Check out part two of our three-part blog series on gardening and find out how grocery store produce does the job, but nothing compares to a homegrown vegetable!
If you’ve had a homegrown tomato, then you already know this. Produce from your garden is fresher than anything you’ll find in a store. After all, the only traveling it has to do is from your yard to your kitchen table.
Even better, if you grow it yourself, you know exactly what’s in it. 70% of produce sold in the United States is contaminated with pesticides from commercial agriculture. Don’t risk your health – take up gardening as a new hobby this spring and grow your own vegetables!
Planning Your Outdoor Vegetable Garden
Before you can build a vegetable garden, you need to identify the right place in your yard for it.
Generally, all vegetables need to thrive is a garden bed with six hours of direct sunlight, called “full sun” by gardeners. Try to find a location in your backyard that receives sunlight during the cooler hours of the day to avoid scorching your crops. Most soil should do the trick, but if your native soil isn’t up to the task, you may need to purchase soil or fertilizer.
Note that some vegetables are a little pickier and prefer specific soil types, while others are tolerant of shade. What you’ll need differs from plant to plant. Make sure you know what you want to grow before you build your garden beds.
To Dig or Not to Dig Your Garden Beds
There are two basic types of garden beds: in-ground and raised. What kind you should use will depend on your location and what kind of vegetable you want to plant.
In-ground garden beds are dug directly into your native soil. This is a great way to utilize your native soil if it’s suitable for gardening. Additionally, in-ground garden beds don’t freeze as easily. On the other hand, a raised garden bed is a frame on top of the ground that’s filled with soil. They warm quicker in the spring, drain more easily, and make it easy to use purchased soil.
Dreaming of a garden of your own, but don’t have the space to make it a reality? You can still join in on the fun with potted plants. Many common vegetables have varieties that can grow in containers.
Improve the Health of Your Plants with Crop Rotation
If you think you might maintain your vegetable garden for a few years or more, then you should start thinking about crop rotation.
All plants are grouped into families, and plants in the same family are likely to catch different diseases than plants of other families. Crop rotation is the practice of dividing your garden by family and switching up where you plant those families each year. Doing so reduces the risk of plant diseases like blight, which can ruin an entire year’s produce.
It works like this: plant diseases linger in the soil, and many can survive cold winters. If you keep your vegetable families in the same place year after year, they will get contaminated year after year. If you rotate your crops, you deprive the disease of a host for a full year, effectively killing it and reducing the likelihood of your crops becoming infected.
Planting Your Outdoor Vegetable Garden
There are dozens of different vegetables, and that’s not counting different varieties of each species. Trying to find the perfect vegetables to grow in your garden can be an overwhelming task. To that end, we’ve selected representatives from some of the major vegetable families to give you a few ideas.
The Nightshade Family
The name nightshade might sound a little ominous, but this group of vegetables includes many dinner table favorites.
- Tomatoes: This is probably the most popular backyard plant in America. It’s earned this reputation with good reason – homegrown tomatoes taste better than their supermarket counterparts, and they’re incredibly easy to grow. Just make sure to have some stakes for them to wrap around.
- Potatoes: These are a great choice to grow for their versatility in cooking. They also prefer cool climates, which is excellent news for Northern gardeners. Southern gardeners might have better luck waiting until winter to plant potatoes.
These are members of the mustard family, although the word “cole” actually refers to cabbage. They prefer cold weather and make great spring crops.
- Broccoli: This vegetable has a bad rap for being gross, but we think fresh broccoli is delicious! See for yourself this spring. Make sure your soil is slightly acidic, then prepare it with a bit of fertilizer to see the best yield.
- Cabbage: Grow this plant to make your own coleslaw this summer. Cabbage does best when planted early, so if your region is already in the full throes of spring, consider a quick-maturing variety like Golden Acre to catch up.
These are the fruits of the Cucurbitaceae family. That’s right – fruits. But except for pumpkins, you won’t see these in any fruit pies, so they can be called a vegetable in the safety of your garden.
- Pumpkins: If you don’t expect your garden to be prepared while the cold’s still in, then plan on planting pumpkins. They should not be planted until the ground has entirely warmed from winter, or your crop might fail.
- Cucumbers: Like pumpkins, cucumbers need a lot of warmth to grow. Once they start growing, however, it’s almost impossible to get them to stop – just make sure they get plenty of water, and you could see cucumbers as big as 10 inches (or more).
Health Benefits of Gardening
Tending a garden comes with a long list of health benefits. First and foremost, gardening encourages healthy eating since the end result is plenty of delicious, homegrown produce. Vegetables contain many essential nutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid, and dietary fibers. These all contribute to your personal health in an important way – for example, dietary fiber reduces cholesterol and your risk of heart disease.
Gardening also gets you out in the sun where your body can produce vitamin D, which ultimately strengthens your bones. Tasks like weeding and digging are physically demanding but not too intense, helping you to casually burn calories and maintain a healthy weight. The exercise of tending a garden can also lower your blood pressure.
Thoughts From USHEALTH Group
Gardening is a fun and easy way to get outside. You can grow delicious vegetables and increase your nutrition, all while getting regular exercise and sunshine. So put on your gloves and start your own outdoor vegetable garden this spring!
If you want to learn more about vegetables, start with our blog all about pumpkins! For more information on home gardening, check out part one of our Outdoor Garden Series: Starting an Outdoor Garden: Planting Fruits