A good way to reduce your food cost and enjoy delicious produce is to grow your own.
Some vegetables and herbs can be grown in small spaces or containers, making this a doable project for most.
If you have not already thought about growing your own food, it's not too late. If you are ready to get started right away, it is, in fact, a great time to begin your garden.
FINDING A SPACE
Both traditional gardens (in the ground) and containers work well for vegetables and herbs. You may be able to add some vegetables into an existing bed, or if you do not have a space ready, it's possible you could dig up a sunny section of lawn. If you are renting, check with your landlord first. If you decide to go that route, get a soil test, as you may need to amend it. Adding too much of anything to your soil can do as much harm as good.
It may be more feasible, or even easier, to try container gardening. This enables you to control the soil (potting mix) and weeds more easily and can fit into any sunny outdoor space, even a porch step. In addition, recycled containers can be used to minimize the initial cost.
WHAT TO GROW
If you are new to gardening, it's a good idea to begin with some easier foods to grow. Lettuce and herbs, such as basil and parsley, are quite easy and offer quick gratification since you are eating the leaves of the plant rather than a ripened fruit or mature root. Carrots, bush beans and tomatoes are also good choices for beginners and can offer up more variety than a simple salad.
Read up on the foods you are interested in growing, as some should be started as seeds, and for other types, buying a young plant is a better choice (especially in the end of May).
Though growing your own food can be rewarding and enjoyable, between watering, weeding, pest control and many other tasks that arise, it can also be somewhat time consuming. At this point, you may be thinking: This sounds like a lot of work. Why bother?
I think there are many benefits to having some fresh produce.
The best part about growing your own food is that you are inclined to use it. We, as a nation, waste a lot of food. If you worked hard to grow your food, it probably won't go to waste without significant consideration. If you have a few containers with leaf lettuces and spinach planted, you may be eating salad nightly, either alongside your main dish or as a main dish, itself, so that the time you spent tending to your crop is not wasted.
If you follow this article, you may remember that leafy greens are not only good sources or vitamin A, C and antioxidants, but they are also really low in calories, at about 10 calories per cup. Adding more foods like this to your diet will likely improve it.
Plant varieties chosen for small-scale growing will often yield better-tasting produce, as it is not as important that the final product be shelf stable or as disease resistant. This means the food you grow at home will often taste better than supermarket food. Because of this, as well as the anticipation of watching a food grow and waiting to harvest it, children and other picky eaters may be more excited to eat what is grown at home.
If you have questions about getting started, call or email your local extension office for some great home-gardening resources.
Clinton County Cooperative Extension has a new website, http://blogs.cornell.edu/cceclintoncounty, that features information on growing food in our region.
If you still think this sounds like a lot of work (or you want a larger variety of food than you could possible grow), check out your local farmers market. The Plattsburgh Farmers Market on Durkee Street is now open on Saturdays and offers a wide variety of plants, including herbs and vegetables, as well as produce.
Jordy Kivett is a nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. For more information, contact her at 561-7450.