By: Kathy Cropp
Growing our own food was a way of life for my family for a long time, first my grandfather and then my dad. Now growing our own food is becoming very important again and for a variety of reasons, including vegetable recall and the fact that a lot of the produce in stores comes from long distances.
With this in mind, there are a number of resources available that will give you the support and information you need. One such resource is BurpeeHomeGardenswho puts out a great little booklet called “Garden Fresh.” You can sign up online at www.burpeehomegardens.com to receive a free e-version of the booklet, which will provide you with some extremely helpful information as you grow your own vegetable garden.
“Garden Fresh” lists the top five reasons that people should plant a vegetable garden ― 1) it is a healthy food source, 2) it saves money, 3) the harvest can be shared with friends and neighbors, 4) home grown produce tastes better and 5) it is a fun project for all ages. All of those reasons make it sound very enticing to start your own garden, but what if you don’t have the space or the sunlight. In today’s world of gardening don’t let that stop you because you can now grow vegetables in containers, plant your “edibles” among your other landscape plants or get connected with one of the community gardens that are springing up all around the area, like the one that has been started at the Danville Community Market.
When you start thinking about what to plant, here are some ideas from Burpee. The top five vegetable favorites are tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, and squash. If you want to feed two to three people they suggest the following guidelines: 3-4 tomato plants of several varieties; 1-3 cucumber plants; a 4 foot row bush beans; for pole beans use about 3 plants for each pole; peppers 1-2 plants each of 3-4 varieties and for squash and zucchini 2-4 plants total. They also offer suggestions for cool season vegetables, but you will have to wait until fall or early spring next year to try your hand at those. Growing what you know your family will eat is always a winner too. Please remember that vegetable gardening takes a fair amount of work from start to finish, so if you’re just starting out, start small.
Remember, if you choose to grow small you can still purchase vegetables that you didn’t grow from the Farmer’s Market at the Community Market downtown. The variety is wonderful and there is nothing better than knowing who you are buying from and how they garden. We have had too many “food” scares over the last few years, so buying local can be the safest way to go.
In addition to growing your own vegetables, Burpee even suggests growing your own herbs. Some of the most popular herbs are parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, and sage. It makes a difference when you use fresh herbs while you are cooking because it really seems to bring the flavor of your fresh vegetables out even more. Like your vegetables, your herbs can easily be grown in containers on your porch or even a sunny window indoors.
The best thing about vegetable gardening is that it can be done in all seasons with cool, warm, and hot season crops, so once you get going you can eat fresh vegetables almost year-round.
People who can help you get started are out there waiting to support you and answer questions, like the Danville Master Gardeners. The Master Gardeners provide access to some great literature from Virginia Cooperative Extension that has information about the best vegetables to grow in our area, planting times, and specific vegetables. You can find this information at literature racks located at our local garden centers.
For those of you who are seasoned vegetable gardeners, branch out and try new vegetables that you haven’t tried before. You can even grow for “Plant a Row for the Hungry” (www.gardenwriters.org) and donate everything in that row to your local food bank.
Whatever your vegetable gardening expertise, we hope that you will branch out and try something new this year.
Happy vegetable gardening! Have a great time and let us know how it goes.