Most of us need to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. You hear that a lot, right? But have you ever thought about growing your own vegetables to help improve your family’s nutrition? Home vegetable gardening is a terrific way to get your family interested in eating vegetables by enjoying the fruits of your own labor.
Working in the garden will also increase your family’s physical activity and help reinforce family bonding. So get the whole family in on the act. Have them help with planting, weeding and watering. I grew up in a family of avid gardeners; in fact, my grandparents made their living by farming. I learned early on the flavor and value of home grown fruits and vegetables.
Did you know that February is the best month to plant cool-season vegetables, like carrots, lettuce, onions and potatoes? If you wait any longer than March 15, the warm spring days will prevent these plants from growing.
Consult with a garden center like North Haven Gardens or Redenta’s for specific planting instructions. But in general, loosen your existing soil and mix it with organic compost, either homemade or bought from a garden center. Before planting, check to make sure the soil isn’t too wet. The soil is too wet if it sticks together in a ball. After planting, keep soil moist but not wet. Once seedlings emerge, use an all-purpose, organic vegetable food, following your garden center’s advice for frequency of feeding.
Carrots and lettuce are two of the most popular vegetables with “picky” eaters. A good way to encourage your child to eat carrots or lettuce is to include them in the process of choosing the seed packets for planting. Carrots are fairly easy to grow and offer an array of health benefits. They are low in sodium (which is associated with high blood pressure) and high in vitamin A, which keeps eyes and skin healthy.
To grow carrots, prepare 6-10 inches of very loose soil mixed with compost, and then follow the instructions on the seed packet. Green tops should emerge in 12-18 days, and after that, check underground periodically to see how the carrots are growing.
Like carrots, lettuces are easy to grow and can add essential vitamins and minerals to your family’s diet
Loose-leaf and Romain lettuces are good sources of Vitamin A and folate and are low in fat and calories. Use in fresh salads for dinners and add loose-leaf lettuces and sprouts you grow in the garden to sandwiches and wraps.
Lettuce is simple to grow from seed by sprinkling them over bare soil. Follow the planting instructions on the seed packet and gently water the seed in, keeping the soil moist until small seedlings germinate.
Another easy-to-grow vegetable are onions, which add flavor to everything from fajitas to soups and are a good source of potassium and fiber.
Buy yellow, red or white varieties in “sets.” Plant in loose soil that’s been enriched with compost and an organic nitrogen source such as alfalfa meal, and give each onion enough space to grow to the size of a softball. Plant just the roots of the baby onion, keeping the bulb above ground. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Harvest in a few months when onions are full-grown.
White and red potatoes are low in sodium and are good sources of potassium, which may help to maintain healthy blood pressure.
Buy “seed potatoes” from a garden center. Cut each potato into quarters, leaving a couple eyes per section, and plant three inches deep in loose soil. The green tops of the potatoes will emerge in 10-30 days. Potatoes are ready for harvest when the tops brown and wither.
After harvest, try this delicious Homestyle Garden Vegetable Soup recipe using your homegrown vegetables.
Other fruits and veggies to plant through March 15
Here’s a list of a few other fruits and vegetables ripe for planting by March 15 before the soil starts to get too warm:
- Sugar snap peas
Leave us a comment to tell us how you get your kids involved in gardening and growing healthy fruits and veggies.