Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Understanding Veggie Varieties

Before you go drooling over the luscious veggies in catalogs, in garden centers, and online, it’s good to know a little about the varieties you can choose from. If you select your veggie varieties before you design your garden, you can ensure that you have the proper amount of space and the best growing conditions.

A variety is a selection of a particular type of vegetable that has certain predictable, desirable traits. These traits may include the following:

✓ Adaptation: Some varieties are particularly well adapted to certain areas and climates. For example, some tomato varieties produce good-tasting fruit in the cool, foggy coastal climates of the Pacific Northwest. And certain bean varieties are better adapted to the hot, dry deserts of the American southwest.

✓ Appearance: You can choose from a rainbow of fruit and leaf colors, such as purple peppers, yellow chard, and orange tomatoes. Leaf textures and shapes range from frilly to smooth to puckered. The flowers of some vegetables, such as okra and eggplant, are attractive in their own right. You get the idea. The more beautiful the vegetables, the more beautiful the vegetable garden — and the more stunning the food.

✓ Cooking and storage characteristics: Certain varieties of beans and peas, for example, freeze better than others. Some winter squash varieties may be stored for months, but others need to be eaten immediately.

✓ Days to maturity (or days to harvest): Days to maturity refers to the number of days it takes (under normal conditions) for a vegetable planted from seed (or from transplants) to mature and produce a crop. This number is especially important for vegetable gardeners who live in short-summer climates. Average days to maturity are listed for each type of vegetable in the appendix.

✓ Extended harvest season: A certain variety of corn, for example, may ripen early or late in the season. By planting varieties that ripen at different times, you can start harvesting as early as 60 days after seeding and continue for 5 or 6 weeks. Seed catalogs and packages often describe varieties as early season, midseason, or late season in relationship to other varieties of the same vegetable.

✓ Pest resistance: Many vegetable varieties are resistant to specific diseases or pests — a very important trait in many areas. Some tomato varieties, in particular, have outstanding disease resistance. You also can read about specific pestresistant varieties of individual vegetables.

✓ Plant size: The trend in vegetable breeding is to go small. Tomato, cucumber, and even winter squash varieties are available in dwarf sizes. These varieties are perfect for container growing or small-space gardens.

✓ Taste: Pick a flavor and you can find a vegetable that stars in it. You can grow fruity tomatoes, super-sweet varieties of corn, bitter melons, and spicy peppers. You’ll discover flavors for every taste bud.

To realize the scope of your vegetable variety possibilities, see the individual vegetable descriptions in Part II. It’s also important to note that you can categorize a variety as a hybrid, an open-pollinated, or an heirloom variety. Here’s what these terms mean:

✓ Hybrid: Hybrid seeds (also known as F-1 hybrids) are the result of a cross of selected groups of plants of the same kind, called inbred lines. (A cross is when pollen from one flower fertilizes a flower from another similar plant, resulting in seed.) Hybrid seeds generally are more expensive than open-pollinated seeds, and they can’t be saved and planted the next year because the offspring won’t have the same characteristics as the parents. If you did plant them next year, you’d get a mix of characteristics — some desirable and some not. The plants are uniform, but they often lack a diversity of shapes, colors, sizes, and flavors. However, hybrid plants are more vigorous, productive, and widely adapted than other varieties.

✓ Open-pollinated: Open-pollinated varieties basically are inbred lines allowed to pollinate each other in open fields. They produce offspring that are similar to their parents. Before the arrival of hybrids, all vegetable varieties were open-pollinated. Some gardeners like these varieties for their flavor, their diversity, and the fact that they can save the seeds each year to replant. The resulting offspring are pretty predictable, but they don’t provide the consistency of hybrids.

✓ Heirloom: Any open-pollinated variety that’s at least 50 years old is generally considered an heirloom. Heirlooms are enjoying quite a revival because of the variety of colors, tastes, and forms that are available. They’re worth trying, but keep in mind that some varieties may not have the disease resistance and wide adaptability that hybrids generally have.

One category generally available only to commercial farmers is that of the genetically modified variety. This kind of plant has a gene from a completely unrelated species inserted into it so that it exhibits a certain trait. For example, geneticists have inserted a gene of the biological pesticide Bt into potatoes so that when the Colorado potato beetle (their biggest enemy) eats a potato’s leaves, it also eats the pesticide and dies. Many questions exist about the longterm health risks and environmental safety of manipulating the gene pool so dramatically and quickly. For this reason, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) aren’t allowed in organic gardening.

Source of Information : vegetable gardening for dummies

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Deciding Where to Put Your Vegetable Garden

Choosing a site is the important first step in planning a vegetable garden. This may sound like a tough choice to make, but don’t worry; a lot of the decision is based on good old common sense. When you’re considering a site for your garden, remember these considerations:

✓ Keep it close to home. Plant your garden where you’ll walk by it daily so that you remember to care for it. Also, a vegetable garden is a place people like to gather, so keep it close to a pathway.

Vegetable gardens used to be relegated to some forlorn location out back. Unfortunately, if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. I like to plant vegetables front and center — even in the front yard. That way you get to see the fruits of your labor and remember what chores need to be done. Plus, it’s a great way to engage the neighbors as they stroll by and admire your plants. You may even be inspired to share a tomato with them.

✓ Make it easy to access. If you need to bring in soil, compost, mulch, or wood by truck or car, make sure your garden can be easily reached by a vehicle. Otherwise you’ll end up working way too hard to cart these essentials from one end of the yard to the other.

✓ Have a water source close by. Try to locate your garden as close as you can to an outdoor faucet. Hauling hundreds of feet of hose around the yard to water the garden will only cause more work and frustration. And, hey, isn’t gardening supposed to be fun?

✓ Keep it flat. You can garden on a slight slope, and, in fact, a south-facing one is ideal since it warms up faster in spring. However, too severe a slope could lead to erosion problems. To avoid having to build terraces like Machu Picchu, plant your garden on flat ground.

A bit of science also is involved in choosing the right site. Microclimates are small areas of your yard whose temperatures and related growing conditions are slightly different from the overall climate of your yard, neighborhood, or town. These differences usually are caused by large objects, such as your house, a wall, or a tree. For example, the south side of your house may be hotter than the rest of your yard, because the sun reflects off the walls and the house blocks prevailing cold winds. Or an area under a large tree may be cooler than the rest of the yard because of the shade provided by the tree’s canopy.

How big is too big for a veggie garden? If you’re a first-time gardener, a size of 100 square feet is plenty of space to take care of; I like to tell beginning gardeners to start small and build on their success. However, if you want to produce food for storing and sharing, a 20-foot-x-30-foot plot (600 square feet total) is a great size. You can produce an abundance of different vegetables and still keep the plot looking good.

Speaking of upkeep, keep the following in mind when deciding how large to make your garden: If the soil is in good condition, a novice gardener can keep up with a 600-square-foot garden by devoting about a half-hour each day the first month of the season; in late spring through summer, a good half-hour of work every 2 to 3 days should keep the garden productive and looking good. Keep in mind that the smaller the garden, the less time it’ll take to keep it looking great. Plus, after it’s established, the garden will take less time to get up and running in the spring.

Source of Information : vegetable gardening for dummies

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Few Good Reasons to Grow Your Own Food

It’s almost predictable: When economic times are hard, people head to the garden. It happened in the 1920s with Liberty Gardens, in the 1940s with Victory Gardens, and in the 1970s with increases in oil and food prices. Similarly, with current concerns about food safety, global warming, carbon footprints, and pollution, along with a desire to build a link to the Earth and our own neighborhoods, food gardening has become a simple and tasty solution.

Food gardens aren’t just in backyards anymore. People grow food in containers on decks and patios, in community gardens, at schools, at senior centers, and even in front yards for everyone to see. Food gardens are beautiful and productive, so why not let everyone enjoy the benefits? I describe the advantages to growing your own food in the following sections.

Improve your health
We all know we’re supposed to eat more fruits and vegetables every day. It isn’t just good advice from mom. Many vegetables are loaded with vitamins A and C, fiber, water, and minerals such as potassium. A growing body of research shows that eating fresh fruits and vegetables not only gives your body the nutrients and vitamins it needs to function properly, but it also reveals that many fruits and vegetables are loaded with phytochemicals and antioxidants — specific compounds that help prevent and fight illness.

While specific vegetables and fruits are high in certain nutrients, the best way to make sure you get a good range of these compounds in your diet is to “eat a rainbow.” By eating a variety of different-colored vegetables and fruits, you get all the nutrients you need to be healthy.

While eating fruits and vegetables is generally a great idea, the quality and safety of produce in grocery stores has been increasingly compromised. Whether it’s Salmonella on jalapeño peppers or E. coli in spinach, warnings seem to be happening every year. Also, some people are concerned about pesticide residues on their produce. A list called the “Dirty Dozen” points out the vegetables and fruits most likely to contain pesticide residues. Here’s the list: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries. What better way to ensure a safe food supply free of biological and pesticide contamination than to grow your own? You’ll know exactly what’s been used to grow those beautiful crops.

Save some cash
You can save big money by growing your own vegetables and fruits. In fact, depending on the type and amount you grow, you can save hundreds of dollars. By spending a few dollars on seeds, plants, and supplies in spring, you’ll produce vegetables that yield pounds of produce in summer. Instead of having to go to the grocery store to buy all that produce, you’ve got it ready for the picking for free in your yard. It’s your own personal produce department! You’ll save hundreds of dollars on your grocery bill each year by growing a garden.

Here’s just one example of how a vegetable garden can save you some cash. The 20-foot-by-30-foot production garden highlights many favorite vegetables. I also include some plans for succession cropping and interplanting. When I indicate succession crops, I’m assuming two crops in one growing season. I’m also assuming 8-foot-long raised beds with rows with space to walk between the beds down the center.

To show you how the garden saves you money, the following list provides vegetable yields and the price per pound of each crop. However, keep in mind that these are general averages. I’ve erred on the conservative side with many yields. Yields, after all, can vary depending on the location, variety, and growth of your crops. The prices are based on national average prices from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service for those vegetables grown organically in summer. Again, these numbers may vary depending on
the year and location in the country. However, even with all these variables, you can see that you grow more than 300 pounds of produce worth more than $600 just by working your own garden!

If you grew the garden depicted your initial investment of $70 to get started will yield 350 pounds of vegetables. If you purchased the same 350 pounds of vegetables in a grocery store, you’d have to pay more than $600. So, as you can see, you’re saving money and getting great food to eat.

Help the environment
Your tomatoes, lettuces, and melons from the grocery store cost more than just the price to produce them. It’s estimated that the average produce travels up to 1,500 miles to get from farm to grocery store, and that’s just vegetables and fruits produced in the United States. Increasingly, produce is being imported from foreign countries, such as China and Chile. The fossil fuels used to transport these vegetables increases air pollution and global warming. So, one of the big-picture reasons for growing your own produce is to fight these effects on our planet.

Plus, by growing your own vegetables, fruits, and herbs, you also reduce the amount of pollution that’s created on the farm. Regardless of it being a conventional or organic farm, many large operations tend to use lots of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to grow their crops. Unfortunately, some of these additives end up as sources of pollution (and their creation requires fossil fuels). By growing your own produce using a minimal amount of these inputs, you can reduce the amount of chemical and fertilizer pollution that ends up in waterways around the country. For more information on gardening sustainably, check out Sustainable Landscaping For Dummies by Owen Dell (Wiley).

Increase your quality of life
A less tangible (but still important) reason to grow your own vegetables is related to quality of life. Vegetable gardening is a great way to unwind after a hard day. You can achieve a simple pleasure and satisfaction in roaming through your garden, snacking on a bean here and a cherry tomato there, pulling a few weeds, watering, and enjoying the fruits of your labors. It’s an immediate, simple satisfaction in a world that so often is complicated and complex.

Also, if you garden with others in a community garden, you’ll create new friendships and bonds with your neighbors. According to the NGA food gardening survey that I describe earlier in this chapter, more than a million community gardens exist across the country. Often community gardens become a focal point for neighborhood beautification, education, and development projects. When the gardens are sown, people start taking increased interest and pride in their neighborhood and how it looks. Often crime, graffiti, and vandalism are reduced just by creating a garden where people can gather together. And you thought all you were doing is growing a few vegetables!

For more information about starting a community garden or to find one in your area, contact the American Community Gardening Association at communitygarden.org.

Source of Information : vegetable gardening for dummies

Friday, August 17, 2012

Food Gardening: It’s Popping Up Everywhere

While food gardening is a great activity to do in your yard, it’s also part of a growing trend of people wanting to eat better, grow some of their own food, and have more control on the quality of their food supply. What better way to ensure that you eat healthy food than growing it yourself?

In early 2009, the National Gardening Association (NGA) completed a survey that characterized food gardening in the United States. Here’s what it found:

✓ Approximately 23 percent, or 27 million households, had a vegetable garden in 2008. That’s 2 million more than in 2007. The number of food gardeners increases to 31 percent, or 36 million households, if you include those people growing fruits, berries, and herbs.

✓ The average person spends about $70 on their food garden every year. (I wish I could keep my spending that low!) The total nationwide is $2.5 billion spent on food gardening. I explain what you gain from that $70 in comparison to what you’d spend at the grocery store.

✓ The average vegetable garden is 600 square feet, but 83 percent of the vegetable gardens are less than 500 square feet. Nearly half of all gardeners grow some vegetables in containers as well.

✓ The typical vegetable gardener is college educated, married, female, age 45 or older, and has no kids at home. And almost 60 percent of vegetable gardeners have been gardening for less than five years.

✓ The typical reasons for vegetable gardening in order of importance are: to produce fresh food, to save money, to produce better-quality food, and to grow food you know is safe.

There you have it. Lots of food gardeners are out in their crops, and the numbers are growing faster than corn in July. You may grow only a small food garden, but when all the gardens are added together, the impact is enormous. Need more proof? Let me show you!

The gross national garden product (GNGP) is the combined amount of money that can be produced from America’s food gardens. Here’s how the NGA figured it out (time for some math fun!):

✓ About 36 million households grow vegetables, berries, fruits, and herbs. The average garden size is 600 square feet. The NGA estimates that you can produce about 1/2 pound of vegetables per square foot of garden per year. That’s about 300 pounds of vegetables in the average garden. The average price, in season, of vegetables is about $2 per pound, so the average vegetable garden produces $600 worth of produce. So, Americans invest an average of $70 to yield $600 worth of produce every year. Wow! That’s a good return in my book!

✓ When you figure the numbers nationally, 36 million households spend $2.5 billion to yield a GNGP of more than $21 billion worth of vegetables each year. That’s a stimulus plan I can live with!

Source of Information : vegetable gardening for dummies

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Cornucopia of Vegetables to Grow

You can grow many different types of vegetables in your yard — and not just in the backyard. These days veggies are pretty enough to be front and center. The following sections describe some of the most popular to get you started. Hopefully you have plenty of room!

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown — and for good reason. The difference between a vine-ripened fruit and one picked green, gassed, and shipped hundreds of miles to your grocery store is incomparable. You can choose from container varieties that produce fruit the size of a pea and giant plants that grow to the height of a garage and produce fruits the size of a softball! You can even grow varieties of tomatoes with fruits every color of the rainbow except blue (however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that color someday either).

Tomatoes love the heat and sun and require fertile soil and support. Unless you’re growing the dwarf varieties, stakes, cages, trellises, teepees, and arbors are essential for keeping plants growing upright and strong. You only need a few plants to keep your family in tomatoes most of the summer.

Peppers and eggplants
Peppers and eggplants are related to tomatoes, but they’re a little more homogeneous in their plant size. However, what they lack in plant variety, they make up in fruit uniqueness. Pepper fruits come shaped as bells or as long and thin tubular shapes. Some are as sweet as candy and others are hot enough to burn your mouth.

Pepper fruits mostly start out green and end up red, but where they go, colorwise, in between is amazing. You can experiment with chocolate-, yellow-, ivory-, purple-, lavender-, and orange-colored fruits that can be eaten raw or used in a multitude of cooked dishes. Eggplants also have burst onto the scene with varieties that produce unique-colored fruits, including white, purple, striped, and even orange.

If you can grow a tomato, you can grow peppers and eggplants. They need similar growing conditions. Plus, I love them as ornamental edibles. Not only do they look good in flower beds and containers, but you can eat them too!

Carrots, onions, and potatoes
Get to the root of the matter by growing carrots, onions, and potatoes. (I know, I couldn’t resist the play on words!) Carrots, onions, and potatoes love cool soil and cool weather conditions. Start them in spring for an early summer crop or in summer to mature in fall. Here are a few fun facts on each group:

✓ Carrots: Carrot varieties are either short and squat or long and thin. You can even get colors other than orange, including red, purple, yellow, and white. Because their seeds are so small and take a while to germinate, carrots can be difficult to get started. But once they’re growing you’ll soon be munching on roots.

✓ Onions: Onions are adapted to the north and south depending on the variety. Some are sweet and can be eaten out of hand, but others are pungent and best for cooking and storing in winter. You can grow onions from seed, sets (bulbs), or plants.

✓ Potatoes: Potatoes are an easy cool-season crop to grow because you plant part of the potato to get new plants. If you cover the tubers with soil, hill them up, and keep them watered, you’ll be rolling in spuds come summer.

Peas and beans
Peas and beans are like brothers. They’re in the same family and share similar traits, but in some ways they’re very different!

✓ Peas are cool-season-loving crops that produce either plump or flat pods depending on the variety. With some pea varieties you eat pods and all. With others you eat just the peas inside.

✓ Beans love the heat. They’re one of the easiest vegetables to grow. They come in bush and twining or pole bean forms. Both are great vegetables in the garden because they require little fertilizer and care once they’re up and running.

Cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash
I affectionately call cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash the “viners.” They love to ramble about the garden, taking up space and producing loads of fruit. But even if you’re a small-space gardener, you can still grow these space hogs. Newer varieties of cucumbers, squash, and melons can fit in a small raised bed or even a container.

One common trait of these vegetables is that they need heat, water, fertility, and bees. Bees? Yes, bees. Most of these squash family crops need to be cross-pollinated to produce fruit, so bees are critical to success. If you’re growing other vegetables, flowers, and herbs, you’re sure to have some bees flying about to do the dirty work. Some members of this veggie family can be prolific, so don’t plant lots of zucchinis, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Then again, if you really want to share the harvest you can plant a bunch to give away!

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower are similar in how they grow and what they need to grow. However, their differences come in the parts you eat. Here’s the lowdown:

✓ After you pick the heads of cabbage and cauliflower, the plant is finished and stops producing.

✓ After you pick broccoli heads, you’ll keep getting more broccoli side shoots to eat all season long.

✓ Brussels sprouts are like your crazy Uncle Louis. He looks a little strange, and you don’t know where he came from. Brussels sprouts produce cabbagelike balls all along a straight stem. Keep picking the sprouts starting from the bottom to the top of the stalk and working up until it stops producing because of the cold.

This group of veggies is productive and serves as a great addition to a coolweather spring or fall garden.

Lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and specialty greens
If you’re looking for quick rewards: lettuce, spinach, chard, and wild greens, such as dandelions. Because you don’t have to wait for greens to form fruits (you’re just eating the leaves), you can pick them as soon as your stomach rumbles and the leaves are big enough to munch. They mostly love cool weather, so start early in spring and then keep planting and harvesting.

Greens are one of the best container vegetables to grow because they’re easy and adaptable. You can mix and match lettuce varieties to produce different colors and textures that look beautiful and taste divine.

An assortment of other great veggies
In the previous sections, I just touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what to grow for vegetable varieties. There are so many more vegetables to grow; all you have to do is wander down the produce aisles at the local grocery store and think, do I like to eat that? Watch out or you may get hooked and start growing so many vegetables you’ll have to open a restaurant. Vegetable gardening really can become that much fun.

Non-vegetable edibles
Don’t limit yourself to growing just vegetables in the vegetable garden. That would be silly! Berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, and herbs, such as basil, parsley, and chives, are great additions to your yard. They produce fruit, spice up a meal, and look beautiful. Need some inspiration? Here are some suggestions:

✓ Consider having a strawberry patch in your garden.

✓ Landscape your yard with blueberry bushes or a hedge of raspberries.

✓ Mix herb plants around vegetable plants or give them their own space in the garden. Herbs also grow well in containers mixed with flowers. I love growing rosemary in a deck planter each year for the attractive foliage and the enticing aroma.

Source of Information : vegetable gardening for dummies

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Basics of Planning a Veggie Garden

When’s the best time to start vegetable gardening? Right now! Here are the basics on how to decide where to grow yours:

✓ Find a spot close to the house that you walk by daily so you don’t forget about your project.

✓ Find a spot that gets at least 6 hours of direct sun a day.

✓ Find a spot that has great soil.

Keep your new garden small. You can be just as productive in a small raised bed garden, container, or small kitchen garden as you would be if you tilled your whole backyard. Start small, be successful, and then get bigger (if you want).

What should you put in your new garden? Well, you have many vegetable options when it comes to deciding what you can grow, so it’s going to be tough deciding which ones to plant. The most important rule I can tell you is to grow what you like to eat. Yes, folks, this is all about taste. So no matter what people say about how easy beans are to grow, don’t grow them if you hate to eat them. (Of course, after tasting fresh green beans from the garden, you may change your tune.) Grow a mix of varieties of favorite vegetables that you and your family will love. Also, try a few different ones to stretch your imagination.

Source of Information : vegetable gardening for dummies

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why Have Your Own Vegetable Garden?

Over the years people had drifted away from vegetable gardening in the spirit of progress and affluence. However, more recently people are once again realizing that growing their own food, although not as critical to survival as it once was, is an important part of a healthy body, mind, spirit, lifestyle, and community. More people are again turning to vegetable gardening as a means of food and as a hobby. Even the president and first lady have installed a vegetable garden at the White House. Vegetable gardening is officially back!

Who can resist the flavor, smell, and texture of food literally picked minutes before you eat it? It you’ve ever sunk your teeth into a sun-warmed, ripe tomato and felt the juices and flavors explode in your mouth, you’ll know what I mean.

But vegetable gardening isn’t just about taste. It’s about safe food that’s produced close to home. It’s about knowing what has been sprayed on that food. It’s about feeding your friends and family nutritious food that’s high in vitamins and antioxidants (cancer-fighting compounds). It’s about connecting with your neighbors and community as you experiment with ethnic dishes using exotic ingredients grown in your not-so-exotic backyard. It’s about reducing pollution and global warming by not buying produce that’s shipped hundreds of miles to your local grocery store. Finally it’s about reclaiming your ability to grow some of your own food, even if it’s a container of basil, to have a little more control in your life.

Source of Information : vegetable gardening for dummies

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Cancer Prevention

Now that you understand how cancer works, it’s time to ask how you can stop it. Unfortunately, there’s no single measure to prevent cancer. In fact, your body is already using all the cancer-prevention programs we know about.

Some cancers are closely associated with particular lifestyle risks. For example, sun exposure is linked to skin cancer and cigarettes are tied to lung cancer. Minimize these risks, and you’re likely to avoid the cancers they cause. But many more cancers aren’t so clear-cut. They arise spontaneously and unexpectedly, after a lifetime of bodily wear and tear.

Your best bet is to detect the problem early. If you can catch a cancer before it metastasizes, your odds of conquering it are dramatically better. Unfortunately, many cancers have subtle symptoms that aren’t initially troubling. Some symptoms—like weight loss, fevers, swollen lymph nodes, or a feeling of constant tiredness—may indicate cancer, but are usually caused by something less serious, like an infection. And a few cancers (for example, pancreatic cancer) are virtually undetectable in their early stages.

To give yourself the best odds, you need to be eternally vigilant for problem signs. Some examples include unexplained lumps, persistent coughing, and blood in your stool. However, it’s best to investigate any unexpected change in the way your body works. It’s also essential to keep surveying the territory with breast self-exams, testicular self exams, a yearly physical, and regular colonoscopies after age 50 (or earlier if your family history warrants it).

Source of Information : Oreilly - Your Body Missing Manual