3 Reasons to Grow Your Own Vegetables

Growing your own vegetables saves money, tastes better, and ensures you know where your food came from-plus, it's really easy!

Basil Herb Gardening
Grow different types of basil in pots near your kitchen door. Photo: Ralph Anderson

Growing your own produce is all the rage nowadays. You may have toyed with the idea of growing your own, but decided that picking up your produce from the grocery was the ideal way. Think again! Associate Garden Editor Rebecca Bull Reed shares the reasons she grows her own, and tips for beginners.

Reasons to Grow Your Own Vegetables

1) Price
The most significant reason to grow your own produce is the price. Take herbs, for example. A pack of herbs from the grocery store can cost anywhere from $3 to $6 and you use the pack for one, maybe two meals. Buying potted herbs, on the other hand, costs $2.50 to $4 and they last for about eight months. Some herbs, like rosemary and thyme, can even last for years. Growing your own herbs can be made cheaper by starting out with seeds, which cost $1 to $2.

2) Control What Goes In your Food
Another reason for growing your own is that you can control what goes into your food. You can either be very strict in keeping your produce organic, or use fertilizer and pest control that you approve of. The security of knowing how your food is grown and what is used in the process can be reason enough to grow your own.

3) Freshness
We've all run into the problem of reaching into our fridge's produce drawers and finding limp or bruised vegetables. You won't have that problem when you can pick them straight from the source and put them in your dinner that night. Produce found in the grocery store is typically picked half ripe, having an effect on its flavor.

What To Grow
Now that you've decided to start growing your own produce, you may be overwhelmed with all the veggie options out there. For beginners, we recommend starting with herbs--"the gateway plant to gardening." Look at your lifestyle and decided which herbs you use the most before you start buying them all. Rosemary, thyme, parsley, and basil are common choices. Fresh herbs are great in any dish and are perfect for enlivening take-out food and frozen dinners.

Homegrown tomatoes are another great choice because of their exceptional flavor. They can sometimes be a bit temperamental, so beginners should start with cherry tomatoes. Zucchini, squash, bell peppers, and lettuce are also good additions to your vegetable garden. But remember to only plant the vegetables that you use frequently. You don't want to bite off more than you can chew.

Beginner's Guide to Growing Your Own Vegetables
The first thing you need to do is check when the last frost date is in your area. The unseasonably warm temperatures we are seeing may induce gardening "March Madness," but don't let the weather fool you. Double-check the Old Farmer's Almanac before you start planting. If you can't wait until then, you can always start seeds indoors in a sunny window.

Next, decide if you're going to start with plants or with seeds. Starting with seeds is the cheapest way to go. Don't make the mistake of using all of the seeds in the packet; only a few are needed. Ideally you should use quality-potting soil for planting, but it's not necessary. First-timers can simply buy the plant if you don't want to deal with planting the seeds--even the experts do that!

The trick to keeping your vegetables healthy and thriving is consistent water and some casual management. It doesn't have to be a time-consuming process. Every once in awhile, take a look at your plants, check the soil to see if it's moist, pull a weed here and there, and if you see a bug just hose it off. Sometimes a little water is all the chemical control you need.

If you don't have space for a full-fledged vegetable garden in your yard, potted plants and container gardens work just as well. A great option for beginners is the EarthBox, a self-watering container for your patio garden. You can find more containers, various seeds, plants, and gardening tools at Gardener's Supply Company and Bonnie Plants.

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