Vegetables at Strawberry Banke, NH

Vegetables at Strawberry Banke, NH

Growing Groceries




Probably several factors are responsible for the renewed interest in backyard vegetable gardening. Financial insecurity has many looking for ways to stretch hard earned dollars. Growing one’s own food can certainly provide nutritional as well as economic benefits. Two or three dollars spent on a package of seeds or on a cell pack of pepper or broccoli transplants will certainly more than pay for itself if plants are well grown. Perhaps the recent food scares are also encouraging food growing efforts as gardeners know how and where their plants are grown and they can reduce the risk of food borne illness by adhering to good gardening practices.


I have been growing vegetables for quite some time and really never gave much thought as to why I do it other than I love eating them. I do appreciate those feelings of self-sufficiency and satisfaction that comes with piling baskets high with fresh picked beans, crispy cucumbers and sun warmed tomatoes. And, I enjoy sharing the harvest with family and friends and co-workers and whoever else will take a zucchini or two or three off my hands. Another great reason, at least for me, for filling the garden beds with vegetables and herbs is to grow varieties that you just can’t find at the local grocery store. Much of January is spent pouring over seed catalogs eagerly devouring savory descriptions of both heirloom and hybrid offerings. It is always difficult to whittle down that expansive wish list into a more realistic seed order and I’d be lying if I claimed to always be successful at doing so!


Over the years I have found a handful of tried and true vegetable varieties that I plant each year. These include selections like Sungold tomatoes, Super Sugar Snap peas, Pimento peppers, Honey and Cream sweet corn, Lutz Winter Keeper beets and also, a large-leaved Italian basil because the leaves are really huge so picking is quicker when harvesting for pesto. Then, of course, there are new finds. Some have just been introduced like 2009 All America Selections winner ‘Lambkin’ melon while others have been around for a while but something about them caught my attention. 


I have found that a most common mistake beginning vegetable gardeners make is to try and cultivate too large of a garden. It is better to start small the first year, find out what plants do well, see how much time and effort your garden involves, and then expand (or not) from there. Weeding, watering, planting, pest control and harvesting are much less overwhelming when relegated to an initially small and manageable garden plot. Try your hand at a hundred square foot garden bed, or less, if this is your first attempt at growing vegetables.  


Even if you don’t have that little plot of earth in your own yard to cultivate, other opportunities to grow food plants include container gardening or community garden plots. Maybe you can barter some gardening work for extra vegetables in a friend’s or neighbor’s garden. Then there are local farmer’s markets and stands, and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs for those desiring just picked, homegrown goodness with out plant nurturing responsibilities.


Beginning gardeners will find that there are a lot of vegetable gardening books and vegetable gardening websites one can check out for basic growing information. Neighborhood garden centers and nurseries may also offer advice. Then of course, there are your local Cooperative Extension Centers. For those unfamiliar with Cooperative Extension, it is the educational arm of a land-grant university. The mission of Cooperative Extension is to take university based research and put it into a form that is understandable and useful to the general public. In Connecticut, there are Cooperative Extension Centers in each of the eight counties and also the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at the Storrs campus. You can visit our website, for contact information. Many common gardening questions are already covered in fact sheet formats.


A more recent development is the E-Extension national website which has thousands of FAQ’s on a variety of topics including home horticulture. Check out for information on numerous topics and if you can’t find an answer to your question you can use their ‘Ask the Expert’ feature.


You are also welcome to join me for our Knowledge to Grow On seminar entitled ‘The A, B, C’s of Vegetable Gardening’ at the Middlesex County Extension Center on March 28th. Our website has full information. Part of the seminar will be spent outside, weather permitting, where proper soil preparation, seed sowing and transplanting techniques will be demonstrated in the model community garden plot managed by Master Gardener volunteers.


Whatever your reason for growing your own groceries, it is both an addicting and rewarding experience. Both your soil conditions and your gardening abilities will improve with each growing season. We’re here to inspire, advise, educate and grow right along beside you.