Growing your own food: a primer

By Stacey Stein

There are several reasons to consider growing your own fruits and veggies this season rather than making a trip to the grocery store each time you need to restock your fridge. 

“There’s nothing like picking something out of your garden and eating it,” says registered dietitian Shannon Crocker, a seasoned gardener. “It’s a huge feeling of satisfaction, it tastes better and it’s less expensive than buying produce at the grocery store.”

Here are some tips to help you get started, along with ideas for serving up whatever you grow in your garden.

Getting started

Do your research

Chances are you have a friend, family member or co-worker who knows their way around a garden. Start by picking the brain of an experienced gardener and maybe even ask to help them plant their garden so you can pick up some tips first-hand.

Start small

Some vegetables take up more space than others, so if you’re a novice gardener, start off with a small garden. “Zucchini can take up half your garden,” notes Crocker. You may even want to consider trying container gardening at the beginning, especially if you have a small space.

Consider logistics

Make sure you plant in an area that gets enough sun – most vegetable plants need six to eight hours of daily sunlight. You’ll also want to plant in an area that can be easily accessed with a hose, so you’re not carrying pails of water back and forth.

Set the stage for success

“I recommend that first time gardeners start with plants, not with seeds,” says Crocker. She adds that you’ll want to get high-quality plants from a garden centre or farm store. It’s also important to have a good quality, enriched soil, such as a composted soil from a garden centre. “That will help give your plants more success,” says Crocker.

A rainbow of fruits and veggies

Now that you’re ready to start your garden, what should you plant? Here are a few suggestions along with ideas for how to enjoy the fruits of your labour once your garden has sprung up.

Zucchini

Zucchini is prolific, so all that’s needed is one plant. You can use this vegetable in a variety of dishes, including stir fries and pasta dishes, or for an appetizer you can try making a zucchini bruschetta. Zucchini is also featured in these veggie pancakes, which make a great side dish.

Tomatoes

Late May or early June is the ideal timeframe for planting tomatoes. The soil needs to be warm, but if it’s too hot you’re unlikely to get a good harvest, so don’t wait until July. Crocker recommends cherry or grape tomatoes for first-time gardeners. Tomatoes are extremely versatile – aside from tossing them into salads or using them for tomato sauce, you can also make these cheesy tomato squares to serve at a light dinner or lunch.

Berries

Strawberries and raspberries should both be planted around May or June. Be sure to get an everbearing plant if you want to enjoy strawberries from your garden this summer. Otherwise, planting a strawberry plant now that isn’t everbearing will yield fruit next year. Both strawberries and raspberries taste great freshly picked, or you can pair raspberries with cottage cheese for a sweet, protein-packed breakfast or use strawberries in this grilled crostini.

Peppers

Like tomatoes, peppers have a longer growth period, so don’t wait until July to plant them. Peppers taste great on their own, in a salad or stir fry, or they can even be the main feature, as they are in this vegetarian dish.

Mint

Alongside your fruits and veggies, why not try planning some herbs too? Mint comes back every year, but make sure to plant it within a pot, otherwise it will spread all over your garden. This fragrant herb tastes great in tea and salads and is also used in this steak dish.

The final word

These days, there is a huge push to eat locally, and what can be more local than eating food you’ve grown in your own backyard?

“This is as local as you can get,” says Crocker, adding that this is also a more nutritious way to consume fruits and veggies. “You eat them soon after they’ve been picked so they will have more nutrients – that’s one of the biggest bonuses of growing your own vegetables and fruits.”

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