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  • When the Grocery Bill Gets Too High…Grow Your Own!

    I have been following world commodity pricing with some interest over the course of the past 30 months or so. How governments and society at large have chosen to deal with the global economic crises has made a substantial impact on the dietary choices/realities of many families, as rising food prices have caused many of us to contemplate working more, cutting back, or searching for lower end options. Where the outlook of going without or increasing your workload simply to maintain your dietary status quo may be unpalatable (writer’s pun number 1), there is, in fact, a very easy, very enjoyable, very healthy solution: instead of purchasing all of your food from others, grow some of your own! With only a modicum of sunny space, anyone can enjoy fresh fruit and veggies, straight from your own garden to your table! Over the course of the next month, I will be highlighting some of my top picks for easy to grow, health-packed produce.

    1) Tomatoes
    Tomatoes are well known for being replete with antioxidants. Along with vitamins such as C and A, tomatoes also contain an antioxidant compound called lycopene,which has been shown to greatly reduce the risk of certain cancers. I once found myself sharing a flight to Denver with a prominent cancer researcher, who told me tomatoes really were the magic fruit for men, as there was a direct correlation between tomato consumption and healthy, cancer-free prostate glands. Gentlemen, eat up!

    There are several great tomato varieties for our area. Early Girl (medium sized with a meaty and mild centre, much like the tomatoes you commonly purchase at a grocery store) and Tiny Tim (cherry sized, juicy, and quite sweet) are the shortest crops to grow, with fruit maturity approximately 45 days from seeding. Beefsteak tomatoes are longer to fruit and mature (approximately 65-75 days from seeding),but they are the tangy tomato of the backyard barbeque. Measuring 3-5″ across, they are the perfect size for a hamburger bun. Try Bush Beefsteak if you prefer more substance (and less juice) in your tomato. Roma and Pear tomatoes are oval shaped,mid-length crops (55-65 days from seeding). These tomatoes tend to be quite mild with thicker skins and very meaty innards. They are perfect for cooking. Yellow pear is known for it’s mild and smooth flavour. Patio tomatoes are great for growing in containers as they don’t mind their roots bending. This is an early-midseason crop (50-60 days from seeding) that features medium sized, sweet and juicy fruit. (If you are thinking about starting your own tomatoes from scratch, now is the time to get them seeded; all varieties will also be found at your local garden centre, grown into 4″ and 1 gallon pots in mid-May.) Also, keep your eyes peeled for the new cherry tomato called Tomaccio this spring: growing like a regular Sweet100 cherry tomato, Tomaccio tomatoes are great eaten fresh, have robust skin that makes them suitable for cooking, and are also very easy to dry. You will have topurchase this plant already grown into a 1 or 2 gallon pot, as their is no seed stock currently available on the market.

    2) Potatoes

    Mashed, scalloped, fried, in soups or salads…potatoes are both delicious and a very healthy starch. Eat them with the skin on and you benefit from their vitamin and antioxidant repertoire as well. A single potato typically contains 7g of protein, 70mg of vitamin C, 1500mg of potassium, 210mg of phosphorous, and over 1000mg of aspartic and glutamic acids (proven to help maintain a healthy metabolism.) Unbeknownst to most aspiring potato gardeners, potatoes don’t need to be grown in the garden; they will produce ample, high quality tubers when planted into any deep, well drained container such as an old garbage can or a couple of rubber tires stacked up on top of each other. You can also buy a reusable “potato bag” planter at eco-conscious garden centres.

    When potato lovers talk about growing their own tasty potatoes, there are generally 3 main factors that they use in determining which variety is right for them, namely: crop time (early or late), skin color (i.e. red, purple, blue, white, oryellow), and storing qualities. Because potatoes are a highly cultivated crop, you may also hear gardeners discussing disease resistance. With so many choices, it is difficult to pick just a few great varieties, but there are some that stand out in their fields (pun number 2; gardeners don’t always make the best comedians!): Dakota Pearl (mid-season, yellow skin, good storing, resistant to scab), Sangre (mid-late season, bright red skin, great storing, resistant to scab and hollowheart), Purple Viking (early-mid season, purple skin, good storing, resistant to scab), and Yukon Gold (mid-season, yellow skin, excellent storing, resistant to scab and hollow heart.)

    Decreasing reliance on grocery stores to supply household food requirements is becoming ever-more popular in today’s economy. Squeezing out conventional rhetoric, ballooning food costs are prompting many of us to rethink our old assumptions about grocery stores: namely, that these outlets will continue to offer ever-present, quality food at affordable prices. As world demand for food rises and according supply diminishes, increased prices at the grocery tills are inevitable. But all is not lost – paying through the nose for quality produce is not a necessity. Simply growing a few fruit, vegetable, and herb plants this spring can save you hundreds of dollars at the grocery store. Consider this: $2.50 for a single, fresh beef steak tomato at the grocer’s or $2.00 for a pack of seed that can produce dozens of better-tasting, healthier produce of the same variety…I pick the seeds!