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It's so easy to rely on the grocery retailers to provide our food for us. How many times a week do you "swing by" the local grocery store on your way home from work? And let's be honest, "just a few things" usually turns in to twenty or thirty dollars worth of our favorite not-so-healthy food.
Did that hit a little too close to home? It's okay, friend, I am right there with you. I spent the first couple years living on my own doing just that. I actually lived right across the road from Kroger for an entire summer. I would be afraid to total my grocery bills from that summer, let alone list out the foods I purchased.
Since we got married, my husband and I have been intentionally focusing on eating healthier. It's still a work-in-progress some days, but we now eat more fresh fruit & veggies than ever before. One of the best lessons we've learned is that the healthiest foods to eat are the ones you grow at home. Today, I am sharing my 4 favorite foods to grow at home instead of buying at the grocery store and how to get started!
The best part about growing your own food is that you can control the substances you use to prevent pests and control weeds. We make sure to use all-natural products like food-grade Diatomaceous Earth and Tomato-tone. Unfortunately, though, pests like tomato worms and Japanese beetles have to be picked off by hand with this method. To us, it's completely worth it to have a wholly organic garden.
There are four vegetables and fruits that we started with and highly recommend for any homegrown garden.
1 | Green Beans
I LOVE this vegetable as a side dish! There are so many ways to fix it. Plus, it's super easy! Some of my favorites are simply steamed green beans, green bean casserole with French's Fried Onions on top, and stove top green beans with a little grated Parmesan melted on top.
The material in the lining of canned green beans is bad news bears, so we skip it! The best kind to start with are simple bush beans. They are easy to plant and low-maintenance. Just follow the instructions on the seed packet for spacing and depth. Get a pressure canner and DIY canned green beans (in mason jars, of course!).
2 | Tomatoes
There are literally SO many varieties of tomatoes, it will boggle your mind! Our favorites are Roma tomatoes and Opalka tomatoes. The best part is that they are super easy to grow at home. You can control the amount of pesticides or use none at all, like we do. Tomato-tone is a great organic product that helps encourage plant growth. Tomatoes are easy to maintain - just purchase a basket for each plant. These are cone-shaped metal stakes that you place over a young tomato plant. The purpose is to help it grow tall and straight. Otherwise, the plant will become top-heavy and may not produce much fruit.
As many varieties of tomatoes as there are, there's equally as many uses for homegrown tomatoes. Eat them fresh in salads or for a healthy snack. Get a pressure canner and make your own salsa, tomato juice, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce...the possibilities are endless! You're saving money and eating healthier - it's a win, win.
3 | Strawberries
I have to tell you the truth about strawberries - my husband and I don't have our own strawberry patch yet. My mother-in-law grows them and shares her bounty with the family. She had a beautiful patch this year, with strawberries bigger than I've seen from the store! Depending on your climate, these are an excellent option to grow at home in the early summer. Strawberries take a few years to establish, but they are SO worth it! Before long, you'll have more strawberries than you can eat yourself!
Strawberries are great to grow at home, because, again, you can control the pesticides you use, if any. Store-bought strawberries are unpredictable as far as what's been used to control insects. Once you have your own patch and it's producing fruit, pick 'em fast! The strawberry season goes quickly, but wow is it an amazing time of year. I love strawberry dishes. They make the best desserts, especially strawberry pie. We even use strawberries to make freezer jam and frozen strawberry topping for smoothies and strawberry shortcake.
(Pop quiz - how many times did I use the word "strawberry" in that section? LOL)
4 | Lettuce
We just started growing our own lettuce this year, and we actually started with spinach. I can't tell you how satisfying it was the first time I made a salad with leaves from our own garden! It's so easy to plant and grow. You actually have several opportunities throughout the season to plant, depending on your climate. In the Midwest, we can plant lettuce early spring and mid-summer.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it's great to be able to control pesticide usage on homegrown lettuce. You just never know what's been used on the store-bought kind! We love using our lettuce for fresh salads. Just watch out for bunny rabbits - they enjoy nibbling your leaves away! A fence around your garden will help solve this problem.
Some of our other favorite vegetables to grow at home are peppers, potatoes, onions, carrots, broccoli, and cabbage. It's actually much easier than you would think to start your own garden. My best advice is to start small! You'll make mistakes and some veggies you plan will be a total flop. But that's okay! There's only one way to truly learn gardening and that's by trying it out.
Start with something small, like a 10 X 10 plot in your backyard, or even planters on your back deck. Be sure to read how much space each plant needs, by paying attention to the seed packet or purchasing a gardening book. With a little love and care, you'll be showing off your green thumb in no time! Just wait for your first homegrown harvest meal - it tastes so much better that way!
So, where do you want to start?? Will it be green beans or tomatoes? Or perhaps lettuce and a brand new strawberry patch? What's your favorite homegrown fruit or veggie? Do you have any suggestions for our garden next year? We are still new to vegetable gardening and learn new things every season!