The Backyard: as local as it gets

Homegrown tomatoes, ready to harvest!

No matter how little space you have, you always have room to grow something edible. Even a tiny pot near a window growing herbs. But most people have considerable more space than that; so it comes down to time and confidence. You do have to spend time in your garden, not too much each day, but generally time must be spent EVERY day. And that often has people overwhelmed. That, and they think they lack a “green thumb;” the ability to grow. Well, here’s a secret: anyone can grow food. Anyone who doesn’t mind getting a little dirt on their hands, and who will happily toil for the reward of tasting a tomato they grew from seed themselves.

Tomatoes are probably one of the most commonly grown backyard garden plants for all amateur gardeners. Why? They are easy to buy (either seeds or seedlings), easy to take care of, and the rewards are usually bountiful. Tomatoes in the supermarket or at the farmers’ market are usually relatively expensive, so being able to grow your own gives you a double satisfaction of saving a noticeable chunk of change, in addition to the pride of harvesting your own plump red tomatoes. Tomato plants also tend to produce an abundance of tomatoes per plant. So with one little seedling, you could find yourself picking tomatoes off of it for weeks. In fact, if you have a backyard garden, and your friends have backyard gardens, you have probably found yourself trying to give away your homegrown tomatoes, only to find your friends are in the same predicament!

My backyard vegetable garden: five large pots with tomatoes and basil and one small rectangular one for lettuce.

Tomatoes are also wonderfully diverse. Most people tend to choose the Big Beef variety, or perhaps the Roma to use for canning. But the shapes and sizes and colors of tomatoes are almost immeasurable. The colors span nearly the entire rainbow palette, from reds and pinks to oranges and green-and-white striped, to dark purple. However, there is more to backyard gardening than tomatoes. First, find out what grows well in your climate, then pick something you like to eat, then do some research on the Internet on that particular plant. Start small. Just choose one thing to grow, and only a few plants – maybe more, depending on what it is. Soon, you’ll discover just how easy it is and be adding more and more plants to your garden.

Depending on where you live – farm house or one-room closet in downtown New York – you’ll have to decide where to plant your future food. Pots are great, but be careful not to try to force your plants into too-small pots. They will suffer, not produce much, and you will be discouraged! Raised beds are another excellent idea, if you have the space and resources to build. Square-foot gardening is an old idea that has found its way into many an urban garden. Whatever method you choose, make sure you find some local compost (or better yet – make your own!) and ensure you are regularly fertilizing your plants. You don’t have to be scientific about it, but once or twice a month, give them an all-purpose fertilizer — organic, of course. Keep weeds down (pick them as soon as they pop up and it’ll be much easier!), keep the plants watered, and in a few months, you’ll be proudly showing off your homegrown produce!

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