Sweet potatoes growing at Chinese Camp El student garden
If you plant a garden of delicious edibles, you can look forward to your harvest. When planting your own garden, not only do you get the freshest produce while knowing how it was grown, but—if you plant widely available seeds—the cost savings are almost like printing your own money. You can eat less processed food and help reduce food deserts by growing your own food.
From rural farms to urban backyards to city patio container gardens, we can all participate in this endeavour. The varieties of produce range from lettuces, tomatoes spinach, cucumbers, celery, scallions and radishes for a salad garden to root veggies of carrots, parsnips, potatoes, bulb onions, leeks or even beets for a soup garden.
Think of creative specialty gardens. The pizza garden adds oregano, thyme or other favorite herbs. The salsa garden adds jalapeños. A 5-gallon container of potatoes can make leek and potato soup. Make borscht with your beets; use vegetables to make stock for soups. We could all grow something simple like herbs or lettuce in a patio container garden for ourselves or to share.
You can get seeds from big box stores, seed catalogs, seed sharing groups or friends sharing their favorites. If you grow from a seed, get that seed from a reputable source. Purchase garden plants from farm-to-fork and shop local farmer’s markets along with university extension master gardeners.
When I was young my grandmother taught me how to plant the pickle garden I asked for. We planted cucumbers and dill. After our harvest I was taught the fine art of pickling and canning. It was years before I found out other kinds of pickles also came from the grocery store.
When I started my gardening journey my grandparents were my mentors. One had a large vegetable garden and flower garden. She was my pickle teacher and my other grandmother had fruit trees. I was lucky to remember picking and eating warm tomatoes right off the vine. Or sitting at the top of a ladder with sticky hands and peach juice dripping off my chin. I was exposed to planting, growing, harvesting, pickling, jam making and canning for as long as I can remember.
In my first home with a yard, I dug up the grass in the front yard for my vegetable garden. I planted and harvested and canned my front yard bounty, battling weeds all summer. It was glorious. Now into my seventies, I have a patio container garden with various size pots and waist-high containers, including a horse trough, half wine barrels, laundry sink, and ceramic pots.
With my left-over bounty and some dedicated gift items, I’ve gone from water bath canning to steam canning or dehydrating (new skills I learned from the university extension master food preservers). My experience with the wonder of gardening has been an adventure that has lasted a lifetime and provided me with so many memories.
So, start that specialty garden wherever you are and in whatever container you can, no matter the size. Eat well, save money while enriching your life, and enjoy your salsas, soups, pickles, and jams. Bon appetit!
Diane Miller is also the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.