I love gardening–it’s something our whole family does together. The boys help, and usually have their own little garden square that they’re responsible for, but they also spend a lot of time playing beside the garden while the grownups work.
Gardening gives you an appreciation for food–there’s a lot of satisfaction in eating a meal you helped nature create. Growing your own food lets you be in control of what goes into it–you know exactly what was used in the growing process.
You can also choose varieties of plants that will (hopefully) thrive in your specific location and climate. Even if you’ve never gardened before, you can easily grow a lot in a very small amount of space. Here’s a few projects that are excellent for beginning gardeners:
1) Herbs–many herbs can be grown in pots in a sunny window, or you can grow them outside during the spring/summer, and bring them inside over the winter. Basic cooking herbs include: thyme, chives, dill, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, tarragon, basil, and sage, but grow whatever your family likes and eats a lot of.
You can grow most herbs from seed, or buy plants from a famer’s market or hardware store. I’ve purchased seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange, and have had great luck with both companies. One nice thing about Baker’s website is it includes reviews from other gardeners, so you can read about how gardeners in your area fared with specific varieties of plants.
2) Peppers–peppers can also be easily grown in pots out on a porch, and you can typically buy a plant for what one grocery store pepper costs. Peppers also absorb a lot of pesticides, so this makes them ideal for the home gardener. We grow a few hot and as many sweet peppers we can. Peppers have lots of nutrients, and can easily be added to rice, bean or meat dishes. They’re easy to freeze–I simple wash, chop and freeze in 1/2 or 1/4 cup portions.
3) Greens–most greens can be grown in containers, and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. We grow kale every year, mostly for smoothies, but I also dry it, and throw a handful in any kind of soup or stew. Many greens grow best in spring and fall, and containers of any kind dry out more quickly than if you plant in the ground, so make sure you water enough.
The next three veggies need a little bit more room than just a flower pot.
4) Tomatoes–tomatoes need containers with an 18″ diameter or larger, about the size of a five galloon bucket. You can easily buy plants or kits at hardware store, but seed catalogues have so many varieties–there are blue, white, yellow, zebra striped, green, orange, pink, and purple tomatoes. Growing an unusual color of any vegetable can make veggies more enticing for kids. Cherry tomatoes also can be grown in a pot, and are great for snacking.
5) Summer squash/Zucchini–these could be grown in a large container or small spot of backyard, and are some of the easiest vegetables to grow. Both are great grilled with only olive oil and salt, and can be thrown together with any other summer vegetable for a quick meal.
Food doesn’t get much fresher than coming from your own backyard. The best corn on the cob I’ve ever eaten was from my grandmother’s garden–she boiled a big pot of water, went and picked the corn, shucked it, and dropped it in the pot, and within a few minutes, set it on the table. That’s about as local as it gets.