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Monday, April 19, 2010

D.I.Y.: Vegetable Garden

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day this week, I've decided late in the game that all of this week's posts should be eco-friendly. I have to say that in some ways I hate how everybody tries to capitalize on Earth Day and finds a way to put a spin on how eco-friendly they are. Every day is Earth Day in my house. Like many New Englanders, I was raised to conserve resources and protect the beauty of nature that surrounds us on a daily basis and that's what we teach our children as well. It's not about giving up modern conviences, but being aware of the chain of reaction that each of our decisions creates and what small steps we can take to create whether it be buying organically, recycling, using no VOC paint or walking that 1/2 of a mile to grab a gallon of milk instead of hopping in the car. After all, ultimately it is not the house we live in but the Earth that is our home so it seems crazy that so many people pay no attention to it when they are trying to beautify their abodes. Anyway, since my almost 4 year old son and I started planting our vegetable garden today, I decided I would start there. A fairly simple but highly effective way to help the planet and make your home that much more appealing.
Growing your own fruits and vegetables is an amazingly gratifying thing on many levels. First off, there is nothing like walking into your back yard and grabbing everything you need for a salad or that perfect tomato and fresh basil for a tomato mozzarella salad (my favorite!). Not sure what's for dinner? Check the garden to see what's ready! Secondly, it is one of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint because there are no transport costs for your food. And lastly, you save an incredible amount of money on food. A tomato plant that costs you $3 is going to yeild well more than $3 worth of tomatoes should you buy them at the store. If you plant fruit bearing trees and shrubs, your landscaping is essentially working for you and makes your proprty more attractive if and when you sell it as well as for you.

There are several ways to go about growing your own fruits and vegetables. If space isn't an issue, you can pretty much just find yourself a very sunny spot and dig yourself a garden to get started (although it's a good idea to have your soil tested-any toxins in the soil will get into the food). Raised garden beds are very popular and have a lot of benefits including holding water better, being easier to tend to and being able to control the soil content better. My husband built two 3' x 6' raised beds last year using basic lumber and a few brackets and wood stakes, but you can also buy a raised bed kit (top) or get directions from the DIY Network (note: You shouldn't need to rent a sod cutter or spend the amount of money or hours listed to put in 1 or 2 raised beds). Make sure you don't use pressure treated wood as the chemicals in it aren't safe and will leach into your food. Also, think about if you need to put up some protective fencing around your beds. I have a dog, a curious baby, and a lot of rabbits in my yard that like to nibble in my garden so I've found it to be essential for us. If you don't have a lot of land to work with, but have some vertical space, you can also grow on a trellis (center). At one local garden center I even found a Macintosh Apple tree that grows flat against a trellis. I am dying to get it for along one of my fences. And if you are renting or only have a balcony or patio, container gardening (bottom) is really easy. I actually try to do all of my tomatoes in containers and herbs also do great pots. Anything that doesn't spread like crazy should work pretty well in a pot.

When deciding what to grow, first think about what you really buy a lot of. My son loves fruit so when we were selecting shrubs for our house, we planted two blueberry bushes of different varieties. Last year we planted strawberries (which are perrenials, meaning they come back every year), canteloupe, watermelon, green beans, snap peas, lettuce, mesculen mix (very easy), cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, basil, rosemary, and chives. Since everything isn't ripe at the same time, this gave us a nice variety throughout the summer and fall. However, keep in mind how many people in your household will eat each item and how much of it they will really eat. I had so much zucchini last year and am the only one in my house that eats it, that I was running out of ways to prepare it to keep it interesting. Of course, most neighbors and food banks are happy to take any excess you might have.

If you have kids it's also a really great activity to do together and a great way to give them an idea of where their food comes from. They seem to like vegetables better when they've had a hand in growing them themselves. If you are a little nervous about it, go to your local garden center or check out the Gardener's Supply Company web site where you'll be able to find people that will be happy to help get you growing in the right direction. Happy digging!

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