Thursday, April 19, 2012

Healthy food from your backyard!

Spring is in the air and planting season is here! I know I've been seeing my neighbors raking or planting almost every day of the week and my green thumbs are itching to start planting as well. My big plans for this year are two-fold, first I want a decent size vegetable garden so my daughter can join in the dirty fun of planting and the joys of eating food she helped to grow and secondly I want a small plot of visually pleasing flowers with some functional herbs strewn in so that I can spice up my cooking a bit.

So how do I plan to accomplish this? Well after a few trips to the hardware store I plan on building a few plant boxes to not only streamline the garden but also encourage soil draining so my husband can't drown my garden if he thoughtfully waters it for me. Then I plan on filling my boxes with soil and either seeds or sprout plants from my indoor winter greenhouse.

Now, building plant boxes may seem like a daunting task, but its less expensive than buying expensive vinyl planter boxes or easier than trying to de-crypt the instructions that come in the Build-Your-Own-Plant-Box kit. Of course, if you like the pre-made thing, they're available at your local home improvement store! I personally prefer a project, and thus stumbled upon a few project and design tips from how-to templates and other thrifty bloggers.
Compliments of Norm Plate
Andrea, Andrea what will your garden grow? My daughter and I are aiming for a fully functional garden that will supply side dishes or salads on demand! Our planning stages for the vegetable garden include a few tomato plants, zucchini, green beans, onions, green, yellow, and red peppers, strawberries, and a mixed bed with plenty of salad choices including leaf lettuce, butterhead, romaine, spinach, and kale. My small flower and herb garden will have a variety of colorful flowers, basil, thyme, rosemary, and sage. I'll have to follow-up on some great recipes to incorporate these foods into a variety of dishes sometime soon.

So here's some helpful tips if you're wanting to begin your garden:
1. Choose a great spot to start. A sunny spot with drainage is necessary but try to keep it away from old buildings, roads, or flood areas as paint chips, oil/tar, and chemical sediment may contaminate your garden or cause it to not grow as hardy.
2. Check your soil. Check your soil acidity levels as low pH (acidity) can stunt or slow the growth of plants and increase the likely hood of chemicals being taken up in your plants.
3. Replenish your soil. You should make sure if you're using homemade compost to make sure its fully broken down as the beneficial nutrients aren't released until after decay. It's always a great idea to add aged compost or manure every year to enrich the soil for planting season, however there's many different variable to this recommendation. For example, if you have plant boxes you can add aged compost anytime but if your garden is on flat land you might run the risk of it getting washed away if its added too soon. For this reason, many people recommend adding it in spring before you begin planting.
4. Know your materials. Use untreated wood for plant boxes as pressure treated wood and railroad ties contain chemicals. If you're going to paint the plant boxes make sure you're using non-toxic latex or water based paint as oil can leach chemicals into the soil.
5. Protect yourself and your family. It's great to get 10-15 minutes of sun to boost your Vitamin D, but make sure to wear sunscreen if you're going to be out longer to protect your skin from sun damage and premature aging. Wash your hands with soap and water after working in the garden and always wash fruits and vegetables before cooking with them or eating them.
6. Water. How much or how little water your garden needs will depend on your climate, the weather, and where you've planted, but a good rule of thumb is to watch your plants! If they are dropping mid-day then they'll need more water. Another good rule of thumb is to feel the soil. Place your fingers down in the soil up to the knuckles, if its dry near your fingertips then you need to add more water.
7. Enjoy! Experiment with new recipes or try using fresh ingredients like herbs instead of dried! Encourage everyone to try new foods and share with neighbors. (Neighbors love to join in and share the spoils of planting and exchanging crop.)