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Sustainable Vegetable Gardening

Growing your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs organically is one of the most rewarding and satisfying sustainable-gardening projects. A kitchen garden, whether it is in the back yard, the front yard, or in pots on a patio, is a beautiful and practical thing. Vegetables from your own garden don’t have to travel far at all to get to the table: if you grow your own food, you know it is fresh and local. And if you manage your garden organically, you avoid exposure to pesticides used in conventional farming.

Growing your own tomatoes, peppers, greens, and other crops also gives you a chance to try a great range of varieties not available at most grocery stores.

If your vegetable garden is in the front yard, planting in raised beds helps define the space and keeps the garden looking tidy. The soil in raised beds warms up earlier in the spring than the ground itself, so you can plant a little earlier. These beds also typically drain better than regular garden beds. Raised beds are easy to work: you’ll still have to bend over, but not as far, and because the soil in them is usually well-worked and loose, they’re easy to weed.

To improve the soil in raised beds or in the ground, make your own compost by tossing onion peels, apple cores, and other kitchen scraps, autumn leaves, grass clippings, and green garden trimmings in a compost pile. Recycling your own yard waste and kitchen trimmings in a compost heap keeps them out of local landfills, and as they decompose they become a rich soil amendment.

Mulching a vegetable garden helps control weeds, limits moisture loss on hot summer days, and keeps the soil temperature even. It helps keep plants healthy, so they are less vulnerable to bugs and blights and need less attention from the gardener. As mulch breaks down, it also adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil: it is a natural fertilizer.

Growing your own vegetables also has distinct personal and social value. Harvesting parsley or parsnips from a home garden contributes to the gardener’s — and her family’s — health and well-being, and, just like growing flowers, it provides opportunities for exercise and social interaction. Home-grown vegetables also make a very welcome gift to your neighbors. When you’re outside staking the tomatoes or picking beans, you’re working with nature, and feeling good is part of the harvest.

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • How can you tell when it is time to harvest the backyard apple, peach, pear and cherry trees? Time the picking to coincide with the fruit being fully ripe to yield its peak of flavor and nutrition. Here’s what to look for:
    - The fruit will look ripe. Its skin will be flush with color rather than the green shade it had while developing all summer.
    - The fruit will feel ripe. It will yield to a gentle squeeze indicating the flesh has softened somewhat.
    - It will also smell ripe becoming pleasantly fragrant, especially when the sun has warmed it.
    - The best indication that fruit is ready for picking is that it picks easily. Truly ripe fruit virtually falls into your hand when grasped. But harvest before it drops onto the ground and attracts bees.