Eco-Saturday: Grow your own vegetables

Note to subscribers: You may have gotten a notice early this morning about a password-protected post. Ignore it; I’m just using that post as a parking place for materials related to a mural project I’m doing this spring.

I’d grow a garden even if I didn’t care about the environment, because storebought tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs simply don’t taste as good as heirloom varieties harvested half an hour before the salad goes on the table. The fact that organic gardening is better for the planet is just a bonus.

From an environmental standpoint, homegrown vegetables eliminate three sources of waste: transportation, packaging and pesticides. From an economic standpoint, they also conserve cash, as produce from the grocery store tends to get rather expensive.

Thanks to a little advance planning, all I had to buy for this year's garden was a couple of bags of potting soil and some heirloom seeds I wanted to try.
Thanks to a little advance planning, all I had to buy for this year’s garden was a couple of bags of potting soil and some heirloom seeds I wanted to try.

If you’re planning to grow tomatoes, peppers or other plants that require a little coddling to germinate, now is the time to start them. A few tips:

1. Use decent-sized pots. Peat pellets are convenient, but they’re also worthless; your plants will get rootbound and require repotting within a couple of weeks. Save yourself the hassle by starting the seeds in bigger containers to start with. Tin cans, yogurt cups and old disposable coffee cups all work well for this purpose, or you can recycle newspaper into biodegradable seed-starting cups.

2. Give them plenty of light. If you don’t have big south-facing windows, invest in a mini-greenhouse and as many growlights as you can afford. I gave $16 for a mini-greenhouse last year, and I spent another $75 or so on six small growlight fixtures, which I connected to a power strip and plugged into a timer to simulate night and day for the plants.

Less than $100 gave me a nice planting shelf that provides light, warmth and humidity for seedlings. If I were starting peppers, I'd add a heat mat to one of the shelves..
Less than $100 gave me a nice planting shelf that provides light, warmth and humidity for seedlings. If I were starting peppers, I’d add a heat mat to one of the shelves.

3. Don’t drown them. The soil should feel damp but not wet. Too much moisture can rot young plants at the root.

I recycled a plastic shoebox into a worm bin. When the worms outgrew it, I used it to corral old malt syrup cans full of potting soil.
I recycled a plastic shoebox into a worm bin. When the worms outgrew it, I used it to corral old malt syrup cans full of potting soil.

4. Find your planting zone, and DO NOT plant vegetables outside before the last frost date, or you’ll regret it.

5. Buy interesting heirloom varieties that are suited to your area. My favorite sources for heirloom seeds are Baker Creek and Seed Savers Exchange. Save seeds from the plants that grow well, and you can replant next year without having to buy more.

What are you planting this year?

Emily

P.S.: Here’s Day 11 of my Lent project:

I like bajas, but I have way more of them than I need, and for some reason, this one makes me itchy.
I like bajas, but I have way more of them than I need, and for some reason, this one makes me itchy.
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