A Guide To Growing Super Foods

By: Pamela Page

Super foods are foods that are higher in nutrients per calorie than other foods and are blessed with scientifically proven health benefits. The list of “super foods” gets longer and more exotic every day – Peruvian maca maca fruit, Chinese hemp seeds, Tibetan gogi berries, acai and camu camu berries, amaranth and quinoa. These items can be expensive or hard to find. Meanwhile, there are many other easy to grow, easy to cook, easy to juice or to eat. Just plain raw fruits and vegetables that fully qualify as excellent super foods. Here are some of my favorites.

1) Sweet potatoes – It’s best to buy baby plants called “slips” online. There are over a 100 varieties with different tastes and colors, including several that are suitable for Northern climates. The best thing about growing your own is that when you cure them yourself, they are much sweeter than commercially grown sweet potatoes.

According to nutritionists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the sweet potato is the most nutritious vegetable of all, scoring 100 points higher than the runner up. Sweet potatoes contain lutein and carotenoids, organic pigments that eliminate the excess free radicals in the body that contribute to cancer. Eating one cup of sweet potatoes a week could reduce your risk of lung, skin and prostrate cancers.

2) Blueberries – Everyone should have a blueberry plant. They’re beautiful when they flower; they live a long time; and once established, they will provide pounds and pounds of delicious, otherwise expensive berries free for the picking!

Packed with anti-oxidants and flavonoids, blueberries may lower the risk of heart disease and cancer, keep you mentally sharp as you age, and act as a cancer fighting anti-inflammatory.

3) Kale – You can direct sow kale seeds or start your kale indoors six weeks before the last frost. “Red Russian” is one of the most beautiful varieties. “Siberian” is one of the hardiest. Kale germinates quickly and requires little care. One to three plants can keep you juiced for a very long time.

A great diet aid and full of fiber, kale helps digestion and lowers cholesterol levels. Kale is packed with powerful antioxidants that protect cells from the free radicals that cause cancer and contains a whopping dose of vitamin K that plays a critical role in bone health.

4) Cabbage – Endlessly beautiful as they develop, cabbage can be either direct seeded or started indoors. Cabbage only needs to be sprayed with a biological insecticide or covered with floating row covers in the spring to protect them from cabbage loopers and other worms.

A regular diet of cabbage reduces cholesterol levels. As long as you don’t microwave it, cabbage also provides anti-inflammatory nutrients. The antioxidants in cabbage also help fight and prevent cancer. High amounts of Vitamin B in cabbage give the body energy. And finally, the high amount of beta-carotene and Vitamin C in cabbage helps keep your skin looking young and fresh.

5) Carrots – Carrots require a fine light soil and regular watering, but otherwise, they aren’t fussy. There are over 100 varieties in lovely colors.

We all know that carrots are good for sight, but carrots have a host of additional health benefits. Carrots contain beta-carotene that slows down the aging of cells, carotenoids that are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, Vitamin A that protects the skin and falcarinol that contributes to their anti-cancer properties. Juicing carrots increases the availability of carotenoids by 600 percent.

6) Brussels Sprouts – One of the most impressive long season plants in the garden, brussels sprouts should be direct seeded in warm climates or started indoors five to seven weeks before your last expected frost in cool climates.

Brussels sprouts contain more glucosinolates that combat cancer and detoxify than any other vegetable.

7) Sunflower Seeds – Plunk the seeds in a sunny part of the garden along a fence and watch them go. Sunflowers are remarkably hardy, but birds love to peck at sunflower seedlings, so it’s best to cover young plants with netting.

Sunflower seeds are one of the best sources of Vitamin E, a vitamin important in preventing heart disease and protecting the skin. A quarter of a cup of sunflower seeds daily gives you ninety percent of the recommended value of Vitamin E. Sunflower seeds also contain lots of magnesium, which is good for bone health.

8 ) Purslane – Many American gardeners consider this common wild weed the cockroach of the horticultural world. I say it’s the caviar. Sold in markets in Mexico, India and Iran, purslane has been a food for more than 2,000 years. Over a century ago, Henry Thoreau wrote, “I learned that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength. I have made a satisfactory dinner off a dish of purslane which I gathered and boiled.” Locate a plant growing wild in your garden, backyard or a nearby park. Cut off the leaves at the tips, and the plant will sprout again in no time. Throw away the stems since all the nutrients are in the leaves.

Purslane contains more cholesterol-lowering omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant and is also one of the highest among green leafy vegetables for Vitamin A and a rich source of Vitamin C. The best things in life really are free!

9) Radish – I never met one I didn’t love – daikon, red, purple, breakfast, black or watermelon. I eat them sliced raw, grilled, juiced, sautéed, as greens and as sprouts.

If you can’t grow radishes, it might be a good idea to take up golf. Radishes are sown directly in the garden and ready to eat in less than a month. All they need is adequate moisture.

High in Vitamin C and teeming with antioxidants, radishes are another anti-cancer vegetable. In addition to this, radishes are among the most alkaline vegetables.

Why does this matter? The acidity of the modern Western diet may be responsible for many of our current diseases. Before the introduction of grains and processed foods all of which are acid or acid forming, the human diet was far more alkaline. Alkaline foods are important because they limit the acidity of the bloodstream. Excess acidity is believed to foster the inception and growth of cancer cells.

So grow a garden of super foods! What are you waiting for?

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Tips for Sowing Vegetable Seeds in Your Kitchen Garden

By: Pamela Page

The easiest way to grow vegetables is to plant seeds directly into the ground. Some vegetables such as beans, cucumbers, radishes, melons and squash mature within a typical growing season and don’t transplant well and hence should always be planted directly in the ground as soon as the soil reaches a temperature of roughly 60 degrees. Depending on where you garden, it’s probably time to sow these seeds.

Prepare your planting beds by making sure they are level and weed and rock-free.

Pole beans, cucumbers and some squash benefit from being trellised. Here’s my design for a cucumber/squash trellis:

This is a great way to grow pole beans:

It’s a good idea to mark where you planted your seeds. Whenever I plant in a row, I mark each end with a stick and stretch a string between the markers. In this way, I always know where the food is supposed to be. Anything else is a weed.

When I sow seeds in between established plants, I use last year’s sedum flowers to mark the spot so I can see if the seeds germinate.

I don’t plant simply in rows. This year I’m “growing” my initials with salad greens!

Seeds are planted at varying depths based upon their size. The depth is usually listed on the seed packet, but basically, seeds like to be covered up to three times their diameter. If you bury them too deeply, they may not germinate because they don’t have the strength to reach the surface of the soil. After you’ve set the seeds at the required depth, firm the soil by tamping it with your hands. It’s important to make contact between the seeds and the moist soil.

Seed spacing also matters: Plants don’t like to live in crowded conditions. If they don’t have enough space, they may produce little or no yield. Spacing requirements are listed on the seed packet. It’s easy to space large seeds such as beans and melons correctly. Tiny seeds take time and patience.

I use a ruler to make two-inch trenches for small seeds such as lettuce, radish and kale. Then I lay a piece of toilet paper in the trench and sow the seeds on top.

Watering is the key to successful germination. You should never let the seedbed dry out. There is one exception to this rule. Once planted, beans that are prone to rotting, should not be watered until they emerge. When you water be careful not to blast the hose. You will wash the seeds out of the bed or mess up the spacing.

Each vegetable has its own way of being planted. In addition to rows for small seeds, I plant squash and watermelon in little hills about six inches high since they rot easily if the soil is too wet, and the hills insure that the soil dries quickly.

For beans and sunflowers, I make a hole with my finger about 1 1/2 inches deep.

Cucumbers love moisture, so I make a little well so the water is always directed toward the seed.

If you seed all of your crops at the same time, you can end up with a lot of everything all at once. Planting smaller quantities of seed every two or three weeks helps you avoid this situation with the added benefit that you’ll end up with a continuous harvest throughout the growing season.

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Basic Composting: Perfect Use for Your Pulp

By: Pamela Page

Compost is a dark brown dirt-like substance used as a fertilizer, mulch and soil conditioner. It is produced when bacteria and fungi break down different sorts of organic waste such as kitchen scraps and garden debris.

Making your own compost is easy, and just like recycling of which it is a form, composting is the right thing to do.

Reasons to compost:

1) If you’re juicing regularly, you’re generating lots of vegetable scraps and pulp. Composting puts your kitchen scraps back into the soil and keeps them out of a landfill where they would otherwise create methane, a gas that pollutes the ground water.

2) Compost is a free, efficient, environmentally friendly alternative to high phosphorous chemical fertilizers that also pollute the ground water.

3) Unlike bark mulch, a product often used to improve the soil’s ability to hold moisture, compost does not deplete the nitrogen in the soil as it decomposes.

4) To make bark mulch, you have to destroy forests. To make compost, you use the leaves and stalks of yesterday to help you grow the fruits and vegetables of tomorrow.

So how does compost work?

You are essentially using soil microorganisms to deconstruct kitchen and garden scraps by making a stew that they devour. The stew consists of materials high in carbon and nitrogen since bacteria and fungi need nitrogen to reproduce and carbon for energy.

The carbon comes from well-aged wood chips, shredded leaves, hay, sawdust, cardboard, newspaper or fall leaves – otherwise known as “brown” composting material. “Green” composting material is high in nitrogen and includes green vegetable scraps, coffee grinds, grass clippings, and manure.
You can also throw in hair (human and animal) and dryer lint.
But never ever meat, oil or dairy scraps. No dog or cat manure. (This could spread disease.) No diseased plant materials. And citrus fruits only in small quantities.

Compost can be made in a bin or a pile depending on the size of your garden. You can buy bins online or at home improvement stores.

Ideally, your compost should have a ratio of 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, but don’t panic! This ratio comes pretty close to half “brown” and half “green” by weight, so you can just eyeball it.

On a farm, the recipe is typically 50% well-aged wood chips or shredded leaves, 25% manure and 25% green vegetable scraps and grass clippings.

If you don’t live on a farm or have access to farm animal manure, you can substitute coffee grounds. Coffee grounds have the same carbon-to-nitrogen ratio as cow manure. Vegetable wastes and grass clippings are almost as good.

Some people say you should arrange the green stuff and the brown stuff in layers. Others insist that the key is to mix all of the elements thoroughly. Either way works.

Add water and throw some soil on top to introduce the bacteria and fungi. Turn five times in the first 15 days. Then turn about once a week.
The pile needs ample moisture, but it is best to cover it with a tarp when it rains a lot, since too much water will leach the nutrients out.

If you use a bin, it’s a good idea to keep it open at the bottom so the earthworms can enter. They help the microorganisms.

Compost can be “hot” or “cold.” If you just pile up a bunch of organic material without watering or turning it, it’s called cold composting, and it takes about a year or two for everything to decompose. (That’s what I do.) If instead, you balance the carbon and nitrogen, turn the pile, and water, the microorganisms will reproduce rapidly, and the pile will heat up to as much as 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71C). This is hot composting.
The more you turn it, the more oxygen the bacteria get, and the faster the bacteria works. If you tend your pile well, you can have this “black gold” in four to six weeks. And that’s the other great benefit – especially if you have a large compost pile – turning the compost is a great workout!

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How To Grow Cucumbers

By: Pamela Page

Cucumbers are one of my favorite crops. They come in a variety of textures, tastes and colors, and they’re 90% water; hence, not fattening. Contrary to popular belief, cucumbers are a fruit, related to muskmelons, and not a vegetable.

When I think of cucumbers, I think not only of English people eating thin, sometimes soggy, triangular little sandwiches, but also of ancient Roman midwives carrying cucumbers to the birthing mother and throwing them away when the child was born. Will someone please tell me what this was all about?

There are three kinds of cucumbers: pickling, burpless (aka seedless) and slicing. I’m not a big pickle eater, and I never burp, so I grow slicing cucumbers. They take longer to mature than the others, but are well worth the wait.

My favorite cucumber is the beautiful “Phoona Keera.”

Then there are Japanese cucumbers.

And miniature white cucumbers.

And the amazing “Dragon’s Egg” cucumber.

There’s even a rare cucumber that looks like an apple, “Richmond Green Apple.”

Since I have a fair amount of space in my garden, I grow vining cucumbers because they produce more fruit than bush varieties. Vining cucumbers, however, require support.

If you don’t have time to tie things up or a lot of space, bush varieties are a better option.

Sow cucumber seeds directly into the ground about four weeks after the last frost date. Plant two plants for every person you’d like to feed cucumbers to.

Plant the seeds ¾ to 1 inches deep and 2 to 8 inches apart in rows 4-6 feet apart. When the seedlings are about 5 inches tall, pinch out the weaker plants until you have 12 inches between each plant. If you plan to train your cucumber vines to a structure, the plants can be closer together. For trellised cukes, thin the plants to 6 inches apart.

Cucumber plants need to be watered frequently, especially when they are making cucumbers. But be careful not to overwater. Do not water the leaves late in the day, since wet leaves lead to disease. And make sure to plant your seeds in soil that drains well. Mulch helps keep the plants moist. A five-inch layer of straw works well.

While they’re growing, feed your cucumbers liquid fish emulsion, available at most nurseries. The instructions are easy. After they flower, you should apply a liquid kelp spray.

Most cucumbers are ready to harvest in 50 to 70 days. It’s a good idea to check your cucumbers daily because the plant will stop producing if the fruit stays on the vine too long.

Once production drops off, it’s time to toss the vine.

The most common problem with cucumbers is downy mildew and powdery mildew – a whitish covering on your plants leaves. At the first sight of powdery mildew, I make a solution of one part skim milk to nine parts water and spray my plants. Luckily, mildew usually doesn’t appear until late in the growing season when production has already stopped. If it happens at this point, I just send the plants to the compost pile.

Fun fact: Cucumbers have two different flowers, male and female.

The male flowers open first and drop off. The female flowers make cucumbers and shouldn’t drop off, but if they do, touch the inside of each male and female flower with a cotton swab. This pollinates the flowers and helps them develop into fruit. Et voila! You are not just a humble gardener. You are a fertility doctor as well!

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Planning A Kitchen Garden: Site and Design

By: Pamela Page

The easiest way to grow vegetables is to drive to the closest nursery and buy baby vegetable plants. It is not, however, the cheapest way. The most cost effective method for growing vegetables is to plant seeds directly into the ground.

Once your soil has reached 60 degrees – or if you don’t own a soil thermometer – once your neighbors appear with seed packets in their gardens – it’s time to get sowing. But first, you need a plan.

Remember, “Little Miss Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” If Mary’s garden didn’t have at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily, the answer would have to be: “Not so well.” “Location. Location. Location?” I say, “Site, site, site.”

You will need a fence. Otherwise, you’ll be feeding not only you and your family, but other animals as well.

How large should you make your kitchen garden? That depends on how many mouths you have to feed, what you decide to grow and how much time you have to devote to the cause. If you get it right, a 20 x 20 foot garden can feed a family of four all year round.

Building raised beds will give you a head start in short season Northern climates. Buying pre-made raised beds is expensive. If you make them yourself, do not use pressure-treated lumber! My raised beds, made from cedar and black locust, measure six by six feet, and I can reach into them comfortably.

Once you’ve finalized your plan, it’s time to prepare the soil. If you’re making a garden in a lawn for the first time, you’ll need to cut into the grass, turn it over and wait a few weeks until the grass decomposes. Then dig the bed to a depth of 8 to 12 inches and remove all of the rocks, stones etc. Finally, add a 2-inch layer of compost and dig it in lightly to give the soil the nutrients it needs. Initially, you’ll have to buy your compost, but eventually, you can make your own, the most cost-effective way to feed the soil that feeds you. Composting lesson coming soon.

A lot of the fun of a kitchen garden is not only in designing it, but in planting it. Who says you have to plant in traditional American rows? I plant in symmetrical squares, diamonds and spirals.

I got the idea from an ancient people, the Egyptians, who, having more time than we do, realized that symmetry was relaxing to the eye, and that symmetrically planted kitchen gardens could be good, not only for food, but also for looking at and “de-stressing” in – only they didn’t have that word back then.

Following another Egyptian tradition, I plant a single variety of a chosen vegetable in each bed.

And to save space and preserve my produce, I grow many vegetables on homemade cedar trellises.

Whether your garden is great or small, use your imagination. And as the Egyptians did, make your garden a place that you can work, eat or sleep in, because once you get the hang of it, like me, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing there!

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Starting Seeds Indoors – part 2 of 2

By: Pamela Page

When they germinate, seedlings emerge with one or two embryonic leaves called cotyledons. Then they put on their first post-embryonic leaves, known as “true leaves,” and that is when I deliver my transplants into the hands of the transplant nanny – a large grow light in my laundry room. A fan keeps the nursery fresh, and a boom box keeps my seedlings entertained.

Today my little darlings are listening to Debussy. I imagine they prefer “Afternoon of a Fawn” and “Reverie.” I skip “Jeux de Vagues” (it will make them seasick), “Nuages” (too ominous) and “Fetes” (they’re not old enough to understand it.)

At least I don’t talk to my plants. Which is more than you can say for the English. Last year in Great Britain, a dozen tomatoes listened to taped voices through headphones clamped to their pots. The vegetables were participants in a contest designed to identify the most plant-friendly human voice. The voice that “grew” the biggest tomato won. The winner was a woman. Ladies, are we really surprised?
I don’t fertilize my seedlings while they’re in the laundry room. But approximately four weeks after they’ve germinated, I do transfer my tomatoes, eggplants and peppers to larger cells or pots. I add about 25 percent more garden soil to the potting mix at this point to give the young plants a taste of their future home.

When the weather is completely settled, and the risk of a frost is well passed, I prepare to plant or “set out” my seedlings. No matter how healthy and grown up they may seem, transplants must make a gradual transition to the real world. If you throw them straight into the garden, they’ll end up with sunscald, a plant’s version of sunburn. Therefore, on Day 1, my seedlings spend no more than an hour in the sun. On Day 2, I increase the time to two or three hours. By Day 3, they’re almost sun worshippers. On Day 4, they have their first overnight. And by Day 5… sniffle, sniffle, sob… my sweethearts are ready to leave the nest!

I hope for a cloudy day, and when it arrives, in the evening I set out my seedlings. I toss a pinch of compost into the bottom of each planting hole, and I set each seedling in a little well. Then I water.

Young tomatoes and pepper plants are fairly pest-resistant. You will, however, probably want to protect your young eggplants and cabbages from flea beetles and cabbage loopers with floating row covers. Floating row covers, made from light fabric and flexible hoops that allow the fabric to float above the plants, are available online.

You can also protect your seedlings with hot caps, so called because they keep the plant warmer. I make my own hot caps out of plastic gallon jugs.

Do the plants I grow yield in proportion to the extra care I give them? Do my friends and family really savor what they become – soups, salads, sides, sauces, jellies and sorbets – because they actually taste better? Plants might listen, but they definitely can’t talk, and people can be ever so polite, but I’d like to think that the answer in both cases is, “Hell, yes!”

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Starting Seeds Indoors; part 1 of 2

By: Pamela Page

Every year in March and April, I start an insane variety of herbs, fruits, flowers and vegetables from seed. To me, nothing is more miraculous, more mysterious or more gratifying.

They say you reap what you sow. I disagree. I plant small unpalatable things that cost almost nothing and weigh no more than grains of sand or small buttons. And yet, what I harvest tastes better and is more nutritious than almost anything I could buy and saves me more than $1,000 a year at the grocery store.

I buy mostly heirloom seeds – seeds from plants that have been passed down from generation to generation, and from plants whose seeds are not genetically modified or patented.

A vegetable’s life cycle is defined in terms of “days to maturity” which loosely translates into “how long does it take before this thing gives me something to eat?” And every vegetable is different. Therefore I sow the things that take the longest time to mature first – carrots, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes and marigolds, and the plants that require less time to mature such as melons, sunflowers, kale, basil and lettuce – after that.

Since you don’t want to set out your seedlings until weather conditions are right, if you live where it freezes, determine the last frost date for your zip code and then count backwards.

In Connecticut, our last killing frost is usually May 15th; therefore, I sow tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, eight weeks before then, around March 15th. Then I sow the seeds that require less time to germinate and mature a month before then – basil, beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, okra and sunflowers – around April 15th. I sow beets, carrots and lettuce every four or five weeks during the growing season.

I start most of my seedlings, or transplants, in covered plastic flats, not in a greenhouse, but in the three warmest places in my house – in my bedroom, bathroom and in the laundry room.

I plant in everything from toilet paper rolls and egg cartons to plastic cell flats under domes. Basil is easy to start in egg cartons. When is gets about two inches tall, you can transplant it to larger pots. You can start carrots in toilet paper rolls. It’s best to start tomatoes, peppers and eggplant in plastic flats with domes. You can find them at your local nursery or order them online.

Believe it or not, you don’t start seeds in garden soil. It’s too heavy and contains fungi and bacteria that could cause your seedlings to fail. You can buy sterile potting mix or, you can make your own organic growing medium.

Before I plant my large seeds, I soak them for a day or two in a weak warm solution of Vitamin C. Soaking gives the seed its first drink of water and nourishes the germ that will become a plant.

Planting big seeds is easy. Make a hole with a chopstick. Drop one seed in each cell. Read the seed packet for the recommended depth. Small seeds require fine motor skills. Tweezers make the task easier, but I don’t recommend this activity after more than one glass of wine.

Label your containers! There is nothing more frustrating than not knowing what’s growing. If you don’t feel like buying plant labels, coffee stirrers and wooden chopsticks will do just fine! Water the flat. Covering it with a dome keeps the soil moist, a must for successful germination.

The other critical thing is temperature. Seeds need heat to come to life. You could invest in a small heat mat. I keep my flats on the radiators in my house. On top of the refrigerator is another option.
Here’s a good chart for the required germination temperatures of each plant.

Not all seeds emerge or germinate at the same rate. Days to germination are listed on the chart and usually also on the seed packet.
Remove the plastic dome as soon as the seedlings emerge. Vegetables don’t thrive in a tropical rain forest and that is what keeping the domes on means.

The third thing they need is light – 12 to 16 hours a day. If you don’t have a really sunny spot, you will need a grow light. They come in all shapes and sizes.

The biggest challenge to keeping seedlings healthy is watering. Too much and your seedlings will rot. Too little and they will shrivel and die. Never pour water over the seeded area. Pour the water into the bottom of the container and allow the soil to soak it up.

Now as I write, a dozen flats surround me. Some of the seeds are still just seeds. I imagine they’re sleeping late. Others are nothing more than tiny pale white specks in a dark brown sea, while still others have begun to push their way through the potting mix, their tenuous stems curving like the necks of infinitesimal swans. I consider the strength the seed embryo must marshal to emerge from its hull and thrust through the soil so tomorrow he(?) or she(?) can stand straight with a silly round ball on his or her head – the first two leaves that will soon unfurl and look back at me.

A day later, I gaze at my ball-heads, and I bond. From this moment on, like any mother, no matter the joys or the heartache – and there will be plenty – a course is set. In the days, weeks and months to come, raising my brood to maturity – protecting, feeding, staking, pruning and ultimately harvesting – will be my first priority. But for now, I’ve got seedlings to raise and a few more seeds to sow.

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A Kitchen Garden – Getting Started, part 2

By: Pamela Page

Whether you have a week or a weekend, an acre or a window box, growing your own food is easy. All it takes is sunlight, warm days, water and some basic knowledge:

1) Fruits and vegetables like nutrient rich soil, dirt with microbes and minerals. Give a plant great soil, and the plant will give you great tasting produce full of nutritional value. Fruits and vegetables grown in poor soil don’t taste as good and aren’t as good for you.

But be careful! Over-fertilizing causes plants to produce lots of leaves and not a lot of fruit. And it makes things taste bland. Follow the directions on store-bought fertilizer. Better still – make your own fertilizer aka compost. I’ll soon show you how in another post.

Plants also need soil that has good structure – not too sandy, clayey, or compacted. So never step into your beds. The soil should be fluffy – like your favorite pillow. Never work or plant into wet soil.

2) Plants, like kids, need room to grow. I make a planting plan. And I stick to it – even if in the beginning, there’s a lot of blank space on my canvas.

So whether I’m sowing seeds or setting out seedlings, I respect a plant’s spacing requirements. You can find this information on the plant’s label or on the back of the seed packet.

3) If you have deer, raccoons, squirrels, moles, groundhogs, rabbits or birds, it’s wise to have a strong defense. And the strongest defense is da fence.

4) Stay safe. Ever step on a nail? Hardly a pleasant experience. Stepping on a rake, a cultivator or a compost fork is no fun either. Never leave tools on the ground

We absorb vitamin D when we work in the sunlight, and this in turn promotes the production of calcium in the body – a really good gardening perk if you’re a small-boned blue-eyed woman like I am. But too much sun leads to skin cancer so I always wear a hat and sunscreen. I always stretch before I do strenuous work.

In July, wasps make nests in the ground or attach their nests to my garden fence. I inspect the fencing throughout the summer and keep a can of wasp killer in my garden tote in case I’ve missed a nest. Bees also nest in the ground. I never garden barefoot. As for Lyme disease, if I’m doing anything other than harvesting, I always wear long pants, and I carefully check myself for ticks after a day in the garden.

5) If you’ve never gardened before, start small. I realize it’s tempting to plow up the front lawn, fill in the swimming pool, convert the tennis court and install planters on every inch of flat roof, but trust me, in the beginning, a 6 x 6 foot bed, or a few large containers, will do just fine.

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A Kitchen Garden – Getting Started, part 1

By: Pamela Page

Growing your own food is easy. All you really need are warm days, sunlight, water, and a willingness to see things from the plants point of view.

Here are a few things to know before you grow:

1) Choose your kitchen garden site carefully. Fruits and vegetables require a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight a day.

2) Choose varieties that don’t exceed the growing days in your area. Certain fruits and vegetables require more growing days than others to yield. Different regions have different numbers of growing days. While I’d love to, I don’t have bananas, papayas or coconuts in my Connecticut kitchen garden. Or even celery or artichokes. Our growing season is very short. And the snow wreaks havoc on the tropical trees.

3) Know your last and first “Frost Dates.” Setting out tender vegetables, such as eggplant, tomatoes and peppers, before the last frost just means heartache. Beans, cucumber and melon seeds will rot in cold, wet beds. For everybody in the U.S., The Farmer’s Almanac has a great site for determining your last frost.

4) Transplants vs. seeds. If you’re short on time or space, you can purchase baby plants, or transplants, through the mail or from a local nursery.  If you’re in the mood for unusual vegetables such as purple kale, yellow cucumbers or candy-striped striped beets, you’ll need to start your vegetables from seeds.  Eggplant, peppers and tomatoes should be started indoors eight to ten weeks before the last frost, and then set out a few weeks after that date.

Others vegetables such as cucumbers, kale, lettuce or squash take a lot less time to produce and can be started from seeds planted directly into the ground once the soil reaches approximately 55 degrees.

5) Water properly… not too little or too much. If you start seeds indoors, adopt a watering schedule and stick to it. In the early days, after my seeds sprouted – or germinated (the proper term), – I’d forget to water. And more than once, I came home to find a desert where an oasis had been. Like us, plants are mostly water – water in green skins – so when the water goes, they do, too – especially if they’re in the neo-natal phase.

Once in the ground, vegetables need approximately an inch of rain a week. If you water with a hose, water long enough to soak the soil to at least six inches. It’s best to water in the morning. Do not water during the heat of the day. Tomatoes like their feet wet, but their clothes dry. Don’t spray their leaves.

Don’t overwater. Plants breathe through their roots, and if their roots are trapped in waterlogged soil for too long, plants drown. The trick is to let the soil dry and oxygen enter before watering again.

Got it? Great! But there’s a little more to know.

Stay tuned for: A Kitchen Garden – Getting Started, Part 2

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