2013-02-21 / News

The Island Garden

A healthier diet
BY ROGER MARSHALL

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is a distinct trend afoot in the eating habits of younger people. No longer do they plan on going to Mickey D’s for lunch, where the only vegetables are a reconstituted brown onion ring or an equally brown strip of potato. Instead, youngsters today are looking for locally grown vegetables.

These kids are looking for vegetables that for the most part are grown organically within a few miles of their homes. Most of these smart, tech-savvy, collegeeducated kids have read all the horror stories of people being poisoned by bacteria in food, about the number of miles a head of lettuce makes on its journey from California to a Jamestown dinner table, and the problems of ensuring a safe meat supply. Just look at the problems Britain is having with its beef supply, and that is in a country where stringent controls on beef were put in place after the hoof-and-mouth scares at the turn of the century.

So, in the spirit of making everybody healthier, we are going to discuss growing your own vegetables. We’ll begin with exercise – that’s right, exercise. You either have to dig over a patch of soil or create an area to grow your vegetables, and that usually means digging. Your exercise for today is to dig an area 12 by 4 feet wide. That is the size of your first growing bed. You only need it dig it one shovelful deep – no backbreaking double digging here. Ideally, you will skim off the lawn or grass to a depth of about 2 inches and a foot wide. Now dig a trench one spade width deep at one end of the growing bed.

When you skim off the next foot-wide strip of grass, turn it upside down and lay it in the bottom of your trench. The soil you dig out in your second trench is dropped into the first trench to cover the upside down grass. Work your way down the entire 12-foot length and throw the first layer of grass and dirt in the last trench. That is enough exercise for the next month, so now you’ll need to soak in the bath or hot tub to get over your exertions. While you are lying there, think of all the lovely vegetables you are going to grow.

Once you have dug your growing bed, toss on top of it a large bag of organic matter or compost, and a large bag of manure. I would use the bale-size material that Secret Garden has available. Rake or dig all that matter into the soil. Later we’ll add more amendments but for now that will do.

Now for plants. Don’t bother starting from seed this first year. That can come later. Instead go to Secret Garden and buy the plants you want. Tomatoes are most popular, so a four-pack of tomatoes is high on the list. Next will be lettuce. You’ll need a 12-pack of them. Now you need to decide what else you want to grow. Herbs? Just buy the ones you want and repot them into larger pots. That way you can bring them indoors in the winter. A few pepper plants, maybe an eggplant, maybe some cabbage or leeks.

Armed with your goodies you can head back to the garden. If you plan on growing tomatoes, spread a little organic superphosphate on the soil and dig it in. Jamestown Hardware has it. If you are going to grow lettuce or other green vegetables, spread a little organic high nitrogen fertilizer – like blood meal – on the soil. (Look on the fertilizer bag for three numbers. They look like this: 20-10-10. The first number is nitrogen. It basically means the mix is 20 percent nitrogen. The second is phosphate and the third is potash.) Nitrogen helps green plants to grow, but do not put it on your tomatoes or squash. It will help the green parts grow, not the fruit.

You can put two tomato plants across the 4-foot width of your garden. Set the other two at the other end of the garden. Plant your lettuce at 6-inch intervals. Reach in from both sides of the bed without standing in it. Standing on the soil compacts it and makes it harder for your plants to grow. Plant your eggplants and peppers at 15- to 18-inch intervals. That may seem excessive now, but when the plants grow larger they will fill the space. (Tip: I grow lettuce between the tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. Lettuce will be harvested within 35 to 40 days before the other plants grow large.)

Water your plants in and wait. Do not let your garden dry out. The best time to water is each morning so that the sun can dry the leaves before nightfall. That’s about it for the first try. Remember, gardening is fun, even if you have a sore back from all that digging.

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