Backyard Gardening: Organic Life in the City

Written by: Joshua MacAran

A pile of vibrant tomatoes, lettuce, asparagus, zucchini, broccoli, and radishes

A pile of fresh, healthy, vibrant organic vegetables!

Organic produce is often expensive and not always delicious – unless you grow it yourself! Setting up a backyard or window will garden is easy, fun, and economical.

The benefits of organic gardening are enormous and have a much greater scope than the benefits of organic eating. You get delicious, pesticide free vegetables at a low cost. You spend time working with plants and nature, which according to Floriculture Chair Dr. Charlie Hall of Texas A&M “helps people concentrate better in the home and workplace. Studies show that tasks performed while under the calming influence of nature are performed better and with greater accuracy, yielding a higher quality result. Moreover, being outside in a natural environment can improve memory performance and attention span by twenty percent.” You get gentle exercise in the comfort of your own home. Best of all, you’ll often harvest more than you can eat. The extra can be preserved for the winter or shared with family and friends. You will probably find that your children, friends, and family are curious about your gardening adventures. They’ll definitely appreciate the fruits of your labors! Remember that you can start with just a few plants, so don’t be intimidated.

The first step is to make a place to plant something. If you have a back yard, then you already have a great place to start. A front yard is just as good! If you don’t have any soil at all in your home, then you can buy or make window boxes, or use large pots. Don’t let lack of funds discourage you. All kinds of recycled materials can be nailed together or modified to serve as plant pots. Many sizes will work but for a producing vegetable, the container should be two to three feet deep, a foot and a half across or wider, and needs to have holes for drainage. Most vegetables benefit from afternoon sunlight, so put them in a west facing window or a location that isn’t too heavily shaded by trees or other buildings. Another great option if you want to do some larger plants but don’t have a good yard for it is to find a community garden in your area.

Soil is the next consideration. To keep it simple, most soil is fine for growing food. If there is an entrenched colony of grass you’ll want to take a shovel and dig up the first six inches, or until you have more dirt than root. If there are farms in your area you can often get free manure, which is a great way to add some nutrients to your soil, but it isn’t a necessity. Make sure to take some time to break up your soil so that it has good drainage. Most city soil is quite compacted. Use your shovel to break up another six inches of soil below your seeds so that your plants have room to spread their roots.

The third step is to decide what to grow and when to grow it. Each climate zone has different growing times, but the rule of thumb is most vegetables are planted in spring after the last frost and harvested in summer. There are many winter crops, especially if you’re in warm climate, including kale, salad greens, beets, peas, and winter squashes. Check to find your planting zone and a schedule for planting specific crops in your area. They also have some great information about how many plants of each type you would need to feed your family. If you’re just starting out, tomatoes and zucchini are easy and produce a lot. Just be careful with the zucchini – they’ll take over as much as space as you give them! Swiss chard is another easy produce for beginners.

Buy some seeds at your local garden store, or better yet save and dry seeds from the vegetables you eat at home. Plant them one half inch below the surface of the soil (in rows if you don’t want a mess!) and don’t pack the soil too tightly on top. Water them every day in the beginning. If seeds are too much hassle and you have a little extra money, you can also buy seedlings from a nursery or farmer’s market.

As they grow larger, you can spread your waterings out. All soil falls somewhere between sand and clay. If your soil is heavy clay (when it dries, it’s in a hard clump like dry clay), then you can give it a large amount of water once or twice a week, and the soil will retain the moisture. If you have a lot of sand in your soil you will need to water more two or three times a week because sandy soil has much faster drainage. Neither type is better – they’re just different.

How much should you water your plants? Leave them in a small puddle, let it drain, and then water them enough to leave another small puddle. If you’ve been watering the same area for 10 mintues, then you’ve watered enough and you probably have very sandy soil.

Take a little time each week to remove unwanted grass and plants that don’t look like the rest of them. This should take you less than 20 minutes. Don’t worry too much about the little clumps – go for the more mature weeds! Try to pull them out at the base and get as much of the root as you can. Grab some gardening gloves so you don’t mess up your hands too badly. In a few months you’ll have the proud experience of eating your very own organic produce!

There is a lot to know about growing plants, but at its heart organic gardening is very simple. It’s fun to get out and get a little muddy, and having a backyard garden is a great way get a little more green in your life. Plant, water, and nurture your vegetables, and they will grow for you.

Watermelon And Summertime Just Go Together

There are over 1200 varieties of watermelon in the world

Enter a beautiful summer day in a neighborhood full of playing children with a large cut up watermelon and you are sure to be surrounded by new friends eager to grab a slice of the sweet and juicy fruit.  This is why this tropical plant, which originated from Africa, has become one of the most popular picks of the season.

Watermelon can be found in just about any country these days, and is grown in places like Asia, Africa, Mexico, the United States, and even Russia. This amazing fruit contains six percent sugar and the rest is water.  But the nutrition and fiber is pretty high.  Watermelon is high in beta-carotene and lycopene, which are great cancer fighters.

When you think of the watermelon it is common to imagine a large, round green fruit with a red flesh interior and black seeds.  But that is not the only variety available.  In fact there are over 1200 different types of watermelon that exist today.  A popular find in most grocery stores is the seedless watermelon grown in Mexico, which can range anywhere from a cantaloupe size up to one larger than a basketball.  You can also find yellow watermelons, which are sweeter than red ones and have a slight honey flavor; and oblong watermelons that are also super sweet.

Whichever variety of watermelon you choose you will be sure to please just about any palette.  This is also a very versatile fruit that goes great with any barbecue, wedding, or any other occasion.

U.S. Agriculture Exports Are On The Rise

Corn is one of the biggest export products from the U.S.

Agriculture in the United States could see a big boost over the next year as the U.S. Department of Agriculture aggressively promotes exporting fruit products to countries like China and Canada.

Currently there is a large demand for our agricultural produce such as fresh fruits and vegetables and nuts, especially in Hong Kong.  Since the beginning of 2010 there have been $5.9 billion in export sales, which is a $200 million increase from last year.

The growing number of exports has been a major plus to the economy and speaks well of the products we are delivering.  The USDA expects those numbers to continue to increase as the Obama administration continues to pursue export relationships with other countries.

The most popular commodities grown in the United States so far have been wheat and corn with cotton and nuts also in high demand.  Countries like Russia and China have such a low harvest rate on these items that is cheaper to buy from abroad, which is great news for the United States.

With so many areas in the world having a decreased agricultural demand the United States is about to make a major impact on food supply, which benefits our farmers and foreign relations.

Celebrate Mother’s Day With Fresh Fruit

Make Mother's Day special with fresh fruit

This Mother’s Day can be a healthy treat for mom with several fruity meal ideas that you can prepare for breakfast lunch or dinner.  You might want to make a list of her favorite fruits then seek the best and most fresh produce available to make her day a special one.

If you would like to surprise your mother in the morning there are a few ways to do this. Some ideas for tasty breakfasts could include blueberries with honey or Agave infused vanilla yogurt with graham crackers, and topped with crumbled dark chocolate.  If she loves strawberries, which are coming in season, consider making strawberry shortcake, pancakes or waffles.  Blueberries and raspberries also make great choices for your favorite gourmet muffin recipe, which can be topped with sweetened cream cheese for added decadence.

For lunch you can indulge your mom with a gourmet salad mixed with luscious greens, avocadoes, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, red bell peppers, mushrooms, honey glazed walnuts, salmon and goat cheese.  Top it off with honey mustard or poppy seed dressing.  Add a bagel and lox with cream cheese, which can also be complimented with sliced kiwis and ruby red grapes.

If dinner is what you prefer you can still bring on the fruit.  Keep in mind the type of dish you are preparing.  For fish and seafood try citrus fruits.  There are many varieties of oranges available right now that are both sweet and tangy.  Meyer lemons are also a great choice and are sweeter than regular lemons.  Poultry dishes can be preceded by a delicious Waldorf salad or fruit salad mixed with melons, bananas, blueberries and grapes.  With other meats you could incorporate figs, pears, apples and fresh cranberries.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to adding healthy fruit to your Mother’s Day activities.  Not only is this a fresh surprise, but can also make any meal gourmet.