Groceries from the back yard

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Food gardening will jump 19 percent this year over last year, according to a new survey by the National Gardening Association. Why? Homeowners with shrinking household budgets are looking for help in their own back yards. Every $100 spent on vegetable gardening yields $1,000 to $1,700 worth of produce, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. That's a serious hedge against skyrocketing food prices, expected to jump another 5 percent this year. Planting a vegetable plot and keeping it productive isn't that hard if you start small, keep the basics in mind and plant reliable varieties. Take it step by step:

Location: A sunny, well-drained spot close to a water spigot is ideal. Leafy greens tolerate some shade, but other crops want eight hours of sun daily.

Soil: Adding organic material is the key to an easy-care garden. It loosens stiff soil, helps retain moisture and nourishes important soil organisms. Good "ingredients" include manure, humus and chopped-up leaves.

Water: One inch of water weekly is adequate for most vegetables. Soaker hoses or drip systems deliver water efficiently and keep foliage dry, fending off leaf diseases.

Pests: Monitor insect damage, but try to keep your crops pesticide-free. Hand-pick pests or dislodge them with a jet of water, then let natural predators do the rest. If you must spray, do it late in the day when beneficial insects are less active.

Selection: Flower gardeners gravitate to the newest, showiest varieties, but smart food gardeners appreciate the tried-and-true. For best results, you'll need to choose veggie and herb varieties suitable to your location.

What to plant

If you're ready to try your hand at creating your own backyard grocery garden, here are 10 easy crops to plant:

Basil: Perfect with tomatoes. Choose sweet basil.

Beans: Bush beans are easier to pick, but tall "pole" beans have higher yields.

Bell peppers: Harvest green or red, when vitamin levels are higher.

Chard: This leafy green tolerates cool temperatures well.

Cucumber: Plant after the weather warms. Consider the mild Japanese cucumber.

Eggplant: A much-loved favorite, eggplant thrives in hot weather. 

Lettuce: Go for easy "leaf" lettuces like Romaine.

Parsley: Pick curly types or flat Italian parsley. This herb is rich in vitamins and a breath-sweetener, too.

Summer squash: Squash are very productive plants and easy to grow.

Tomatoes: These crimson favorites are the most popular backyard vegetable.

-- ARA