Vegetables

Backyard Gardening for Your Table and Community

Freshly harvested carrots.

By Suzie Wilson

These days, many seniors are embracing the idea of growing produce for themselves, their friends, and their neighbors. If you aren’t sure how to get started, where you could offer up your home-raised goods for others, or even what to make with your fresh food, the Laidback Gardener presents some resources to help.

Your First Vegetable Garden

They say experts start out as beginners, and that’s just as true with gardening—regardless of your age! You might think you don’t have a green thumb, but the truth is a little bit of research will tell you everything you need to know about plants, their needs, and what all is involved with tending them.

  • You probably are thinking about growing the veggies you enjoy eating the most, but beyond that, you should compare vegetables to find out what’s worth growing in your circumstances. For instance, different plants take different lengths of time to grow, and some stop growing in hot weather. 
  • Plants also have space requirements to consider. Even if you start with a young plant rather than a seed, you need to leave space for the adult plant’s spread.
  • You may need to remove dead trees or overgrowth in order to create this space. That’s a job for a professional, so do some research on sites like Angi.com to find the best tree removal contractor in your area.
  • Once you select plants and a space, Family Handyman explains you should prepare the soil to meet the nutrient requirements of your plants. 
  • It’s also important to know when your vegetables are ready to harvest. That way, you’re not digging in too soon—or too late!
  • Beyond your vegetable garden, consider how else your garden can contribute to your home and kitchen. For instance, you can grow herbs to supplement your recipes and do some composting with your kitchen waste. 

Enough to Share

Cherry tomatoes on the vine.
Even a small garden can supply vegetables enough to share! Photo: Dan Gold, Unsplash

Since produce has a shelf life, you might be under the impression that a vegetable garden is a bit of a one-hit wonder, providing just a day or two of meals for an awful lot of work. However, there is an amazing array of things you can do with your homegrown goods, and you’ll be surprised by how much a healthy garden will produce. In fact, chances are you’ll have plenty to share with others who are in need.  

  • If you decide to grow herbs, you can not only snip them for your evening meal, but preserve them through air drying or by using a dehydrator. 
  • You’re probably well aware that vegetables can be frozen, but you might not realize how easy it is to do it yourself. There are a few tricks, however, like leaving room for liquids and blanching them first. 
  • Many people are struggling to put food on the table. Happily, you can donate your fresh produce to food banks, pantries, and other food organizations.

Whatcha Got Cookin’?

Preparing tomatoes in a kitchen.
There are all sorts of ways of cooking up vegetables. Photo: Louis Hansel, Unsplash

One of the biggest aspects of growing your own food is, of course, eating it! There are options aplenty, not only for your fresh produce, but also for your well-stocked pantry that are perfect for seniors looking to stay healthy. Read on for some healthy options for turning your garden bounty into delicious eats:

  • An obvious vegetable gardener’s go-to is a salad, but exploring various salad recipes can inspire you beyond plain-Jane varieties. 
  • Consider exploring the produce available at your local farmers’ markets. This can give you an idea of what you might like to grow at home. Kailua Town Farmers Market is just one example of the many you’ll find in your own hometown.
  • Cooking with fresh herbs is a bit different from using dried herbs. They pack a more flavorful wallop, and you want to prepare them the right way.
  • You can’t donate home-canned goods to food pantries, but you can give them as gifts to friends, family members, and neighbors. Label the contents and put together a basket to share with someone you love or a neighbor who might be having trouble feeding their family.

Proper planning is the key to a successful first garden. From your own backyard, you can grow enough to feed your family, fill your pantry, and share with your community. And what’s more, if you decide to put your house up for sale, you may get some attention from people who want a house with a built-in garden! From your table and beyond, these resources will guide you toward a rewarding backyard gardening adventure.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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