I keep vacillating, for some reason. Both my mother and my sister have gotten into growing their own vegetables, and their success is making me want to try it. But I’m skeptical for the following reasons.
I like vegetables, but I’m having a hard time understanding how growing my own makes practical sense. Like, I really like tomatoes. But if I want tomatoes, I can just go to the store and buy as many as I want. There are four grocery stores less than a half of a mile from me. FOUR. And their tomatoes would be superior to the puny things I am capable of growing, right?
I like spinach and all the lettuces. But how does this work? Pluck a few leaves whenever I am in the mood for salad? But I eat a salad with dinner almost every day. Am I going to be able to grow enough to supply my needs so that this is a worthwhile activity? Or am I still going to have to go to the grocery store anyway, and my garden will just go to waste?
Besides spinach and other lettuces, broccoli, and tomatoes, what else can I grow? What do ya’ll grow in your gardens?
I keep thinking that growing a garden is a nice idea in the abstract, but I’m worried I lack the discipline to keep it going. Especially when it gets hot and buggy outside. I want to buy a vertical tower like this one to keep from breaking my back, but it seems to me that this will limit my choices.
The tomatoes you grow at home are so much better than supermarket tomatoes, no matter where you buy them.
Lettuces, yes, you just sip off leaves as you need them. They’ll grow back.
Herbs are another low-effort high-return garden plant. Basil, thyme, oregano, dill, all grow like weeds and you just harvest all summer long by snipping off how much you need. Cilantro is more difficult because it doesn’t really keep putting out usable leaves if you trim it. It gets leggy and then goes to seed very quickly.
Peppers (hot & bell) are another plant a lot of people have success with. We have good luck with hot peppers but we always get weird worms in our bell peppers so we probably won’t grow them anymore.
Well your tomatoes will taste yummier than grocery store tomatoes. However if you have a farmer’s market you buy tomatoes from, there won’t be much difference. Most people do it because growing can be fairly cheap (if your soil is good and you grow from seeds) or just because they find it satisfying.
You can grow beans (green beans, snap peas, cranberries beans, whatever you like) which are a very vertical plant so that might appeal. Strawberries can also be grown vertically.
I don’t know. Its either something you enjoy or not. You don’t have to dive in completely though – why not get a couple containers, try a couple tomato plans and maybe some herbs… see if its your thing. If not, no harm no foul, give the plants in their container to your sister.
If the idea of growing vegetables sounds like a chore, either don’t do it, or else start very small (like with a large container or two). Rest assured that in most cases, you can find produce that is healthy and as tasty as what you can grow.* This includes tomatoes - it used to be that you were limited to those tasteless cannonballs that were picked green thousands of miles away and artificially ripened, but more and more I’m finding varieties in the supermarket that rival for taste what I can grow (this includes cherry and grape tomatoes, plus brown/purple and even heirloom varieties).
Then again, there are some vegetables that are not as good as home-grown, or that you can’t find at all in the supermarket.
For instance, the only eggplant variety I ever see in the supermarket is Black Beauty or something that looks like it. I grow a number of different varieties that are creamier, tastier and don’t have bitter or thick skin (Rosa Bianca is a favorite). Then there are the multiple types of garlic I grow that I think are superior to the one or two types in stores. I don’t see purslane or papalo (an herb similar to but stronger tasting than cilantro) or two foot long Chinese beans for sale commercially.
But the overriding reason I grow vegetables is that it’s fun.
Start with a couple of tomato plants (the tomatoes are far superior to anything you can buy in a store) and some potted herbs and see how you feel about it.
Vegetable gardening, for most of us, isn’t about economics. We probably spend more on garden vegetables than we would if we’d just bought the stuff in the store, and disappointment is constant–when plants dry up, drown, are eaten by bugs or deer, get mold and mildew, drop blossoms, the fruit rots, or the conditions turn out to be sub-optimal for the fruit to develop properly.
But there are a lot of rewards. Tasty tomatoes are a big one, also greens and herbs that are cut-and-come again, low effort, and cheap. You get all down with nature and stuff, too. Plenty of us see god in our gardens and consider our spiritual needs fulfilled.
You do not grow a vegetable garden in order to get vegetables, they are a bonus if you are successful but they are not a reason to put in all the effort.
You grow a garden because you like working the soil, because you like spending time outside, tending the garden, weeding, watering, sitting in the sun shine. It isn’t something that you can plant and leave alone, it is a commitment, a hobby, and it can be real work.
You like experimenting with new crops and if something doesn’t work out you are happy to tear it all out and start again with something else.
A garden can be a source of fresh vegetables on hand, but they are only on hand for a short period and then you have to harvest, freeze, can or otherwise preserve them. A garden can also just be a frustrating way to grow yourself a few $30 green tomatoes.
If you think that you will enjoy the experience of planting, growing, watering, harvesting, and you like to learn through failure, then grow a garden. It is one of my favorite things and I have grown a great variety of things over the years.
If you think it is an easy was to get fresh vegetables, stick to the produce aisle at the grocery store.
While it’s possible for a garden to get hit by an insect infestation or some sort of blight almost always home-grown tomatoes will be superior in both taste and nutrition to store-bought varieties.
Yep, basically that’s it.
Well, you have to wait a little bit for the plants to actually get growing, but yes, at a certain point you’ll probably have enough lettuce to eat a salad every night. Most years I have a month or two my spouse and I are eating salads every day, putting lettuce on sandwiches, AND I’m giving away a gallon sized bag or three of lettuce a week to family and friends. (And then the rabbits show up…) OK, admittedly I do have a sizable garden but 5-6 lettuce plants can do what you describe.
If you want to try lettuce I recommend get a seed packet with a mix of varieties.
I recommend you try green beans. They grow like topsy, they’re pretty hardy, and if you have more than you can eat at a given time they freeze well.
Here is a sampling of threads I’ve started/been involved in over the past few years:
There are about a bajillion other gardening threads on the Dope. Use the search term “garden” or “gardening” (they give slightly different results) for the topic titles.
Lettuce is a cool weather vegetable. When it gets hot and buggy it goes to seed and you’ll have to go back to store-bought anyhow, so that would solve that problem.
Pole beans will grow vertically if they have something to climb, which gets them above most weeds and the edible bits are off the ground for the most part, which helps avoid the back-breaking thing.
Tomatoes I don’t know much about, but there a zillions variations out there so odds are one or a dozen will suit your needs.
That’s more suited to herbs in my opinion. Which is fine if that’s what you want to grow.
Start with or two, at most three, things this year. We can help steer you to hardy/low maintenance/easy to grow items. You don’t have to go overboard with this sort of thing.
What sort of things do you like to eat?
If you have a taste for greens you might want to try chard. It’s ridiculously easy to grow, amazingly hardy, grows in both cool and hot weather, and if you get a mix with colored stalks it doubles as an ornamental. It’s more like spinach or bok choy/pak choi than mustard or turnip greens, very mild. If it turns out you don’t like the taste you at least have something pretty!
You have my permission (for whatever that’s worth!) to start with as few as one (1) tomato plant. (Or maybe two or three… but that’s optional)
Don’t let anyone talk you into anything elaborate or expensive. For just one or two plants a trowel, or just a large, sturdy serving spoon, is all you need.
Try it small scale. If you like it, great. If not, kudos for trying it out. It’s not for everyone. If you find you like the fresh food but not the work there are usually local gardeners with a surplus during some part of the summer who will be happy to give some away.
I personally recommend starting with lettuce; it’s pretty failure-proof and it’s much nicer than any you’ll buy. I like Simpson Seedless variety which is a green leaf lettuce that is so tasty and also pretty so you can even grow it in with flowers. Just pick a few leaves for a sandwich or a few more for a little salad. Home grown tomatoes are much tastier than store bought ones but the failure rate is somewhat higher and it’s a lot more fun to succeed.
That’s pretty much what I was going to say - lettuce grows like a weed here, and I’m not sure how you could manage to mess it up.
Tomatoes are definitely fussier than lettuce - they like sun, but not too much, they have to be staked up so they don’t flop, they like a nice tomato fertilizer, they get blossom rot, they don’t always have time to ripen on the vine and you have to finish them inside - it’s all just more complicated.
That said, if you’d like to start with a couple of tomato plants, buy a couple and see how it goes. I garden for all the reasons previously stated, plus it’s like meditation for me, and I enjoy the connection with my ancestry (I come from a long line of farmers on both sides). Dirty fingernails are practically hereditary in my family.
If you do go with tomatoes, I highly suggest going to your state’s agricultural extension service or your state university’s agriculture department (often one in the same) and looking up what varieties are recommended for your state and/or area. Nurseries often sell heirloom varieties that are indeed old and/or unique, but that may not be adapted to your area and conditions, especially if you live somewhere with a short growing season or really hot summers.
I actually do like to work outdoors. I love getting dirty. Doing yardwork last year was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I got a good work out pushing my manual mower every week. But I think I’m scared of starting something and then not following through.
The great thing about vegetable gardening is that it’s not necessarily an every-day kind of thing, especially if you live somewhere with regular rainfall, or if you can rig up an irrigation system of some kind (drip irrigation is stellar and readily available at big box home improvement stores).
You put a lot of effort in during the spring getting the soil ready, and planting the seeds or seedlings, and then not much more for 60-90 days until they’re ready to harvest.
And, for the record, not much helps with early blight on tomatoes. Spraying chlorothalonil (Ortho Garden Disease concentrate) or mancozeb (Dithane) doesn’t seem to do a damn thing to prevent or cure the stuff, even if you do it twice weekly…
I don’t especially enjoy gardening, but I had a small one in our back yard when I was a SAHM. I grew tomatoes and cucumbers. Actually I tried several other things, but tomatoes & cucumbers survived. The garden was made in a part of the yard where the grass was especially lush; I think it’s where the septic tank drained.
We had so many that we couldn’t use or give all of them away. I canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and pickles. It was fun experimenting with different seasonings with the pickles. After I went back to work, we still had jarred pickles for about 3 years.
Tomatoes are basically a weed and in my experience are incredibly easy to grow. Over the years I’ve come to the opinion that I have a black thumb. Most plants wither and die as soon as I am in charge of them. If I can grow tomatoes, anybody can.
I don’t even buy tomatoes at the supermarket any more since the ones I grow are so much better. And I live in California, where they are better than Florida-grown ones.
Eat the pod peas are good because they are relatively expensive in supermarkets. String beans are good also. I don’t grow broccoli since it is so cheap in the summer.
However, try a squash plant. Put it far from everything else. Just some water and Miracle-gro once a week and it will produce more squash than you can eat. And it takes almost no care, since it outcompetes the weeds.