Gardens are in full bloom around the state. You might be overflowing with some fruits and veggies, like squash, zucchini, tomatoes, berries, or cucumbers. For many gardeners, there’s more produce than you can eat before it goes bad. There are several ways to preserve food to enjoy later, some take more effort than others. And even if you don’t garden yourself, you can still put up produce from the farmers market to enjoy over the winter. Many farmers offer discounts for bulk quantities or “seconds” (slightly blemished or misshapen, but still perfectly edible). This is just an overview of some different home food preservation techniques. Talk to your local extension office for expert advice on safe canning and pickling. Continue reading
After all that spring snow, are you ready for spring sunshine? I certainly am! It’s also the time of year to start planning your garden. Growing your own fresh fruits and veggies is a great way to eat smart for the whole family. Kids who grow their own food are more likely to eat it. And adults appreciate the fresh taste and low cost of homegrown produce. If you’ve never considered a garden before, here are some reasons why to get started this year. Continue reading
We know that making half your plate fruits and vegetables is an important part of eating smart. But getting enough fresh produce can be tough when you’re on a budget or live far from a grocery store. Thankfully, with a little effort and a small investment, you can grow your own nutritious and delicious produce. A Master Gardener from Oregon pulled together an estimate of the net profit (price of food grown – cost of equipment, seeds, fertilizers, etc.) of a home garden. On average, she calculated the value of growing your own food to be $0.74 per square foot of garden space. To put that into more practical terms, a 10-foot x 10-foot garden will give you $74 of fresh produce. Even just a few containers of edible plants can provide more food than the cost of the investment. Continue reading
Recently, we had the pleasure of visiting an inspiring project in Richmond bringing fresh, local foods into an area of the city that is a food desert. The 31st Street Baptist Church has been working to feed the hungry in their community for years, starting with a community meal site and growing to include a community garden turned urban farm and now an on-site farmers market that accepts SNAP. You can read more about the event here.
Are there any projects like this in your community?
Today, I have a special treat for you. Our lovely Cooking Coach and Gardening Guru, Meredith has a great post about how to keep your garden going into cooler weather. (If you haven’t already, check out our introduction to Meredith and her great work with the Family Nutrition Program.)
Kids are off to school, apples are coming in to the farmers markets….the signs are all there! It’s time to start planning your fall vegetable garden. There are many types of vegetables that thrive even through mild frosts. If you start planting now you can still be harvesting what you sow as late as early December! Don’t forget that you can buy seeds and seedlings for vegetables using your SNAP benefits. You may see seedlings at your local farmers market, but if you don’t you can always ask your favorite farmer to bring you some the next week!
So what grows best when planted in the fall? Favorites like broccoli, collard greens, kale, radishes, spinach, cabbage and even carrots and lettuce.
The Fall Factor
The secret to successful fall gardening is to plan for something called “the fall factor”. All that really means is that you have to remember that the plants will grow more slowly due to cooler weather and less sunlight as the days get shorter. The best way to deal with this is to sprout your seeds indoors and then transplant them to your garden.
Sprout Your Seeds
To sprout your seeds simply wet a paper towel (not dripping wet, you can wring it out) and fold it in half. Spread your seeds on half of the towel and fold the other half over them, so the seeds are covered. You can fold the towel and seeds up one more time, and then place the whole thing in a plastic sandwich bag. Be sure to label each bag so you know what you are growing! Leave the bags in a warm place, and check them in a week. They should be growing white “tails” of roots.
Plant Your Seeds
Once your seeds have sprouted to about an inch in length you can plant them in your garden the way you would plant a normal seed. (You do not need to make sure the “tail” is above the soil.) If you are finding it difficult to get them off of the paper towel simply rip up the paper towel around them and plant the seeds and towel together. There are a lot of great videos on Youtube if you want see how to sprout seeds for planting. I like this one.
It is best to plant your seeds in the garden when the soil is a bit moist, like after a light rain or you can water the soil the day before you plan to plant. If it is still hot in your area, cover the seeds with soil twice as deeply as you would in the spring. Make sure to keep the soil moist until the plants break the surface of the soil. A layer of mulch can also help to keep your seeds moist, but should not be too thickly applied so that the seeds still get some sunlight. Loose straw or pine needles are great options for this.
Beyond the Frost
Most of the vegetables I mentioned above can withstand some cold and light frost. As the season progresses and frosts start they can still be harvested and will even have their flavor enhanced by a touch of frost. Kale, carrots, spinach, and lettuce can even survive most of the winter if you mulch them deeply (about 8 inches deep). What a bargain for a $1 packet of seeds! Don’t be afraid to try fall gardening in containers either! Containers will freeze more quickly than plants in a garden, so they probably won’t grow throughout the whole winter, but they will last through a few frosts.
For a more in-depth review of fall vegetable gardening, check out this helpful publication from Virginia’s Cooperative Extension. You can also call your local extension office to ask specific questions. Good luck!