A farmers' market in your own backyard

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Imagine looking out your kitchen window at a lush and tidy garden bursting with vegetables, fruit and flowers. When it’s time for dinner, you’ll stroll through the garden beds to see what’s ripe, and plan your meal around the herbs and vegetables you’ve harvested moments before. For breakfast, how about those beautiful organic eggs you just collected from your own hens? As idyllic as this may sound, it’s easier to achieve than you might think.

As the cost of groceries skyrockets and the demand for locally-grown foods increases, millions of Americans have been inspired to raise their own food at home. In fact, backyard food production is the fastest-growing garden trend in America for the third year in a row.

Why Grow Your Own?

1) Freshness. No mealy, watery supermarket tomato can compare to the sun-warmed scarlet fruits your family picks from your own garden. Unlike grocery-store produce, which is harvested half-ripe so it won’t spoil on its long journey to the store, food you grow yourself is picked at the peak of ripeness. If you’re a cook, you know how much the freshness and quality of ingredients influences the flavor. There’s absolutely nothing fresher than food you’ve just harvested from your own yard.

2) Cost. Think about the produce you buy. One small package of store-bought herbs might cost over $3. A few seeds, or a started seedling, will cost less and provide you with fresh herbs all season long. Some herbs, like rosemary, can even be brought indoors in the winter and will continue to produce for years. That $5 box of organic cherry tomatoes represents a tiny fraction of what one tomato plant (at $1 a seedling) will produce over a couple of months later this summer.

3) Your family’s health. In addition to the fact that fresher foods contain significantly more nutrients, raising your own food gives you control over what your family eats. You’ll know exactly what – if any – chemical fertilizers or toxic pesticides were applied to your plants. You’ll have the security of knowing how your food has been grown and what was used in the process.

How to Get Started?

If you’ve never gardened before, I recommend starting small. A few containers and pots on your deck, or a small raised bed in the yard, is a great way to see if you enjoy gardening. Herbs are especially well-suited to container gardening, as are lettuces, “patio” tomatoes, green peppers and eggplant.

If you’re more ambitious you can establish a garden plot, where, with careful research, planning and attention to planting dates and plant varieties, you can grow a significant portion of your family’s produce. A medium-sized garden can even produce enough extra produce to freeze and store for enjoyment all winter long. It’s a real treat, in the middle of dreary February, to open your freezer and pull out tomatoes and basil for a pasta that tastes like July!

For even more variety, consider planting some fruit trees and berry bushes in your yard. A chicken coop with a small flock of beautiful hens will provide not only the freshest eggs you’ve ever tasted, but wonderful fertilizer for your garden.

Keep in mind that a successful garden needs enough sun (at least 8 hours a day of direct sun) and rich, well-drained soil. Have your soil tested and adjust the pH and nutrients as needed. Make sure to add at least several inches (more if your soil is mostly clay or sand) of organic matter, like compost, so your plants will thrive.

Planning where to situate your garden or chickens, which varieties to raise and how to care for them can be daunting. There are many excellent resources on line and at the library, or you can hire the services of a professional garden coach to help answer your questions. With a little effort, you’ll soon be reaping some truly delicious rewards!

Stacey Collins lives and gardens in Cumberland and runs Backyard Harvest, a garden and chicken consulting business, at MaineBackyardHarvest.com.

Harvesting home-grown vegetables…………….

Growing your own vegetables….

Food glorious food……….