Grow your own

How to make veggies in your backyard.

  65

by

From the February 2009 issue of the magazine.

  65

You won’t find Greg Seaman squeezing the fruit at his local grocery store in Parksville, B.C. That’s because the 500-sq-ft garden in his backyard provides his family with all the fruit and vegetables they need. “We refer to it as our backyard food factory because it cranks out so much produce,” says Seaman, who serves up a bevy of tips and advice for other home gardeners through his website at www.eartheasy.com

The payoff from even a small home garden can be surprising. A 10-ft by 20-ft vegetable plot and a couple of fruit trees is enough to keep an average family of four eating free for up to eight months of the year in temperate climates like southern B.C and six months of the year in many other parts of Canada, says Seaman. Here’s how to get the maximum benefit from your personal plot:

Go for maximum yield. Grow plants that produce the largest amount of edible material. Tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, spinach and peppers are all champs in this regard. Ten tomato plants provide enough of the food to supply a family’s needs from July through November and you can double the number of tomatoes you get just by picking off the yellow flowers throughout the growing season. As for lettuce, Seaman plants a new row every two weeks so he always has fresh leafy greens to eat.

Plant “expensive” food. If it costs a lot to buy, it’s worth growing yourself. Garlic, for instance, is pricey, while broccoli costs almost as much as ground beef in a supermarket, so both make sense as home crops. On the other hand, corn and potatoes are cheaper to buy than grow.

Go vertical. Beans, peas, cucumbers and squash are easy to grow on poles and fences, which means you’ll get more food using less of your backyard. If you plan to stay where you are for several years, plant a few apple, pear and cherrytrees to keep your family stocked up on fruit. They take two to five years to come to fruit-bearing age.

Skip the garden centre. You don’t need to shell out big bucks for fertilizers and manure. With the exception of peat moss, everything you need to prepare soil is already in your backyard. Household compost, grass clippings and mulched leaves can provide most of the nutrients your growing plants need. “Some people put so much money into their garden, they’re not really saving anything on food,” Seaman says.

Try blueberries, not begonias. If digging up your yard doesn’t sound like much fun, relax. There are other ways to grow food. Container gardening is one; another option is to add good eats to your existing flowerbeds. “I call it edible landscaping,” says Carolyn Herriot, author of A Year on the Garden Path. Strawberries make excellent groundcover instead of annual plants such as verbena. Gooseberry and blueberry bushes can share space with ornamental shrubs. Not only will you save money on fruit, says Herriot, but the plants themselves are quite striking, with pretty blossoms in the spring and fiery red leaves in the fall. And you don’t have to stop there: vegetables like snap peas, kale and chives not only taste great, but look good too.

Be smart about pests. Don’t plant corn—it’s a magnet for raccoons. If squirrels and birds are an issue, buy a motion-sensing sprinkler.

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