From Seed to Plate: DIY Salads

ContainerGarden.jpgDoes your diet need a veggie boost and is your exercise resolution “starting tomorrow?” Try something that can help you do both. Join millions of “green thumb” Americans and plant a garden. The vegetables and physical activity you can get with gardening are both linked to lower risk for several cancers and help with healthy weight goals.

Forget the image you may have of sprawling rows of corn, beans and cabbages. Your garden need only be a couple pots of tomato plants or a window box with herbs.

Gardening Groundwork

Even the smallest garden needs these:

  • Sun: Vegetables need at least six hours each day.
  • Water: Regular watering, but not too much, is key. A sturdy watering can is a good investment.
  • Soil: Vegetables need rich, quality soil. Purchase an all-purpose potting soil mix composed of peat moss, vermiculite and/or perlite.
  • Containers: Choose clay, fiber or plastic containers – or even buckets or trash cans – just make sure they have drainage holes. If holes are on bottom, slightly elevate the container off the ground for excess water to drain. With holes on the side near the bottom, place container directly on the ground.

Get Growing:

  1. Select containers appropriately sized for your crop and fill with soil, leaving a little space at top.
  2. Thoroughly water the soil in your container.
  3. Seeds: read packet information and sow at depth suggested.
  4. Transplanting: use short, stocky plants; keep root ball intact and water after planting
  5. Put containers in warm, sunny spot.
  6. Water thoroughly whenever soil feels dry (until water runs out bottom). Don’t overwater.
  7. Fertilizing: Potting mixes need added nutrients. Use a water-soluble fertilizer – apply per package directions.

Gardening in America by the Numbers

36 million — Households that grew food in 2008

58% — Gardeners who do so for better-tasting food

4.9 — Average number of hours spent gardening each week

Favorite crops – percentage of gardeners who include these crops

  1. Tomatoes – 86%
  2. Cucumbers – 47%
  3. Sweet peppers – 46%
  4. Beans – 39%

Households of all incomes, size, region and educational level garden in America.

Check back in May:
eNews will offer a video on gardening basics.

The Crops

Lettuce: Use a pot at least 4-6 inches in diameter. Seed packets contain information on appropriate varieties for your climate. Your local Extension agent can also provide suggestions. When planting, overseed a bit, then thin seedlings to appropriate spacing. Thinning is very important to allow the lettuce leaves to fully develop.

Tomatoes: It's not surprising that tomatoes are America’s favorite homegrown crop, because their flavor is unmatched. Choose from cherry, grape, plum or the big, meaty slicing tomatoes. Select a pot at least 8 inches in diameter. Start with a seedling from a garden store and transplant. Provide some type of support for the tomato vine – a wire cage or stake.

Basil: A beautiful and tasty herb. Use a pot at least 4-6 inches in diameter and transplant seedlings from a garden store. Harvest regularly – snip the stems just above where two smaller leaves are beginning to form so the plant will be “bushier” and not grow tall and spindly.

With these three crops you have salad makings all summer long. Lettuce is an early crop; once harvested, you can replant with heat tolerant varietes. Tomatoes usually begin bearing in July and Basil in July/August.

Top off your salads with these creative dressings and enjoy your hard work.

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