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15 reasons why you should grow your own vegetables

Back then, gardening was something that every one used to do without the need for any convincing. But nowadays the situation is such that one has to be given reasons why they should do something that is going to be good for them. Duh!

This post is aimed at people who are toying with the idea of starting a garden but

Here are 15 reasons why you should grow your own vegetables. There could be more, but do you really need more? Come on!

TL;DR ( if you don’t have the time to read fully, a gist is below).

  1. Freshness
  2. Faster cooking
  3. Nutritious & Wholesome
  4. Cost/Value
  5. Education
  6. Food safety & Guarantee
  7. Choice of vegetables
  8. ATV – Any Time Veggies
  9. Therapeutic
  10. Hobby
  11. Time well spent
  12. Ecofriendly
  13. Less dependency
  14. Reduce wastage
  15. Pass on the skills

Freshness

This is a no-brainer. A vegetable from your garden is the freshest you can get. Freshness of a vegetable depends on the number of hands it passes through. Harvester, Farmer, Transporter, Wholesale dealer, Local distributor, nearest veggie vendor and finally you! I can hear you “Say no more!”

FreshLettuceGeekgardener

Less time cooking

You may ask how? Vegetables, when you grow them yourselves, lots of things differ. The way you harvest them, the time you harvest etc.

E.g. Tomato. The market tomato is harvested when it barely turns red. Actually they are harvested when the fruit skin is very thick, so that it can handle the brunt of our bad roads during transportation to the city. Vine ripened tomatoes are those that are let to ripen on the plant and you harvest them when they turn red. Vine ripe tomatoes melt in your mouth. Naturally, they are easier to cook as well.

TomatoDicesGeekgardener

Wholesome

Plants that are well taken care of, yield fruits that are healthy and nutritious. With the right usage of compost and fertilizer, one can feed the plants just what they want and when they want. This leads to proper nutrition to the plants in turn balanced nutrition in the crop. Pale leaves of Spinach, patchy ripening in tomatoes are signs of deficiency of nutrients in the plants they are harvested from. If the vegetables you consume are not complete in their nutrition, what’s the point of consuming them?

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Cost/Value

This is one tricky beast. In my experience, cost of growing a vegetable yourself might be a little more than what you get in the market. But don’t let that fact blind you. It is not what it looks like. I would like to explain it in detail with few case studies and also with a dash of philosophy.

Lets say you are growing Spinach. We all know spinach is something that’s little hard to get in fresh condition and in a condition that is safe for consumption. A while back, I had few businessmen walked into my place wanting to see my spinach grown in hydroponics. We talked about growing veggies in detail and at the end, I cut a few bunches of Spinach for them to take home as a gift. There I was, holding a big bunch of Spinach leaves in my hand. I had jokingly asked them “How much would you pay for this?” After I asked they looked at the spinach one more time and “ah.. I can give may be Rs 15 a bunch”. Certainly not what I had in my mind. I mean really after all my hard work and the best-looking spinach with fresh huge leaves? Just 15? Then before handing him that bunch, I weighed and it was a good 200gm. Noted! My answer to them was “you taste this and tell me how much you would pay!” and they left.

Next day, I get a call at 7am in the morning. I picked the call and it was none other than our guest to whom I had shared spinach yesterday. He said something that totally made my day. “Mani, I haven’t tasted this good spinach in the last 30 years. I am from a farming family and we used to get this quality back then”. He also added that he cooked the spinach without any spices so as to not eclipse the original taste. He didn’t tell me how much he would pay for that, but the answer was evident.

Next day, I get a bunch of spinach from the market priced at Rs 15 per bunch. We sit and process it for cooking, while doing that we took some photos to compare it with our homegrown. To my surprise, the store bought spinach, though it weighed 200gms, by the time we removed the roots, soil and a little bit extra stem just to be sure to not add some soil particles came to about 65 grams. Where as the spinach I gave them is 200 grams with roots, dirt, etc. Now tell me what’s the price.

This applies to most of the crops. Also every item has two things to it. One is price and other is Value. Price is absolute but value is perceived. For that gentleman I gave spinach to, it took him back in time. Sometimes value is priceless. Homegrown veggies carry more value than price. You grew them. Period.

 

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Education

This is more important than it sounds. One day, I had a reporter come over to my house for taking some pics of plants with fruits. I suggested him to take few pictures of Brinjal and tomato. He asked me something.

Reporter: “Tomato, fruit comes above the ground or below”.

Me: Facepalm (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facepalm)

No offense but this situation is little dangerous. The rate at which our cultivable lands are decreasing, our only hope is to be self- sustainable in at least some of the crops. Gardening is not rocket science, lets not make it so. If you don’t learn to garden today, in future you might have to do it the hard way! Start today, start now.

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Food safety and the guarantee

I need not explain this. The whole world is going towards “safe food”. What is safe food? Food that is raised without pesticides can be termed as safe food.

While there are many organic outlets selling vegetables at a higher price for their organic nature, it is often sold without any certification or the guarantee one needs for a veggie to be “organic”.

Of course, testing the produce is one way to find out if there are pesticide residues in it but it is impractical to do it every time you buy them from the market. Growing the veggies your self, is the only way to guarantee the safety of the food. When you grow the plants, you know exactly what goes into it.

 

OrganicParselyGeekgardener

Choice of Veggies

This is interesting topic, choice of vegetables. Choice is something special. People have their own taste, be it clothes, movies, songs, location of food, nothing can be generalized. That’s why you see million designs of clothes etc. Take a step back and focus on vegetables. Just one or two varieties of each veggie? Potato for e.g. How many varieties you have eaten? Tomato is another e.g. There are close to 500+ varieties of tomatoes, I bet you would have eaten just two or maximum three varieties. Market has naati, hybrid and cherry tomato. So who decides what I eat? Seed companies! There are varieties of vegetables bred for long storage life and thick skin for the ease of transportation. Point taken. But are those the only required characteristics from a tomato? How about Nutrition? There are fine heirloom varieties that have more nutrition than any other varieties. We cannot expect the farmer to grow 10 different varieties; they have their own troubles. That means only you can grow what YOU want! Go ahead! The choice is yours.

 

StrawberryGeekgardener

 

Any time veggies

Another no-brainer. If you have a garden, you can have veggies anytime of the day or night. Some customers who walk into my store tell me that starting a garden was the best thing that happened. In that, they were able to not only take whenever the want but how much ever they want. If you were to go to a shop you cannot just buy a couple of stems of mint for flavor. You have to buy the whole bunch. Same case with most of the herbs/exotics. Several times, I used to pluck few strawberries from my garden during my morning time in the garden.

 

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Therapeutic

Any gardener will readily agree with me on the therapeutic nature of garden. Lush greenery calms our mind. If you have a park at your home why do you need to go outside and if your park can give vegetables, then there is nothing like that! Nowadays, there are many themed gardens coming up and therapeutic gardens are one of them. Imagine a walk through your garden filled with aromatic herbs, plants with yields etc.

Also, gardening gives you much needed fresh air and also the some outdoor time under the sun.

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Hobby

There is no doubt that gardening is one of hobbies for many but do you also know it is #1 hobby in some countries? As per National Gardening Survey in the US, gardening is grown to become top hobby in the spring. Gardening keeps your mornings peaceful and also there is nothing mundane about gardening. It gives you changes everyday. It has a lot to offer for everyone.

After you start a garden, you will wear lots of caps. Plumber cap, electrician cap, farmer cap etc. Nowadays, I am working on automation system circuit design. Its lot of fun and in the coming posts I will post about some of the circuits like soil moisture sensor, irrigation timer etc. Check out Swell UK for all your aquarium, pond pump needs.

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Time well spent

This is a subjective matter but time spent on gardening is way better than most other entertainment. Parents and kids get a chance to work together in gardening. I have received mails sometimes that gardening has helped them to come out of depression. Techies find it de-stressing and can be compared to yoga.

 

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Eco friendly

Being eco-friendly is not just wearing a green tee or carrying a jute bag for shopping or doing your bit by switching off lights you don’t need. We need to do much more than that. Get off the couch and start a garden. Starting a garden brings down the number of trips you make to vegetable market. It reduces the amount of electricity your refrigerator uses to keep your veggies “fresh”. Don’t go to gym, head to your terrace. Gardening is same as going to gym and you also get veggies.

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Less dependency

When you have a garden, you simply reduce your dependency. Depends on what you grow, your benefits might vary. For e.g. if you are growing something you don’t get easily outside such as Celery. Unless you are in a super-duper market celery is hard to find. The only way to reduce your dependency is to grow it yourself. Several expats/NRIs who are my customers grow such crops for this single reason. The other day I visited a super market in Indiranagar. The price of a bunch of celery was a whopping INR 1200. I am not kidding. Turns out it was imported. Paying 1200 for a bunch of celery just because it travelled seven seas just don’t make any sense in a country that receives ample sunlight round the year and also happens to have agriculture as the backbone!

 

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Reduce wastage.

I have noticed one thing when you use homegrown veggies for cooking. Wastage is so less. Most of the wastage happens when people want to make sure that there is no dirt on the leaf/fruit. Because it is homegrown, we tend to value it more than anything. Remember I wrote about price and value? Value plays a major role here.

 

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Pass on the skills

At current rate we are taking over cultivable lands and maxing out on the limits of our non-renewable resources, we will very soon have to go back to where it all began. Eat what you grow and grow what you eat. The vegetable prices are soaring mainly due to transportation. Decouple yourself from this dependency. Teach your kids/friends to garden and they will find life much easier, healthier and happier. They will thank you, just like I did.

Last but not the least, gardening brings you lots of joy. You have to be a gardening to see what I am saying!

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I hope these reasons are more than enough to give you the necessary push to start a garden.

So what do you want to do today?

Good luck

GG

Meet San Marzano, a saucy tomato!

Before we get started, I have a question for you. Answer this.

Is tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

While you are busy thinking about it, lets proceed with this post. This post is about a variety of tomato called San Marzano. This variety is considered the best choice for paste/sauce/ketchup production. While I like that part, the main reason I chose this variety was not the usage of this tomato but its unique shape.
Differently shaped tomatoes are fun to watch and grow. This variety is unique, in that it bears long tubular fruits. I think the image below will give you an idea of what I am trying to say.


SanMarzanoTomatoGeekgardener-1

This tomato has a lot to offer. The plants are little slow to start to yield (in my case) but once they started the yield was non-stop and we were tired of harvesting red ripe tomatoes. The red ripe tomatoes on the plant are a pleasure to watch. Coming to the taste and flavor, you’ve got to try this tomato to see what I am saying. Be it cooking or for fresh consumption. This one is very good. The fruit becomes a paste within minutes of cooking. One cannot find the tomato at all in the final dish.
It is very pulpy, less seeds and juicy, making it the best candidate for sauce making. Convinced?

Now to the growing part of it. The growing method for this tomato isn’t different. Growing method in detail below.

 

 

 

Seed starting

Start the seeds of this variety is no different from other tomato varieties. Choosing good quality seeds and starting medium are key to success in getting them to germinate.
Materials you need:
• Cocopeat plug or Cocopeat or Cocopeat+compost mix ( 50:50)
• Tray to place the seedlings or Propagation Tray
• Watering can
• Polythene sheet.

 

Pre-germination Procedure:

  • Take the cocopeat plug or the cocopeat mix and moist them with water. It shouldn’t be too wet. If you squeeze the mix, some water should come but it shouldn’t pour. I think you get the idea. If you are using cocopeat plugs, simply soak them in a cup of water and you can take them out once they have expanded.
  • Make a small depression on the cocopeat surface such that it is roughly 1cm deep. Sow a couple of seeds per hole. If one doesn’t germinate, the other might. There is a chance that both might germinate. In that case, we have to just remove the weaker one.
  • Cover the seeds with cocopeat. Remember the depth of the seed is roughly 1cm.
  • Cover the top of the tray with Polythene sheet. This helps in two ways
    • It keeps the seedling mix from drying out by holding the humidity intact.
    • It protects the seeds from flying away or from rain etc..
  • The seeds should germinate in 5-7 days. Sometimes sooner and sometimes it does take up to 10 days. Anything more than that is probably a waste of time. Check if insects have taken away your seeds by just gently remove the mix that covers the seed.

 

SanMarzanoSeedlingsSanMarzanoSeedlingsGeekgardener

Post-germination

Once the seeds have germinated, you have to remove the polythene sheet that covers the seedlings. It is also the right time to move them to a place that gets good sunlight. If that’s not an option, find a place with at least 4 hours of sunlight. This act of moving the seedlings to a sunny spot is very important. Failing to do so will result in plants that are lanky, stretched and tall. This is an indication that the plants are trying to find out the source of light and moving towards the light. Phototropism!! Does it ring a bell?

Fertilizer application at this point is very essential. You can add a teaspoon of water soluble fertilizer N-P-K 19-19-19 to a liter of water and water the seedlings every week. If you had already mixed compost to your seedling mix, this step is not necessary.

 

 

Transplanting

Transplanting is simply a process of moving the seedling to a more permanent location where it will grow older and yield fruits ( that is if you take care of them well ;) . Tomato prefers a large size pot. When I say large size, I mean 10-15 liters capacity. Not that the plants wont yield in smaller pots, they will yield more with bigger pots. A 12” pot should be sufficient. One can grow them in a polybag as well. One plant per pot/bag is recommended. If you have a much bigger pot, two plants can be planted.

 

SanMarzanoSeedlingsTranplant

Tomato plants are transplanted as shown in the picture below. I have put two in a pot ( 20 liter capacity). The ideal potting mix for growing tomatoes in pots are a mixture of cocopeat and compost, if one wants to grow them organically. Tomato plants needs lots of nutrients in the growing phase and during fruiting phase. It is essential to add compost regularly ( every week or 10 days) to the container. A weakly (pun intended) dose of 19-19-19 NPK will give the additional boost for the plant. Compost made from kitchen waste is also a good source of nutrition.

TomatoSanMarzanoSeedlings

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Transplanted-SanMarzano-Seedling

 

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I also transplanted couple of plants in container filled with just perlite to study the differences. More on that in a different post.

If you are growing tomatoes hydroponically, you can just use Perlite or cocopeat for the potting mix. The nutrient solution suggestions can be found the forum in this site. Hydroponic nutrient meant for tomato must be watered to the plant on a daily basis.

 

Staking

San Marzano variety is actually indeterminate and can grow very tall. The ones I got the were semi-determinate. They grow to a height of up to 4-5 feet and they branch a lot. If you want them to grow taller, remove the branches. Otherwise just leave them be. Tie the plants stems to a pole using a twine. The plants yield in bunches and the weight can break the stem if not staked properly.
TomatoPlantOld

A Week later…

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Another week later…

TomatoPlantsinPots

 

 

Maintenance

Maintenance involves regular checking for pests, ensuring watering is done properly to the plants and also checking for abnormalities in the plant. Regularly taking a look at the plants can help us prevent many diseases/insects in a much earlier stage. The following problems might come.

Insects:

  • Mealy bug
  • Spider mites
  • Leaf Miner

Neem oil at the rate of 10ml per liter sprayed on the leaves of the plant should control these pests.

When the plants start to flower and set fruits, regular watering is very crucial and addition of fertilizer is important. Deficiencies like calcium will start to manifest in the form of a blossom end rot. There are two ends to a fruit. Stem end and blossom end. Stem end is the side of the fruit attached to the stem. Blossom end is the opposite side to it ( farther from the stem). If you see black rotten half near the blossom end, it is blossom end rot aka BER. It means either there is a calcium deficiency in your mix or you haven’t been watering the plants regularly. If you do get calcium deficiency, do not PANIC!. A simple way of fixing it is to add lime (chunam). Just a pinch. Your local pan shop might help you with this.

 

Harvest

If you are taking good care of your plants, then harvest should be bountiful.

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I always let the fruits ripen on the plant. Fruits ripened that way are far more superior in taste and flavor. San Marzano has a unique characteristic. The fruits automatically drop off to the floor when they are ripened enough. You just have to walk to your garden and pick up the fruits that are ripened to perfection.

Graded, sorted San Marzano fruits.

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Below: San Marzano along with some Non Marzano fruits. There is plenty for all.

SanMarzanoHarvest

Hope you all enjoyed this post. Remember I asked you a question in the beginning of the post? Tomato, Is it a fruit or a vegetable.

Botanically speaking, tomato is a fruit. A fruit is one that has seeds which comes from a flower after pollination. But the sugar content of the tomato is not high enough to call it a fruit, making tomato a vegetable. Doesn’t matter its fruit or a vegetable.. tomato or tomaato.. we continue to love them Tomatoes!

 

UPDATE: Some of you had asked for seeds for purchase. It can be obtained from Garden Guru

ciao

gg

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