Garden produce headed for the kitchen.
By Zester Daily staff
Now is the time of year most of pore over seed catalogs, eagerly planning the lush garden full of homegrown produce we'll enjoy all summer.
While many first-timers come to gardening when they tire of the poor quality of produce in the store, just as many come from economic pressures. As fossil fuel prices rise, food prices will continue to increase. And when artificially cheap processed foods are more affordable than nutrient-dense whole fruits and vegetables, the only recourse is to take matters into your own hands, and into your own back yard.
A $10 investment in seeds can yield many hundreds of dollars worth of vegetables a month for many months. A few tomatoes easily cost $2 to $3. For the same price, you can get a package of tomato seeds to plant a long row of tomatoes that will provide bushel upon bushel of luscious fruits all summer long. But it's not so much the immediate cost-savings as the long-term investment. Unlike any other investment you've been involved in, the returns from this one can be braised, broiled, sautéed or served raw. And those returns bring further returns in the form of health and well-being.
Savoring the seed catalogs
Seed catalogs and seed websites are seductive, beckoning with bright pictures of fetching red ruffled lettuces and juicy melons of every description.
What appears to non-gardeners as an immaculate conception is, in fact, more down and dirty -- but in a good way. There's nothing for the seed addict to be ashamed of -- quite the opposite. With some planning and plotting, time and tending, the vegetable fantasies on the page turn into vegetable realities that are inexpensive, nutritious and delicious.
TIP: The best way to choose your varieties is to ask a nearby experienced gardener or farmer. If you've had mind-blowing muskmelons from a local farmer, ask that farmer what he plants, and when, and how.
Contributing: Terra Brockman
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Great homemade sauce starts with planting your own tomatoes
You don't have to be a master gardener to produce enough fresh tomatoes to make your own tomato sauce. A small garden plot or even some patio containers will be sufficient for your own tomato garden that will yield enough tomatoes for great sauce and even some salads along the way.
Your garden supply store will sell many varieties of tomatoes including hybrids and heirlooms. TIP: You will want to buy the best tomatoes for making sauces, which are known as plum tomatoes. They also are called Roma or San Marzano tomatoes. Now you need to find out when the last frost date is in your area. Don't buy the tomato plants until this date.
Tomato seedling plants can be bought for $2 to $5. They should be healthy looking, and have straight stalks that spring back when bent slightly. Remove them from their containers to plant them, pack the soil down around the stalks and water them immediately. Pick a spot in your garden or a container that gets at least six hours of sunlight, and preferably more than that
In a garden, tomato plants need a 6-by-2-foot hole about 6 inches deep. TIP: Tomatoes also do well in containers, but remember the pot should be large, at least 16 inches diameter at the rim.
Generally, tomatoes are easy to grow, however, and you can usually expect few difficulties.
The best piece of advice I ever received from a real gardener was "your plant's not a baby; it's a plant, and if it dies you buy another one."
Contributing: Clifford A. Wright* * *
Brassicas to the rescue
The large group of plants belonging to the mustard family Cruciferae -- genus Brassica -- covers a range of common and not-so-common vegetables: from broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts to kohlrabi, rutabagas (Swedes), turnips, collards and choy.
Brassicas are edible from flowers to roots. Depending on the plant, cooks prepare the stems (kohlrabi, choy), leaves (cabbage, choy, mustard, kale and collards), flowers (cauliflower, broccoli), roots (turnips and rutabagas) and seeds (mustard and rape).
TIP: Rich in potassium, soluble fiber, folic acid and vitamins C and K, these vegetables are an absolute must in a daily diet. When home-grown, the taste and vitality of the vegetable is unsurpassed.
Brassicas are quite easy to grow, though knowing the correct soil type is important. Most brassicas prefer a rich, well-draining soil that has been prepared with well-rotted manure and compost. Ideally the soil should be slightly acidic. Adding lime can increase the ph and adds calcium and magnesium to the crop.
TIP: Brassicas need their space in gardens. They grow large -- albeit slowly -- but eventually their habit of spreading can shade anything planted too close. When harvested, the yield will be substantial, especially with cabbages. Broccoli will form a main head, which should be removed; this will prompt the plant to produce side shoots that can be harvested for many weeks. Turnips can be easily grown from seed, just remember to thin out the plants to a 5-inch spacing once the plants reach 3 to 4 inches. (The removed plants can, of course, be eaten as turnip greens.) TIP: Allow extra garden space for a succession of plantings every six weeks and you'll have a steady supply of fresh vegetables throughout the season.
Contributing: John Lyons
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Grow your own orchard
Planting fruit trees takes work, but delicious plums and apricots make it worthwhile.
Fruit trees can be grown in pots or directly in the ground, when space permits. Trees also can be espaliered, the horticultural technique of training trees through pruning and grafting to create formal "two-dimensional" or single-plane patterns by the branches of the tree.
When grafted onto rootstock, the size of a fruit tree can be controlled and kept to 12 feet to 15 feet tall with regular pruning. Some varieties are grafted onto ultra-dwarf stock that allows trees to be kept to a very manageable 4 feet or 5 feet.
The stone fruit family includes cherries, plums, nectarines, peaches, apricots and plum/apricot hybrids called pluots and apriums. TIP: Stone fruits do not continue to ripen after harvesting, and store-bought fruit is invariably picked early to avoid bruising. Thus it can be rather lackluster in taste. Homegrown stone fruit, however, when tree-ripened, is simply delectable.
All in-ground fruit trees should be planted in a large hole with amended soil. Water it, making sure to finish with a light mulch kept at least 6 inches away from the tree trunk and space at least 12 feet apart.
Potted trees need a large (minimum 25-gallon) pot. Drainage is important, and this can be easily achieved by the addition of a half bag of commercial cactus mix. A generous amount of good quality compost is also important.
TIP: If you have the space, it is a good idea to select an early variety and a late variety of one fruit. You can then enjoy an extended season of your favorite stone fruit. Newly planted trees can begin producing fruit in the second year. A light dressing with fertilizer annually will suffice. Selective pruning should keep the tree well-shaped and at a manageable height of 12 feet to 15 feet.
Stone fruits are very prolific bearers and a wonderful addition to the urban garden.
Contributing: John Lyons
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