Types of organic food to grow
On behalf of, and with our thanks to Keith Higgins
2. WHAT TYPES OF ORGANIC FOOD CAN YOU GROW?
Unfortunately, organic food can be more expensive than its non-organic counterpart. So, how can you avoid this extra expense? By growing organic food yourself of course. Whether you have a whole field for growing crops or simply want to experiment in the garden, growing organic food is a sustainable way of living, that’s eco-friendly.
If you’ve a farm or simply raise a few animals, you may want to think about organic rearing for meat and dairy products. However, for the most part you’ll likely be considering the opportunities for growing organic fruit and vegetables.
By growing fruit and veg in your own garden, you’ll be able to pick them at the height of ripeness, ensuring they taste great and are above all, healthier for you. Even organic produce in your grocery or supermarket would have been picked well in advance of becoming ripe – otherwise they’ll be rotten on the shelves. This can affect the nutritional value they provide.
Then you have to think of the thousands of miles these organic produce may have travelled. The carbon emissions released during transport will add to global warming issues and as such, you’re not doing anything to help out your overall carbon footprint.
Instead, growing your own organic food will improve your footprint and provide you with healthy, nutritious foods to enjoy.
So, what are the best foods to get started with? Let’s take a look at five popular options.
When it comes to growing fruit and vegetables at home, tomatoes are one of the most popular. These taste great when freshly picked and contain a number of nutritious ingredients; Vitamins C, K and B6. There’s also folic acid, fibre, carotenes and biotin, so plenty of goodness for your body.
If you plan on growing tomatoes, there are a few ‘need to knows’. First off, you have to be proactive and ensure giving them high quality soil to feed off, plenty of sunshine and loads of watering. Ideally, your tomatoes will have at least six hours of sun each day, whilst the soil will be rich and organic – compost is perfect.
• When should you plant tomatoes?
Tomatoes will need a fairly long growing period so you can harvest the fruits of your labour. Ideally you’d have the seeds growing indoors some six weeks before spring’s end, then transferring them outside. If you want, you can instead purchase seedlings. It’s important not to expose them to cold nights early on as they don’t take too well to the frosty weather.
Cucumbers are popularly grown at home due to the sheer volume you’ll get with each harvest. Whether you’ll be pickling or eating fresh, cucumbers offer a fantastic level of nutrients, including Vitamins A and C. You’ll also have folic acid and a good amount of fibre too.
If you plan to grow cucumbers at home, it’s important to realise they’re a vine plant and therefore, you’ll want to train them to traverse a trellis or fence. If instead you decide to grow in the ground, just ensure the soil’s well drained to avoid rotting.
• When should you plant cucumbers?
As with tomatoes, cucumbers prefer to grow in the warmer climates, so you should avoid planting when there’s the risk of frost in winter and spring. Your first harvest should be planted at the end of spring, whilst you’d have time for a second batch in mid-summer.
It’s also worth noting that home-grown cucumbers can be high in cucurbitacin, which has a bitter taste. It’s more prevalent at the stem end, so discard this if required. To avoid the bitter taste, ensure your cucumbers are kept healthy during the growing period.
3. Culinary herbs
Many of us love using herbs for cooking and if you’re the same, it may be worth growing your own. The good news is, it’s pretty easy to grow herbs, whilst being a cheap alternative to picking them up from a supermarket. They add a healthy flavour to your meals, so why not give them a go by growing at home?
From mint and rosemary, to thyme and coriander, there’s a plethora of herbs you can grow in your garden. Just be aware, most herbs don’t like to be sat in drenched soil, so ensure water is well drained. You don’t have to worry about starving either and herbs can often survive the fiercest of droughts.
• When should you plant herbs?
In general, you’d be safe planting most herbs in the last of spring’s frost, however there are some exceptions to this rule you should be aware of. One of these is basil, which can be very sensitive to cold weather. As a side note, it’s also worth removing the flower buds on your herbs, to ensure energy’s directed to the leaves instead.
Beans are a culinary favourite for many, so fortunately they’re pretty easy to grow and harvest too. A good harvest will yield plenty of beans and they’re a great source of vitamins, protein, iron and fibre.
If you’ll be growing pole beans, you’ll need a trellis to support the stalk. They’ll use this to climb and support themselves, rather than dropping when growing to a certain height. Your other option is bush beans, which will produce more beans but in turn, take up greater space.
• When should you plant beans?
Again, beans prefer warm soil so you should avoid the winter and spring seasons. They’ll grow well in most soil, but just ensure it’s well drained. Don’t confuse this for a need not to water though as they’ll want this regularly. It would also be advised to use straw or grass clippings around the base of the stem to retain moisture better.
5. Lettuce and other green salads
Salads are the perfect food for a hot summer’s day, so why not grow your own at home? Not only are salads the ideal accompaniment for lunch and dinner, but they’re also highly nutritious; full of vitamins, folic acid and manganese.
One of your only difficulties though is deciding which to choose – with hundreds of salad variants available. Some of the most popular include iceberg, romaine, mesclun and Boston. If your garden experiences drought throughout the year, it’d be advised to choose salad with better water retention, such as iceberg.
• When should you plant salad greens?
Unlike the other fruit and vegetables in this section, salad greens actually thrive in the cooler weather. Therefore, your best bet is to plant in early spring. You can continue planting throughout the year too, so add new seeds every few weeks until late summer. This will ensure you’ve a continuous supply of fresh salads. You can also pluck leaves one at a time too, keeping inner leaves growing – rather than pulling up the whole plant.