By Christie Pool
We have a competition going among members of our staff at the Progress - who can grow the most “tonnage” of food this summer. We have five regular staff members and four of us are participating, plus columnist Caleb Smith. It may not initially seem fair since one of us (me) is married to our editor (Dan) and essentially that makes us a two-person team against three solo individuals. But I definitely don’t have a green thumb. I would even venture to say that I am a detriment to my “team.”
One staffer believes that my spring greens shouldn’t count in the “tonnage” as they were planted before we officially cooked up this contest (pardon the pun). We are fighting hard for the early produce to be included, because kale is prolific even if it takes a mountain of it to weigh much.
The benefits of growing our own vegetables extend well beyond bragging rights. Backyard gardening leads people to take an interest in the origins of food and make better choices about what we put on our plates.
For people like for me, who are holding out hope that someone will crossbred plants to taste like Captain Crunch or Fruity Pebbles, growing my own food inspires me to do better -- even if deep-down I know that kale still tastes like, well kale.
The thinking for all of us is that if we grow it, we’ll likely eat it which means more veggies on our plates; knowing exactly how that food was handled and what pesticides were used; the ability to harvest at the right time - vegetables that ripen in the garden have more nutrients than their store-bought counterparts that must be picked early so they can be transported long distances.
And let’s face it: growing our own food is something everyone can do to some extent. Though there is clearly something I miss when it comes to bell peppers, but for very hardy and forgiving tomatoes, squash and green beans as long as the weather cooperates, I get something to take back to the kitchen.
And cucumbers arrive in droves when they get going.
Whether it be a hydroponic system like a Tower Garden or a large-scale, need-a-tractor-to-plow-it type of garden, there are a few good tips to follow when starting out.
• Think small to begin with and plant things you really like to eat.
• Pick a spot with at least six hours of good daytime light and access to water. • Consider using a raised garden bed, especially if you are new to gardening, because you can to control it all better.
• For more see tips from a UGA horticulture expert on page 8B.
The best advice, however, is to talk to farmers or other backyard gardeners right here in our area to get a sense of what grows well here and when.
The Master Gardeners offer regular programs, a new county agent - when one is hired - should be able to help with particular problems and the vendors at the Farmers Market, which we hope will be back in action soon, are usually very willing to tell how they grew what they are selling.
Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the most important things we can do to keep our families healthy and this surely reduces our country’s dependance on foreign goods. We saw a great graphic online (which we can no longer find) showing a feisty mountain woman in a garden with the caption something to the effect that her supply chain is fine outside her door.
If we are lucky, with plenty of sunshine interspersed with just enough rain this spring, hopefully our grocery bill will get smaller and smaller as the summer progresses and we stock our pantries with fresh produce from the backyard and who knows we might claim bragging rights at our Progress tonnage challenge.