It’s Time to Get Dirty – the Garden!

Eating both healthy and inexpensive is always a conundrum for students. Sure, instant ramen is cheap on the wallet but you’ll pay for it later in other forms (such as nutritional deficiencies). As we approach summer, our attention to locally grown fare increases as farmer’s markets begin to crop up. The local farmer’s market is a wonderful place to get introduced to what a fruit or vegetable actually tastes like. It hasn’t travelled thousands of miles nor has it been artificially exposed to oxygen to promote colouring (but not ripening). It was picked just recently from the field and is in full flavour. Also: It’s cheap.

Are you already a farmer’s market regular? It may be time for the next step in your fresh food experience: growing your own. don’t be intimidated. It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. With minimal effort and a few basic questions, It’s easy to get your own mini-garden growing. Whether your backyard is ready for raised garden beds or you just have a spare windowsill, it is possible to grow your own food.

The easiest way to grow your own food is sprouting. This is a quick, space efficient, and cost-effective method. Although you can purchase a tray sprouter, a cheaper way is to start with a wide-mouth mason jar, rubber band, and a mesh or cheesecloth strainer. Buy seeds. Almost any edible seed can be sprouted: alfalfa, chia, quinoa, sunflower, soy beans, mung beans, or broccoli to name a few. Put a handful of seeds in the bottom, cover in water for 12-24 hours, then drain and rinse. Leave it on your counter and continue rinsing the seeds twice a day and (depending on the seed) you should see sprouts in as early as three days. Voila! Your first home-grown greens. Sprouts are little powerhouses of micro-nutrients and taste great on salads, sandwiches, or anything else you fancy.

Once you’ve figured out how deliciously easy sprouts are, you’ll want to start growing more. This is the perfect time to go chat up your favourite farmer at the market or contact a local gardening group. I’ve never met a gardener or farmer who does not like talking about and sharing advice on growing your own food. It’s a passion, and people want to help. The first question you should ask is what grows well in your area. That’s not to say don’t venture out and try something fun or exotic but, for your first time, try something well known to the region (and that you enjoy eating). Common veggies that grow well in Canada include lettuce and lettuce mixtures, kale, spinach, peas, potatoes, radishes, garlic, and nearly any variety of herbs. Herbs are an easy-to-grow option for the first-timer. They take up minimal space and are inexpensive. Lettuces will also do well in containers for the small-space growers. Although tomatoes are a standard first-timer option, growing them from seed is demanding. They are delicate, and a seed set-up will have you buying heat lights and heating pads.

Purchasing seeds from a local farm or garden centre that specializes in locally grown and developed-for-your-region seeds will increase your chances of success. You can also find seedlings, such as the tomato, that can transplant well into a sunny situated pot on your deck. But seeds and seedlings you purchase at large chains (e.g. Walmart, Canadian Tire) have often travelled quite a distance under uncertain conditions, may not be acclimated to your local climate, and will often contain invasive species which will wreak havoc on your lawn and the larger ecosystem.

Growing your own food is an excellent option to supplement your groceries. You’ll get excellent value from your investment, providing you with fresh and healthy alternatives.

Tara Howse is in the BPA – Criminal Justice degree program with AU. With aspirations to continue her education, she is looking into AU’s Master of Arts – Integrated Studies degree.