When you visit your favorite garden shop this spring, you are bound to see an emphasis on food plants, from vegetables to herbs to fruit. Circumstances make growing food at home seem like a good idea again and lots of folks are interested for the first time.
Remember the alarms about tainted produce in 2007 and 2008? Not long after the produce scares, the economy weakened, but those who grow gardens know that at least they'll eat.
Organic produce is often priced at a premium, adding steam to the notion of growing your own. Right now, much food is transported from far away, but if that system were to break down or become prohibitively expensive, what happens? Many folks are looking to grow their own and are supporting nearby farms to get fresh, local food and help secure the safety of the food system. In fact, there are waiting lists for CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) produce and meat deliveries in some cities. You can find out more about CSA in Alabama at BuyLocalAlabama.com
Vegetable gardeners have always preferred fresh food. Even if you aren't a vegetable gardener yet, you probably do, too, and now is a good time to learn to grow your own. You'll have lots of company.
In the spring of 2009, when Michele Obama planted the first White House garden since WWII, gardening was elevated from hobby to something more crucial, and Master Gardeners, canners, and suburban closet gardeners no longer had to hide their "unsightly" vegetables from the neighborhood association. In fact, even ordinances that ban chickens in the city are being repealed to allow small backyard chicken coops, which are mostly for eggs.
While baby chicks may not be available at all garden centers, this renewed interest in home-grown food adds up to lots and lots of food plants and supplies available this spring. Perhaps this will become a lifestyle for a host of new gardeners who have never dug and a new passion for gardeners who grew only flowers. Even those "Lawn Rangers" out there might consider giving up a 10 by 10-foot patch of grass to the bounty of the table.
There are lots of resources available to help new gardeners grow a few groceries this spring. Beginners should consider a new book by Jim Wilson (original host of The Victory Garden on PBS), Homegrown Gardening. Another great book, especially for those with space constraints is Mel Bartholomew's Square-Foot Gardening. Check out the Learn-and-Grow library on the Web site of Bonnie Plants, BonniePlants.com. The Alabama Cooperative Extension Service and local Master Gardener groups are another good source.
Gardening is learned by doing. So get busy, and don't worry about perfection. Everyone learns from mistakes. Easy things to plant now are rosemary, parsley, thyme, mint, cilantro, Swiss chard, turnips, collard, radishes, lettuce, arugula and other greens. As for fruit, it's hard to go wrong with figs, blueberries and pomegranates (in the lower half of the state).
After the last frost, try these rewarding first-time plants: basil, disease resistant tomatoes, pole beans, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and okra. When the danger of frost has passed, it will be time to start planting summer crops.
Lois Chaplin is an accomplished gardener and author. Her work appears here courtesy of Alabama Farmers Cooperative.