You don't have to have green thumbs to get stuff to grow in your dirt. You do need a spot with sunshine for 6-8 hours a day, dirt, water and the desire to watch awesomeness happen. My parents always had a decent sized garden and we often would have to weed the asparagus as a consequence to some - ahem stupid - choices we made. Even with spending hours with the itchy tendrils of asparagus gone to seed tickling my arms, neck and legs I still love being in the dirt.
If you are just beginning the raised garden box is the way to go. A garden box is fantastic for a few reasons. It keeps your commitment contained, physically and mentally. You can grow a tremendous amount of produce in a raised bed. Plus its a cinch to weed, easy to water and easy to harvest. Push that easy button and get to work!
Here is a link to how to build your own garden box for $10. AWESOMENESS!!! http://ana-white.com/2010/05/hack-natural-rustic-cedar-raised-beds.html
The cedar slat bed is clever and cheep but it does have some drawbacks.
- cedar is soft making it super yummy for potato bugs (rollie pollies) and other pests to snack on
- water speeds up the rotting process of the wood
Visualize a neighbors cedar fence as it sits next to the lawn. It's rotten and week where bugs gnaw on it, water pools and weed wackers wack. It will get you up and running but you will have to reinforce it and expect to replace it.
It will cost a bit more but using 2x6 red wood planks is what we have done. Untreated red wood is incredibly hard making it difficult for pest to snack on and water to penetrate. This will ensure your raised bed is ready for you year after year. Ours have been in place since 2010 and my dad has had his for a gazillion years and they show no signs of needing to be replaced.
Repurposing pallets is super popular right now but you might want to think twice. Yes, pallets are cheep/free BUT you don't know what chemicals the wood has been treated with. I'm pretty sure you don't want mystery chemicals in your dirt or your produce or your body. Use the pallets for other crafty pintrest worthy awesomeness. If you are going to go to the effort of making this work use materials that will be as good for you as the produce you grow.
What should I grow?
If you grow nothing else in your raised bed grow kale, tomatoes and zucchini. All are easy to grow, freeze and blend beautifully into smoothies. These plants also produce really well, are easy to harvest and provide gobs of stuff in a very small space.
Kale...touted these days as one of Mother Nature's super foods. It's high in vitamins and antioxidants, fiber and sulfur. So what? Well, they are used in your body to strengthen your immune system, improve digestion and are good for your liver. It's an excellent plant based source of iron. The vitamin A in kale is excellent for your eyes and its vitamin K keeps your bones strong. It even has omega 3 fatty acids to help your body fight inflammation.
Kale is easy to grow from seed or with starts from a nursery. Grow 3-5 plants either in your garden box or in your landscaping. The more you can grow the better because it's sooooo easy to chop and store in the freezer. This is my favorite way to keep from buying spinach. Bags of kale at the ready and not just for smoothies. I often add a handful to my own bowl of soup during the winter. My hubby and kiddos won't go there yet but it's awesome for me!
We grow Italian Black Kale which has smooth silvery greyish green leaves. We also grow curly leaf kale, the kind you see in the supermarket. Both are awesome, the Black Kale is easier to wash because it doesn't have the cutsie curly edges. Another thing I love about freezing kale is that it "softens" the flavor. For whatever reason, it makes the flavor not as strong so its easier to add more to your smoothies all winter long (shhh, the secret is safe with me!)
My favorite tomato for smoothies is a variety called the 4th of July and Celebrity. They start producing around the first part of July and go until it's too cold in the fall. The 4th of July produces a tomato a bit smaller than a tennis ball but bigger than a golf ball. It's flesh isn't thick and it isn't packed with tons of seeds and inner tomato goop. The Celebrity is a little bigger than the size of a tennis ball, has tender flesh and isn't packed with a ton of seed or inner tomato goop. Both tomatoes are mild in flavor - not bland cardboard store tomato but mild, yummy summery BLT or LT!
I don't freeze heirloom tomatoes to blend into smoothies because their flavors are often much stronger and harder to "hide" in an all ready blender filled rainbow. If you feel strongly about heirloom tomatoes then use them how you see fit. I like the 4th of July because it's ready within about 50 days of planting so I can start using them right away.
Zucchini or crook neck (yellow summer squash) are my other beginner go to plants. They are good producers and both blend beautifully into smoothies. I discovered the virtues of summer squash when I ran out of spinach and didn't want to go to the store to buy more. In a pinch figure it out right? Well, I discovered a whopper. It's taste free (a veggie the kids won't even know exists in their glass), increases the volume of your smoothie (more is better in this case) and is a cinch to freeze.
What if I hate kale, tomatoes and zucchini?
To this I have three answers.
- It doesn't matter, you are blending them with other things you do like and you won't even know they are in there. They camouflage better than those dudes on Duck Dynasty.
- Even picky grown ups who resist change can see the light. Take my husband for example. He didn't eat tomatoes when we were first married. Fast forward 20 years, he drinks them daily in smoothies all year long, he loves homemade tomato bisque soup AND bruschetta bread salad week after week summer and fall. Still won't touch beets but that just means more for me. See, even picky BIG people can see the light!
- Tomatoes and zucchini are easy for beginners to grow, growing them in your own dirt will save you money and when you freeze them and use them in your smoothies all year long it mean you are buying less produce from the grocery story.
- And they are good for you. Your momma said it and so did I.
Really, I need to garden?
Yes, gardens take time and work but once your garden box(es) are established it's a piece of cake to grow year after year. It's awesome to taste the difference in something home grown verses something purchased at the grocery store. And don't forget, it saves you gobs of money!