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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Gena Bigler: Growing a garden, no matter
how small, can be immensely rewarding

During World Wars I and II, Americans at home helped support the war effort by growing victory gardens. With so much of the workforce overseas, farms suffered. By growing some of the food themselves, Americans were empowered by taking their needs into their own hands and their own yards. By the end of the war, Americans were producing 40 percent of the food consumed. Today, even the White House has a garden.
 

There may not be a call for victory gardens these days, but as the winter gray creeps on, fresh vegetables from the garden sound more enticing than ever. And we are blessed to have a vast selection of produce in our groceries.
 

Lately, however, some of that beautiful produce may contain genetic material from animals. Genetically modified food is banned in much of Europe, but it is not even labeled in the United States.
 

One of the ways to avoid genetically modified food is by buying organic. Another is by growing your own food from organic heirloom seeds. In addition to being healthier and cost efficient, growing your own food is immensely rewarding. This may not sound realistic at first, but even if you just plant a few herbs you will see a dramatic impact on your food costs.
 

From a few small pots on your porch, you can get a wealth of veggies or berries. Instead of landscaping with pansies or another annual, consider strawberries or grape tomatoes. Check with your neighborhood association before you do, some are very strict about what is permitted.
 

Food gardens can be very attractive. Many fruits and vegetables benefit from being planted near flowers. Combining raised beds with companion planting not only looks attractive but makes gardening easier by deterring bugs that would eat up all your hard work. If you are new to gardening, there are a plethora of resources. From Mother Earth News to Martha Stewart, there is a wide variety of resources available. If you prefer a more personal touch, call your local extension office. They are a fantastic resource for gardeners. Most even do soil testing.
 

If you have limited space, there are some creative ways to garden. Raised beds are great for small yards. If you are limited to a small deck or porch, container gardening might be just right for you. Pick out a few pretty pots and plant away. For shallow rooting plants such as lettuce, a rain gutter can be mounted to a wall or fence for innovative vertical gardening.
 

After you have plotted what you want to plant and where and how you will plant it, you need to find good unmodified seeds. There are plenty of resources for organic and heirloom seeds. Organizations such as SeedSavers.org provide access to a wide assortment of seeds. Membership to groups such as Seed Savers supports safe access to unadulterated seeds and helps preserve species for future generations.
 

There are seed exchange groups on Facebook and many community gardens support or organize seed exchange meets. Most health food stores offer packaged organic seeds for sale. If you are too impatient for seeds to grow, many health food stores and nurseries also offer small organic starter plants.
 

The first time my husband and I planted a large garden, we had very little experience with a lot of the plants we chose. My grandparents were wonderful gardeners and always had enough to share with family and friends. Because of my limited experience helping them, I thought I knew more than I did. Not knowing any better, we planted radishes next to hot peppers. This led to very hot radishes. So, even if you think you know what you are doing, it couldn’t hurt to double check.
 

Enjoying a small garden can be great for anyone. Some of my fondest memories are gathering food from the garden with my grandfather and later cooking the bounty with my grandmother. Start small and you can have amazing organic food just outside your door.
 

Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.

 

Click here to read more columns from Gena Bigler.

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