Spring has sprung here in Massachusetts! After four long months of blizzards and freezing temperatures, the ground has started to thaw and the birds are singing in the trees. I never used to like this time of year; the temperature rises hopefully during the day and plummets sharply at sundown, like someone rudely yanking off the covers when you were just about the fall asleep. The pristine blanket of white is gone, leaving a dull brown color to the ground as well as the empty trees. It all seemed so depressing…until now.
This year my family and I are starting a vegetable garden! It took some convincing to get them on board. My father grew up on a farm, and though he was excited at the idea, he knew how much work it would be. My mother was slightly more skeptical; she really didn’t like the idea of digging up the backyard, and was less that enthused about the idea of composting (we already get more than our fair share of raccoons). My sister didn’t seem to care either way, seeing the organic movement as a hoax. But in spite of all these reservations, we took the first step. Sometime last fall we turned our old plastic wheelbarrow into a compost bin, and after a long winter it has digested our kitchen scraps into a rich elixir, dark with nutrients. But now it’s spring time, and it’s time to actually use our concoction for its purpose.
Knowing where to start is the hardest part. When deciding which vegetables to grow at home, I recommend assessing three things first:
1) Space: If you live in the suburbs like me, you very likely have more space that someone living is a downtown high-rise. Some vegetable plants can get to be quite tall, and require a lot of sun and space to develop properly. You also want to make sure that you don’t dirty your home with your potting soil and fertilizer. If you’re limited for space, I strongly suggest starting with herbs. They grow perfectly well in a small pot on a window pane of balcony, and they are so much more flavorful than the dehydrated kind that comes in a shaker. I have a lovely basil plant in my kitchen that not only adds bright bursts of flavor to my bruschetta and pasta, but also greets me with a spicy –sweet aroma whenever I walk by. Luscious lavender and deep oregano are on the way!
2) Taste: Be sure to grow something you like to eat. It sounds obvious, but for all the time you’re going to put in you want to be sure that you’re growing an item that you frequently use. My family and I use a huge variety of vegetables, but have decided to stick to tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and eggplants simply because we use them a lot. If our plants are successful we will not only save a fortune on groceries (the seeds for all those veggies cost less than $10), but we’ll be converting a substantial portion of our diet to organic food that didn’t pollute the environment with food miles or pesticides.
3) Climate: Try as we might, it simply unnatural to grow certain foods in certain places. My location in the American Northeast already forbids be from growing some of my favorite things like mangos and pineapples, but even if I could get a seedling started I wouldn’t get nearly enough sun and heat to make these fruits mature properly. If you have a greenhouse, you may be able to add some more variety to your garden, but if like me you are relying on the great outdoors consider a few factors: sun, heat, and rain. Here in Massachusetts the summers tend to be mild and dry, so I need to be prepared to water my plants on my own and also grow things that don’t require extreme heat (like mangoes and pineapple). Most seed packets give instructions for your particular plants.
It’s been almost two weeks since I started my seeds and I already have some beautiful seedlings! My cucumber plants are about 5 inches high (whoa!) and the tomato and eggplants sprouts are gaining on them fast. The oregano has started to emerge as impossibly green fuzz (for lack of a better word) and the holy basil has lifted up its deep purple cup-shaped head from the soil. Still too small (and too cold) to put them outdoors, but spring is full of progress and quickly becoming my new favorite season!
PS: We all know the physical health benefits of going green and organic, but what about the psychological impact? For more, check out the Lifestyle page!