General Nutrition

It’s Spring! Have You Thought About a Garden?

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Warmer temperatures make me want to spend a lot more time outdoors! Sunshine not only makes you feel good, but also stimulates your body to make vitamin D that is so necessary for good health. But warm weather also means it’s time to start a garden. Most of us are in the habit of going to the grocery store for all our foods. And for good reason – it’s less work and more convenient in the hectic world we live in.  But it wasn’t all that long ago that many people also grew a garden in the summertime.

When you think “garden”, what comes to mind?  Dirt, work, effort?  Or better tasting, no pesticide, less expensive vegetables or spices or fruits?  Yes, gardening is work but you can put in as much or as little effort as you like. And the end product is so much better, more nutritious, and less costly than what you buy in the grocery stores.

Gardening 101
First, determine if you want to dedicate a plot of ground for gardening or plant in pots when space is limited or you live in an apartment.  Then decide what you would like to grow – herbs, carrots, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, etc.  Sit down and draw out a plan of how to lay out the plants you would like to grow. Remember, plants need room between them to grow and thrive, so don’t underestimate how much room you will need.

Next, if planting in the ground or in raised beds, construct a box using four thick planks of wood in a location that will be easy to visit daily.  Build it in a sunny spot, clear of trees and shade and where water will not puddle when it rains. Be sure you make your garden plot large enough to plant all the vegetables you would like.

Fill your garden plot with topsoil and keep it organic.  You can use the soil you placed your box over if it is pesticide free.  Turn the soil over well but NOT excessively.  Excessive tilling of the soil will promote weed growth.  Be sure topsoil is deep enough for the plants to grow in.  Mix the topsoil with organic peat moss and compost or composted cow manure to make a rich soil that nourishes seed growth.

Plant your seeds.  If you started your seeds indoors, you will be able to plant them once the danger of frost has passed.  But you can buy plants already “started” at nurseries – pay attention to how to plant them and if they require direct sunlight or partial shade.  Some vegetable seeds will be planted directly into the ground.  Water well and daily until growth is established. However, do not over water your plants as this can kill them before they even get a chance to get started.  Rule of thumb: soil should be a moist wet, not soaked or too dry. You may want to invest in a simple water gauge.

To prevent weeds from crowding out your plants and taking over, cover your garden with mulch or grass clippings after planting. Even though you will still have to weed, this will help keep weed growth to a minimum.  A landscape fabric can also be placed on top of the soil before planting to prevent weeds from taking over.

You will have to deal with insects. Avoid toxic sprays like Round-Up and spray your plants with natural insect repellants found in many nurseries or gardening centers.  Planting bay, chive, dill, fennel, lemon balm, and marigolds around the perimeter of your garden often helps to keep insects away.

If you are using pots, fill your pots with topsoil and enrich with peat moss and composted manure. Plant your seeds and water.  Weeds should not be a problem when growing in pots, depending on your topsoil source.  Again, be sure to keep the soil moist but not soaked or too dry.

Harvest your crops when ready and pass along the extra to family, friends, or maybe learn to can!

Need Help ?
The information offered above is only basic gardening tips.  There is so much more involved in gardening if you really want to grow crops.  For more information or videos to help you out I still find the Old Farmer’s Almanac a great resource. They have a Garden Planner to help you plan out your garden plot and both of these websites are great resources:  http://www.almanac.com/topics/gardening/planting
 http://gardenplanner.almanac.com

The University of Rhode Island is an excellent resource when looking for help with gardening.  http://web.uri.edu/mastergardener/gardening-and-environmental-hotline/

Local nurseries sometimes offer classes and can also provide good information to get you started.  And don’t forget your local town hall and state agriculture organizations.  They will often have a list of gardening resources and organizations that can provide you with more information and help.  And when all else fails, or you prefer a how-to-book, take a look at “Gardening for Dummies.”  http://www.dummies.com/home-garden/gardening/

If gardening is just not for you, then consider buying your produce from a Farmer’s Market.  They are the next best thing!!!