial, and it’s a great way to reduce food waste.
  • Start small. Remember, you don't have start with an extravagant space with vegetables to fill a farmers market. Your garden can be as simple as a few window boxes of herbs or a potted tomato plant.

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