Fresh is Best

In this world of fast food and ready made meals, some seem to have forgotten how simple it is to cook from scratch and use truly fresh ingredients.  It doesn’t get fresher than right from your own backyard.  There is nothing like going to your garden, picking some lettuce, a few tomatoes, an onion or scallions, a pepper and a radish and making a wonderful salad that you grew yourself.  Not only does it taste better, you get great personal satisfaction in knowing you grew the ingredients.  Not to mention that processed and ready made foods are LOADED with sodium and preservatives.  ALL THAT JUNK CANNOT BE GOOD FOR US.  It isn’t necessary.  Often a ready made meal or processed item (such as Hamburger Helper) do not take any less time to prepare than if you made it from scratch.  It is simply a matter of planning to do it yourself.  It may take a few more minutes of prep time, but the health benefits and the cost savings will make it well worth a few extra minutes of your time.

So much of our produce today is imported from Mexico, Brazil, etc.  Remember the e-coli tomato scare?  Then it was lettuce and greens.  ALL FROM MEXICO.  There should be no reason we should buy vegetables and fruit from other countries.  WHAT HAPPENED TO MADE IN THE USA?  Well, I’m going one step further and I’m going to say MADE IN MY BACKYARD.

I’m going to get back to basics and grow my own.  I already have three pineapples growing, which is so easy to do.  They say it takes a year for them to bear fruit and I have one that is about 3 feet tall that is almost a year old, so hopefully I’ll get a pineapple this year from it.  I also just planted a tangerine, (took the seed out of my mouth and planted it) and it’s about an inch tall right now.  I have been growing jalapeno peppers for three years and since I didn’t kill them, I decided to branch out and grow some more stuff.  I also have some potatoes growing and have three sunflowers growing.

Since we know what we like, I have made a list of the produce we are going to grow ourselves.  Most I am doing from seed.  It is quite easy to do this.  I use an empty Styrofoam egg carton to start my seedlings and then transplant into larger pots when they are about an inch tall.

We are going to grow:

  • Onions (Sweet Yellow and Purple)
  • Celery
  • Lettuce
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes (Cherry, Beefsteak & Roma)
  • Garlic
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Green Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Peas
  • Green, Red, Yellow & Orange Bell Peppers
  • Scallions (Green Onions)
  • Sweet White Corn (I can’t eat Yellow Corn, it hurts me)
  • Cucumbers and Pickling Cucumbers

I’m also going to start an Herb Garden.  I have a rectangular planter box that will be wonderful for this and I will always have fresh herbs to cook with.  I will probably dry some and use a mortar and pistil to grind them and store them.  Again, typically you will get more than you can use before it goes bad.  In my herb garden I will grow all my favorite spices:

  • Cilantro (which becomes Coriander when it grows up)
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary (they say to plant this at your garden gate for good luck)
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Dill
  • Ginger (I will grow this in a separate container as it is the root that you want)

To start my seedlings I use seeds I have saved from vegetables I have purchased at the farmers market.  (Sometimes this won’t work as there are some varieties that have been made sterile by the growers.)  I’ve had better luck with the seeds from the veggies at the farmers market than store bought produce.  Of course you can also purchase seeds, I just like the FREE stuff when I can use it.

You will need:

  • Good Quality Potting Soil
  • Cow Manure Compost
  • Egg Carton
  • Dried Seeds
  • For potatoes simply take one from your current potatoes and let it start to grow “eyes.”  Then slice the potato so you get about 1/4 inch under the eyes and plant directly into the ground using some potting soil and compost.   (plant about 1 inch into ground)  If you are using a planter, you will need to choose one that is very deep as potatoes grow underground and they need space to do so.  Too small a planter and they will rot in the soil.

In a Bowl soak your dried seeds in water while you prepare to plant them.  Wash your egg carton well.  Mix your potting soil and compost well.  Fill each compartment with potting soil mixture.  Add water to soak the soil.  Take a pen or pencil (or a small stick) and make a hole in the center of each soil compartment.  Take a few seeds (I usually put three in each hole) and place in the holes.  (You put in more than one seed as typically they will not all germinate.)  Gently cover the seeds with the soil.  Add enough water to soak them well.  Place in a warm, relatively dark spot (do not put them in direct sunlight, they can get a little, but not a lot at this point.  The sun will make the dirt too hot which will kill the seeds).  Water them daily keeping them very moist.  In about a week you should start to see some seedlings popping up.  Once the seeds germinate and little plants start popping up, you can decrease the water so they are just moist, not completely soaked.  You can also start to move them so they get a little more sun (not too much) everyday.  When they are about 1 inch tall, transplant them into larger planting pots.  Make sure the pots you use have a drain hole in the bottom and use a layer of rocks or gravel in the bottom to aid in drainage.  You want your soil to be moist, but not wet.  If your soil is too wet, the plants will rot.  Again, use a mixture of 1/2 potting soil and 1/2 compost.  If you choose large enough planters, you do not need to transplant into the ground, you can grow them right in the planters.  This makes it nice, as you can move plants if they are getting too much sun or not enough.  If leaves look droopy or dry, they need water and may be getting too much sun.  A good rule of thumb is to stick your finger into the soil about an inch.  If the soil feels moist they don’t need water.  If it is dry water them.  You can also add mulch to the top around the base of the plant.  This helps keep the soil moist, deters weeds, and also helps keep the soil from getting too hot and killing the plant.

You can do this if you live in the city or country.  I have a big backyard so having an outside garden is easy.  If you live in an apartment or in an urban neighborhood with no land, utilize sunny windows and porches or balconies.  You will only need one or two of each plant to give you plenty of bounty.

If you are able to have a large garden, you should look into canning and freezing in order to preserve your bounty long after growing season is completed.  With a large garden, you will have so much produce you will not be able to eat it all before it rots.  Canning and Freezing are great, as you still get the fresh vegetables and fruit that came right from your garden.  You know exactly what went into the soil and on the plants.  I will start a page on canning and freezing when I harvest and begin.  If you want to check it out in advance, there are numerous websites dedicated to preservation of produce.  Simply do a search, you’ll be amazed.  Canning can be tricky.  It requires a certain acidity or you must use a pressure cooker in order to avoid very bad bacteria from growing.  Please do your research before attempting to can anything.  Your local agriculture department usually has websites that list different kids of produce and what the requirements are to safely can them.

Whatever you decide to plant, a great resource is the good Old Farmers Almanac.  You can purchase the print version or access it online. It gives you planting guides for many popular veggies for each region of the country and there is a wealth of information associated with growing, planting, canning, etc. There is a wealth of information in this little guide and it has been so accurate for so long that many swear by it.

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