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Planting your own backyard (or window box) garden: What to know before you grow
Whether or not you’ve got a green thumb, this just might be the year to get in touch with your inner gardener. It’s politically correct (check out the Obamas’ vegetable plot), it’s thrifty, and it’s healthy.
“We’ve had a lot of interest this year in edible gardening and seed companies are selling out of their seeds like never before,” says Charlie Nardozzi, senior horticulturist at the National Gardening Association. “People are concerned about the economy and they are trying to save money by gardening.”
The association calculated that you’ll save $600 a year by planting a 20 by 30 foot garden and growing your own vegetables. If you grow pricey veggies like mesclun greens ($10 a pound at stores), you’ll save even more.
But monetary concerns aside, gardens are sprouting up because consumers want to eat healthier food, Nardozzi says. “There is concern about the safety of the food and what is sprayed on it,” he explains. “People want better tasting fresh food and they’re tired of eating produce that has been gassed. There is also concern over the environment. Having a garden is a way to use less energy, create less pollution and reduce global warming.”
It’s also good, clean (well, dirty!) fun. “Overall, a garden is a great way to get some exercise outdoors,” says Karen Liebreich, co-author of “The Family Kitchen Garden” (Timber Press. $24.95). “A garden let’s you get back in tune with the seasons and nature, grow some of your own healthy food, and do something for your body and soul.”
If you’re just beginning, Nardozzi recommends a small garden, preferably a raised bed close to the house or apartment so that you’ll notice it every day (and remember to care for it.) Plan to use a mix of compost and top soil so you won’t have to deal with “native soil,” he says.
You can make a raised bed from untreated wood from the lumberyard, bricks or stone, or you can buy it from the gardening association’s online store at www.garden.org.
Ideally, your raised bed will be no more than three or four feet wide so that you can reach the center from anywhere you stand. It can be as long as you like.
Beginners should stick with vegetables that are easy to grow: tomatoes (buy transplants, not seeds), bush beans, pole beans, summer squash and zucchini, Nardozzi recommends.
Trickier to grow are cabbage, asparagus, sprouting broccoli, brussels sprouts and peas, says Liebreich. “But vegetable seeds or crowns (in the case of asparagus) are relatively cheap, so all are worth trying,” she says. “Even the tricky ones are not that tricky, they just require staking or netting. So maybe try the easy ones first, then go onto the trickier stuff next season.”