March 26, 2013

Points East: Time to grow your own garden

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — One thing I’m pretty sure about these days is that the economy is not  going to get a whole lot better anytime soon.  And I don’t expect food prices to get any lower in the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, I do expect  the best growing season we’ve had in a decade.  I’m not going to get into the basis for that latter expectation in this column except to say that all the signs are right for cooperative weather for the rest of the year and the timing right.

If your budget is stretched thin, this may be the year that you need give some thought to growing some of the stuff you eat.  But don’t think very long.  Just get off your lazy behind and do it.

If the sunshine hits your lawn or the sides of your home for 8 hours a day during the daylight saving time season,  you can grow just about any vegetable worth eating that you’d find in the produce section of whatever grocery you shop for such.

If all you eat, veggie wise, is canned or frozen stuff from the grocery, then read no further.  

But if you want to eat the highest quality food known to man, try growing some yourself.   

The easy choices are tomatoes, peppers, green beans, sugar snap or snow peas, green onions (scallions) lettuce, radishes, spinach, mustard greens, kale,  cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, beets, okra, and whatever you like best as long as it’s not mushrooms.   If you have a sunny spot,  a foot wide and 10 feet long, you can easily grow a couple dozen ears of sweet corn and even plant Kentucky Wonder or cornfield beans to climb the stalks once the corn gets about a foot tall.   

If your lawn will grow nice, green grass, it will grow veggies and herbs.  You may have to borrow a mattock and a spade to dig up a few holes or trenches, but basically all you have to do is just that.  Get a little exercise, pay some attention once a week to weeding and watering and feast out when the crop is ready to eat.

Summer squash, such as zucchini and golden crookneck, will almost grow in asphalt. (Actually, if your driveway is badly cracked, just drop a couple or three squash seed in.)  Don’t bother with those because somebody like me will be trying to give them to you from June until late October.    

And don’t try everything at once, and don’t be planting stuff you won’t eat.

If you have never tried to grow stuff, start out small.  Get your feet wet before you try to swim across the Channel.  Put out a hill of cucumbers and half a dozen big boy or Parks whopper or cherry tomatoes or a combination of the three.  Sow a few lettuce seed and stick a few onion bulbs in the ground.   

If you are a long-time gardener, then bear in mind, that spring is  just the beginning of the planting season.  Most leafy vegetables (lettuce, turnips, mustard, kale, collards, etc) actually do better in the fall here in Kentucky than they do in spring/summer, and that’s fairly common knowledge.  But I start tomato seed in July for fall planting and we redo almost everything at least twice over the growing season. Sweet corn is the exception even though. We stagger plantings of it so that it will come in over a period of several weeks.   And, of course, peppers, okra, and ichiban eggplant will literally bear all year as long as they get watered weekly and doused with Peter’s Professional all purpose fertilizer once a month.         

I’ve just read what I’ve written in this column and it sounds like a lecture, and even though that’s not what I intended, let me suggest that you go to your local Extension Service Office and get detailed literature on just about anything you want to grow.  

And even if you have to put them in plastic five gallon paint buckets or cheap containers and set them on the patio, buy a few bags of top soil or composted cow manure (usually less than $2 for 40 pounds) and try growing some of your own food this year.   

You can use such a medium for several years and it will way, way more than pay for itself.  But more importantly you will be eating veggies that taste far, far better than anything you can buy in a store, along with the knowledge that they have not been picked prematurely, doused in enzyme killers and handled by several dozen hands that may not have been as nicely washed as yours.

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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
B. Going to the beach!
C. Kentucky has a lot of wonderful state parks, and we plan to visit a few and enjoy quality family time.
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