Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

by Sukumar Kavanoor

Growing vegetables in your backyard is a fun hobby and can be good for your health and the health of the environment. Here are some gardening tips for beginners.

Why grow vegetables?

You might ask why grow our own vegetables, why not buy from a grocery store? The main benefit is that when you grow your own food you get a really fresh harvest. When you buy your vegetables from the supermarket, you are probably buying produce that is days old. Secondly, you know what you are putting into or on your plants. I have read reports that many vegetables and fruits sold in the produce section of the supermarket are loaded with a variety of pesticides and other chemicals (The alternative is buying organically grown produce). Thirdly, you can grow vegetables that are not commonly available in the supermarket or even in ethnic stores (Indian/Chinese).

The fun and exercise you get out of gardening are other factors you might want to consider. Gardening is definitely healthier than sitting indoors on a couch watching television. If you want to grow vegetables to save money, you might be disappointed. You are not likely to save much. Professional farmers are a lot more efficient and benefit from economies of scale which home gardeners lack.

What to grow?

You might have seen in the garden sections of Home Depot or Lowes or Walmart tomato, eggplant and pepper plants plus some herbs. In some nurseries, you might also find cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, cucumber, zucchini, okra, onion, Swiss chard and Collard Green plants. But you don’t need to limit yourself to just these. A lot more varieties can be grown from seeds. I have grown or growing the following that are not available in the area garden stores: radish, beetroot, turnip, kohlrabi, spinach, fenugreek green, mustard green, Malabar spinach, red amaranth, green amaranth, three different leafy Chinese vegetables, Indian drum stick (for its leaves), lemon grass, green beans, wax beans, yard long beans, Indian flat beans (paapdi/avarai kai/chikkadi kai), peas, bitter gourd (karela), ridge gourd, bottle gourd (dudhi), snake gourd, strawberries, water melon and cantaloupe. Most of these are disease resistant so you don’t need to spray pesticides. The only plants that are really vulnerable to pest attack or diseases are eggplant, cabbage and cauliflower and broccoli. I have stopped growing the last two.

Okra plants on a raised bed in my garden this season. The pipes are my attempt at building a small greenhouse over the beds (I removed the plastic cover a few weeks ago). It was effective in raising the temperature by several degrees in April and May – this elevated temperature lets you plant earlier. The small green things are germinating Pak Choy (Chinese greens) from seeds produced earlier this season in the same bed.

When you grow from seeds you not only have greater choices in terms of types of vegetables but also in terms of subtypes of a vegetable. For example, you may buy seeds for sour tomatoes which are good for South Indian cooking. You will not find it in garden stores. You may buy seeds for okra that has good flavor instead of buying the plants available in a nursery. Basically, grow plants from seeds so that you can grow what you really want to grow.

If you have limited space, you may not want to go for vegetables and fruits that grow on vines because the vines do take up space. What you can grow also depends on how much sunlight you get. Most vegetables and fruits listed above need many hours of sunlight. If you have only two or three hours of sunlight or even less, try the greens, tomatoes and peppers.

Also, if your garden is vulnerable to deer, rabbit or ground hog invasions and you can’t construct a suitable fence you may want to limit yourself to hot peppers, bitter gourd, herbs such as mint, oregano and basil. I have found that zucchini and tomatoes are fairly resistant to attack by these animals. If you want to take a laidback approach, you would want to avoid certain vegetables. Okra, cucumber and beans mature very fast and you need to harvest/check them every couple of days. Most other vegetables and fruits are less demanding.

When to grow?

When to grow depends on what you grow. Cool season crops such as spinach, radish, beetroot and turnip can be grown in early spring (April) and again in late summer or early fall. Most other plants can be planted or sown outdoors mid May. Long-duration plants such as peppers and eggplant need to be raised indoors before transplanting outside in mid May. For early harvest, start growing plants 4 to 8 weeks before the transplant date. What you grow indoors for how long depends on the plant. You don’t want to start fruit and vegetable plants that grow on vines (such as cucumber and watermelon) more than 4 or 5 weeks before the transplant date of mid May because they will grow too big for indoors. Seed packets come with instructions on when to plant.

How to grow, protect and care for your plants in the next part.

About Sukumar: Sukumar grew up in a small village in Tamilnadu, India until he was seven where his father owned farm lands. This early exposure to agriculture and plants is responsible for his interest in gardening. In this country, Sukumar has been gardening for the last twelve years and growing vegetables at his backyard for the last four years.

 

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