I asked Meredith Melendez, Horticulture Consultant at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Burlington County branch, for tips on how to get the most out of your garden. For starters, I wondered if home grown vegetables are, in fact, healthier than ones bought at the supermarket. “That’s debated a lot, but I like growing my own vegetables because I know what I’ve done to them,” she explained. “I know my comfort level when it comes to dealing with pests and disease and so I treat my plants accordingly. I think control over what you’re putting in your mouth is comforting to people.”
When planning your garden, Melendez recommends that you take time to think about why you want a garden. There are so many different reasons. It might be because you want to grow your own food or it could be that you want to expose your kids to the natural environment. The focus with the White House has really been producing food, but in terms of kids in the garden, it’s just great to create these outdoor environments for them to experience nature on their own, and in a supervised setting.
There are plenty of free catalogs that you can look through to figure out what piques your interest and start in that direction. Next, choose your garden’s location carefully. Your plot is really important in terms of how much sunlight it’s going to get and how the soil’s been treated. There’s a lot of information now on shade gardens, but when it comes to getting fruit and vegetables out of a shady area, that’s where it gets really tough.
Melendez recommends that folks get their soil tested. In New Jersey you can do that through Rutgers Cooperative Extension for a $15 fee. Check out Master Gardener Programs where you live for a similar testing service. That will tell you your soil Ph which is really important for the types of plants that you can grow in that soil, and it will also tell you the nutrients available in that soil. From that information you can get tips regarding fertilizer, lime, and ways to get the soil at the right composition for what you want to grow.
Whether or not growing your vegetables will actually save you money is debatable, in terms of the money you spend to create and sustain your garden. But, Melendez sees other benefits in growing your own. “I know we eat more vegetables because they’re coming out of our garden than if I had to go to the store to purchase them, so it’s a great way to get my family involved in growing these things,” she points out.” It certainly helps with my kids. If they pick it, they tend to eat it more than if we just bought it at the store.”