Growing a vegetable garden is a great solution to many of the barriers of getting more vegetables in our diet. High grocery bills, kids don’t want to eat their vegetables, concerns about how vegetables are grown and the long distances they travel to get to the table – the list of worries goes on. Even a very small plot of land can yield a lot of vegetables. The key is picking vegetables that grow quickly and produce often, like green leafy vegetables like kale. This also helps the gardener maximize space. A few kale plants require less space than a few beet plants.
Adults and children alike can foster an enthusiastic relationship with vegetables by growing small vegetable gardens. Food fresh from the garden tastes great and the satisfaction of eating something you grew from the ground is profound. Kids who help out in the garden will want to eat what they grow!
So, how do you get started making your own backyard vegetable garden? First you want to consider your space and where you want to plant and decide what to grow your garden in. Most backyard gardeners use raised beds or straw bales.
Raised beds are a great option for small vegetable gardens. They are used to keep the soil warmer, protect your garden from fluctuating soil temperatures and prevent soil erosion. They are very simple to build. You can use all new or repurpose old materials. Even old pallets can be repurposed into raised beds. This blog post from The Micro Gardener shows many creative ways to repurpose old materials into functional and good looking raised beds http://themicrogardener.com/20-creative-ways-to-upcycle-pallets-in-your-garden/
When constructing a raised keep in mind
- Don’t make it too wide, you want to be able to reach plants in the center
- Be careful what materials avoid using wood treated with toxins
- Use galvanized and or stainless steel bolts
- Build on a flat spot, to avoid excess digging or a lopsided finished raised bed
Some great instructions on how to build a basic raised bed
An alternative to raised beds? Straw bale gardening is very simple. Basically plants are grown in bales of straw held together with twine. Straw bales provide a warm environment for you plants and can be built tall enough where gardeners do not need to bend over and crouch as much. Straw bales also greatly reduce weeding. Learn more here http://strawbalegardens.com/faqs/1-what-is-straw-bale-gardening
After you have your raised bed now it is time to get planting! I’ve highlighted a few of my favorite vegetables to grow, that are easy, high yield and nutritious.
Kale is such a popular vegetable and its hardy nature makes it easy to grow. Kale can withstand cold snaps with ease so you can plant it early and in some regions grow it year round. Kale is a member of the brassica family (along with brussel sprouts and cabbage) and are susceptible to cabbage beetles, so keep a close eye on them if cabbage beetles are common in your area. There are several varieties, curly, winter, red, Chinese and more – all with slightly different taste. The most common, and what we generally see in the grocery store, is Lacinato kale. All varieties are extremely nutritious and fun to grow. You’ll save a lot of money when you can pick your own kale from the garden rather than paying high grocery store prices.
Also known as Bok Choi, is best sown indoors in small containers before transplanting to the outdoor garden. Seeds sown directly in the ground may be eaten by slugs so wait until the seedlings are about 5cm tall before planting in the garden. After about 30 days the leaves can be harvested. The inner hearts will be ready to harvest in about 45-50 days. Because they grow so fast and can be are not too sensitive to cold or warm snaps, they make an excellent hardy addition to the home garden.
Grow very quickly, they aren’t a high yield produce like Kale or other greens but I include them in this list because they are great for kids to grow. Getting your small children in the garden will help foster a positive relationship with vegetables, kids are very excited to eat something they grew themselves. Radish grow very fast (about 30 days) so impatient youngsters will see results fast. It’s also really easy to know when they are ready to eat! They pop out of the ground and show their red tops through the soil announcing they are ready to harvest. Little hands can pull them right out of the soil easily. Radishes are a big hit with young children and when you see their excitement eating them! – well, you’ll be a very excited parent.
Zucchini is also very easy to grow. One or two well producing plants can keep the whole family in squash all summer long. The down side to zucchini is they take up a lot of space. If you crowd them in your garden they won’t produce well so make sure to give them generous space. When growing from seed plant zucchini in a mound of soil at least three feet away from other veggies. Pick zucchini come June/July when they are small for a tender sweet. If they keep growing – that’s okay! A zucchini can easily become larger than a man’s forearm. The large ones are far less sweet and a bit tough but are perfect for turning into zucchini bread!
When starting your home vegetable garden try not to worry too much and have fun with it! Get the family involved and kids will be delighted to grow veggies they helped grow. Growing a garden in northern climates is very different from growing in the deep south – so make sure you investigate online or at your local plant nursery on how to plan a garden specific to your region.
Building a Basic Raised Bed: http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/lawn-garden/how-to/g92/build-raised-garden-beds/
Straw Bale gardening: http://strawbalegardens.com/faqs/1-what-is-straw-bale-gardening
Main photo: http://www.colostate.edu/Dept/CoopExt/4dmg/VegFruit/intenveg.htm
Pok Choi: http://www.lemonyzest.com/2008/10/13/gyo-fried-rice-with-bok-choy/
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