Spring is in the air and April is National Gardening Month! Warmer temperatures and sunny days create the perfect growing season for some of our favorite fruits and vegetables.
Gardens come in all shapes and sizes and all you need is a warm and sunny spot, water, and a little love! This month we are going to explore the many different and approachable ways you start growing produce plants at home!
You can easily grow plants in containers and keep them inside if you do not have an outdoor space optimal for growing plants. Keeping plants indoors helps prevent damage from pests and loss due to weather.
Herbs are great for window sills as they can grow in small containers and are relatively easy to grow and maintain. Herbs have many culinary uses that enhance the flavors in our food without adding additional sodium, sugars, or fats.
Herbs come from the leafy part of the plant and can either be in dried or fresh form. Some common herbs you can grow are rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, oregano, cilantro, and basil. When cooking with herbs, consider flavor profiles and combinations as well as when to add your herbs. Heartier herbs can stand up to some prolonged cooking without compromising flavor while delicate herbs should be added at the end of cooking or as a garnish because they do not tolerate heat well. You can easily dry herbs you grow to extend their shelf life and use them to make different herb mixes! Try our Italian Herb Mix recipe, which is perfect for seasoning meats, vegetables or in sauces and soups!
Tomatoes, lettuces, squash, peppers, and cucumbers can grow well in larger containers on outside patios, balconies, and porches. Each plant has specific optimal growing conditions (i.e., soil type/amount, water and sunlight needs) so be sure to maintain your plants based on the recommendations for each plant. Need ideas for what to make with your plants? Try our Viennese Cucumber Salad, Baked Squash and Zucchini, or Stuffed Bell Peppers.
If available, planting an outdoor garden in-ground allows you to plant a wider variety of plants. Deciding what to plant can be influenced by your soil, weather, available space, amount of sunlight, and what you want to eat! Produce is planted and harvested at different times and varies by region due to climate conditions, but most fruits and vegetables are planted in early spring when the risk of freezing temperatures is low. Not sure what you can grow where you live? The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which you can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location.
Plants will generally be ready to harvest and eat later in spring and continue to be available all summer long and into fall! Asparagus, spinach, and lettuce varieties are the first to be harvested. Soon, cherries, blueberries, and watermelon will be ready and before you know it you will be enjoying a fresh juicy tomato or sweet and flavorful strawberries. Explore our resource hub on Common Bytes to get recipe ideas and paint your plate with color with your garden produce! Some of our favorites: Cauliflower Ceviche, Peas, Mint, and Parmesan Crostini, and Watermelon Feta Salad.
Looking for resources to get started? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Education have many resources for growing produce at home and SNAP benefits can be used to purchase seeds and edible plants.
Be sure to check out our gardening video library for more information on growing and harvesting produce at our resource hub Common Bytes,
When produce is in season it is at its peak flavor and nutrition, lower in price, and more readily available at farmers markets and grocery stores. Growing or buying produce in season has many benefits and is recommended when possible, but remember, frozen, canned, and dried are always a great option. Canned and froze foods are cost effective and have longer shelf life, giving you more flexibility for making sure you can eat your fruit and veggies!
You can also check out our Fall Harvest Menu blog to learn more about what produce is harvested in the fall and our favorite recipes to use with the harvest!
How Food Grows
Within our programs and curricula, we explore the connection between food and our health as well as where food comes from and how it grows. Many of our partners have school or community gardens that provide educational opportunities to learn about planting, maintenance, harvesting, as well as cooking with and eating produce!
Our students also learn about plant parts as they relate to the foods that we eat highlighting the importance of eating fruits and vegetables and how to incorporate them in fun ways like with our Plant Part Pita recipe!
ABOUT COMMON THREADS
Common Threads is a national nonprofit that provides children and families cooking and nutrition education to encourage healthy habits that contribute to wellness. We equip under-resourced communities with information to make affordable, nutritious and appealing food choices wherever they live, work, learn, and play. We know that food is rooted in culture and tradition so we promote diversity in our lessons and recipes, encouraging our participants to celebrate the world around them.