Friday, August 8, 2008

Garden Fresh Vegetables

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We are having fun getting over-run by tomatoes and zucchini! My 4-year old likes to pick whole tomatoes off the vine and eat them like apples! While he is not the biggest fan of vegetables, when he is involved in the gardening process he is so much more excited. I have even seen him sit down and eat most of a plateful of grilled zucchini (with a little reminding that it is "from our garden"). I grow 2 cherry tomato plants that keep us well-stocked for most of the summer. Where ever we move, every summer I try to grow some. When we lived on top floor apartments, I had containers growing on the roof. In areas where the lead is high, you can grow in large planters or build a raised bed (line with garden mesh and import the dirt). I have done everything, all in the quest for good tomatoes! The first step is always testing the soil. Many urban areas have leaded soil, and therefore the vegetables will too (not good!). U Mass Amherst does a great soil analysis for just $9 . Once you get the results, you will know how to garden in your area (container, raised bed or in the ground).

Next, comes the actual planting. I have never had luck with seeds, so I cheat and buy little plants memorial day weekend. First loosen the soil with a tiller or pitchfork. Next, dig holes for each plant (for me, it was 6 tomato and 4 zucchini plants). You need to make sure to fertilize well. After many years of poor harvest, I do think I have finally hit on the jackpot. Into each hole I put: compost (the product of our kitchen waste from the year), dehydrated manure, one egg-shell, and one fish-head (the local fish market nicely gave me a bag-full of this magic ingredient). The garden has grown like never before and even my father (who has had a huge organic garden for 40 years) was impressed. Mulch the area around the plants with some sort of non-chemically treated mulch (I use straw). Then... a little watering, a little weeding and.... mid-July will be a fun treat for the whole family!

I think gardening with kids is important on many levels. First and most important, it gets them excited about vegetables! Secondly, you can be sure of nutrient-rich, pesticide-free organic produce (we also have strawberries, blackberries and blueberries that I don't have to do much with since they come back every year without effort). Lastly, kids get to learn where food comes from. I think seeing how food grows has the potential to make kids more understanding of the earth we live on, a little more appreciative of foods, and less wasteful!

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