I love food. I enjoy eating it and I’m beginning to enjoy growing a little bit of it. My family dabbled in growing things when I was a kid and my grandmother always had an awesome garden. Before the organic and locally grown movements, many people would garden simply to supplement their food purchases or to have tasty access to the freshest produce. While I did have access to lots of fresh food growing up, for me it was a bit under appreciated. I never really thought too much about it and took for granted the abundance of fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables that we grew at home. Looking back, I’m glad I was able to see and eat all the delicious food my family made.
Why Grow Your Own Food?
I’m not really sure why it happens, but for some reason we are more patient with ourselves, the things we own and things we produce. Have you ever tried to baby sit someone else’s rowdy dog or kid? Or have you ever helped a picky child cook something strange. They’ll often eat what they make but if the same thing was made by someone else they would be disgusted by it. And in the same sense, I believe growing your own food provides a small feeling of accomplishment and excitement knowing it’s yours. I clearly remember growing up having to mow the grass. It was a dreadfully steep yard and it took hours to mow with the push mower. I don’t recall it being too much fun. But for some reason now, I don’t really mind working in my yard. I’ll mow and weed, despite not being “fun” to most, with a nice little sense of personal pride.
There are many different reasons to grow your own food but I’ll just mention a few of them. First, growing your own food gives you the knowledge of exactly what is in the food, what chemicals are on it (or not on it) and it can be picked when it is actually ripe. For us, growing vegetables gives us lots of healthy choices, and fresh herbs provide a lot of flavor without the unhealthy additives that often replace them. There is also a since of sustainability knowing that I can produce tasty things that are edible and I don’t have to buy everything shipped in to my local grocery store. I also want to make sure my kids know that food comes from the ground and what you eat doesn’t have to be processed or come from a box. And finally, growing expensive foods can really cut down on your grocery bill, especially if you enjoy high quality, locally grown or organic produce.
What to Grow
Everyone who grows food always has to make a choice about what they want to grow and decide if the tradeoffs are worth the hassle/joy and time. There are basically three camps that arrise when you talk about deciding what to grow. They are the: “Grow what you love to eat”, “Grow what cost the most in the store”, and finally “Whatever will actually grow”. And to be honest, finding the perfect combination of the three is probably optimal.
There are several foods that we grow, not because they are expensive in the store, but because we really enjoy the homegrown taste. Chief among these would be tomatoes (didn’t start enjoying tomatoes until age 25ish), fresh basil and melons like cantaloupe. For our family, in Georgia, the most profitable things we grow are fresh herbs, spinach, other greens, bell peppers, heirloom tomatoes, and okra. We also enjoy growing (or more like harvesting) pecans, blueberries, blackberries and walnuts. Our garden also contains peppers like jalapenos because they don’t carry them at our primary grocery store (Aldi). There are many foods that don’t make for efficient growing simply because they are so inexpensive. Items like carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes are all delicious to us but take up lots of room in the garden that could be producing more cost efficient crops. For a list of the most expensive foods you can grow by square foot you can check out a great little blog here. The final camp is represented in our garden by hot peppers and maybe even tomatoes to some extent. Hot peppers grow extremely well in our little plot and require little maintenance. We almost always end up giving a lot away because even one small plant can produce more than we would eat!
Another invaluable tip would be making friends with other growers in your area. If you start talking about gardening, you will often find that many others grow things too. This can be great during the peak summer months as plants often produce more than one family can eat. It can be really nice to trade with your family, friends or neighbors to get even more variety of homegrown foods!
To dramatically reduce the cost of gardening you can start by planting from seed. If you are just starting out, established plants might give you a little more success and you can save the seeds from what you grow. If you buy seeds, most packs come with a lot so you can often share them with someone else. Starting your plants inside in egg cartons is a great way to have them ready to go early in the season. If you have the space you can also consider getting a chicken. They make eggs, free fertilizer, are quiet (hens) and don’t eat very much. A nice little compliment to your backyard garden. For those that live in apartments or don’t have a ton of outdoor space, there are great blogs that write specifically about urban gardening in the city. We had a little porch garden when we lived in a condo.
I like food. And I’m learning that I actually like growing things too. I enjoy seeing a small project become economically feasible and also make me want to be a little healthier. What about you? Do you grow food? Why so? Why not? What do you grow and why do you grow it?