I’m Karen, and I love to grow edibles. I maintain vegetable, herb, and perennial gardens in Cincinnati, Ohio, hardiness zone 6b (which has a temperate climate and distinct seasons).
It’s my mission to help you learn how to plant and maintain edible gardens, whether in containers, community garden plots, or roomy backyard raised beds.
I’m a certified Master Gardener with over 30 years of gardening experience, and an informational toolkit full of tips and techniques to educate gardeners at all levels.
“Grocery stores have everything — why should I plant a garden?”
That’s a great question!
First, it’s extremely satisfying to go out and pick dinner from your own backyard, food that you planted and nurtured. It’s not a chore. Or at least, it’s not a chore like mopping the floor. There’s a substantial reward for maintaining a garden: sweet crispy carrots, deeply savory heirloom tomatoes, fresh snappy greens. Way better than shiny floors.
Second, homegrown vegetables taste significantly better than grocery store produce. I can’t emphasize that enough: the flavor difference is enormous.
And finally — and perhaps most critically — you should plant a garden because our food system is a hot mess.
When I was a kid, most of the families in my neighborhood had a backyard vegetable garden. My older brothers were talented gardeners, so ours was fully stocked with family favorites: heirloom tomatoes, peppers, peas, and beans. Other families had gardens larger and smaller, but most everyone grew something. Our gardens were organic before spraying chemical cocktails became the norm, and “organic” suddenly required a label. My mom was a canning expert who kept our family flush with fresh tomato sauce and green beans all winter long.
But over time, prepackaged convenience food gradually gained a controlling foothold at the grocery store, and by the time I was an adult who had to fend for herself, the frozen food cases spanned three aisles.
So what does this have to do with gardening?
The generations behind me — and some of my own — have lost the know-how and the instinctive interest in growing food on a micro level (i.e., for themselves and their families). Despite the wild popularity of cooking shows and food blogging, the vast majority of Americans still eat out most meals of the week.
Gaining cooking skills is one part of the solution; having access to fresh, affordable, and really delicious, healthy produce is another. When someone tells me they hate tomatoes, I always ask, have you ever had a homegrown tomato? Grocery store tomatoes — mass produced cue balls that are bred for uniform appearance and their ability to survive shipping intact — are disgusting.
It may or may not be common knowledge that commercial tomatoes are picked green, boxed up for shipping, and later hosed down with ethylene gas to artificially promote color ripening. The result is a flavorless mouthful with an unpleasant texture.
A homegrown or farm-fresh-local tomato, however, is a thing of beauty: savory, complex, acidic but sweet. There’s just no comparison between the two.
Growing your own food comes with a happy list of advantages:
- You know where your food comes from, and what’s been (or hasn’t been) sprayed on it.
- You can save money, especially if you focus on growing the produce you use/love the most.
- Certain crops are easy to grow, are prolific, and store for a long time, which means you can produce 6 to 12 months’ worth of one crop each growing season. Some examples are garlic, onions, winter squash, potatoes, carrots, leeks, parsnips, and cold-hardy herbs.
- Certain crops are easy to preserve for extended storage, whether frozen, canned, or dehydrated: tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, sweet corn, savory vegetables (soup stock for the freezer), herbs, apples, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries.
- Homegrown produce tastes sooo much better. (It was worth saying again 🙂 ).
- Gardening is great exercise, and once you’ve spent some time in the sunshine with your hands in the dirt, it’s easy to become addicted to the experience.
- You can worry less about shortages (here we go again) — grow your own pie pumpkins and you won’t have to worry about Libby’s dropping the ball and ruining your Thanksgiving dessert options.
- Bumper crops mean you can share your goodies with your friends and loved ones. Giving is good. Receiving is good. It’s all good when comes from the garden.
Growing your own food is not the most effortless thing you’ll ever do — there’s work involved, I won’t lie about that — but in addition to all of the significant reasons above, it will give you an appreciation of the effort and challenges required to feed ourselves and the world.
If everyone grew something — even basil on a windowsill — our collective views on the food industry, where it stands now, and where we want it to be and why, would shift significantly in favor of healthy, delicious choices.
So, let’s get growing! 🙂