New twists in vegetable gardening

Get gardening this spring and maybe grow some community spirit in the process.

History shows that Americans gain a renewed interest in gardening when times are tough. At first, many will adopt beautification efforts around the home that makes their “stay-cation” more enjoyable. However, gardening can positively affect your pocketbook. At a recent MSU Extension “Vegetable 101” class, 80 percent of participants noted that their primary interest in vegetable gardening was to off-set their grocery bill.

Garden Writers of America (GWA) report yearly gains in vegetable gardening interest with the outlook for last year being up approximately 37 percent. I spoke recently with noted author and self-proclaimed “laid-back gardener” Felder Rushing. He said, “I think people want to garden for reasons other than economics and health. For the average gardener, it provides them a little control in a weird world.”

Whatever your reason, gardening is and always has been more about people than the produce. In my little corner of the world, not a week goes by without someone asking me how to start a vegetable garden or to partner in a community gardening effort. If you are starting a garden for the first time, it may be a bit daunting, but with help, gardening can not only be financially rewarding, but fun. Rushing’s attitude is “Plant seeds now … ask questions later!”

Hold the potatoes

Rushing said, “I don’t recommend that folks start out with vegetables that take a lot of time or are really difficult to grow like corn and potatoes.” He notes that greens give the gardener the most bang for the buck and in Michigan, cool springs provide an extended growing season that Rushing’s native South will not.

Sticking with “fuss-less” patio tomatoes or “no-brainer” pole beans will be a great place to start. “So, who doesn’t eat chili or pizza?” he asked.” Rushing advises thinking of your garden as a “kitchen garden.” Herbs like basil and oregano are the perfect complement to a patio tomato and colorful pepper. The beauty in all of these is that they can be grown in a container or a raised bed and won’t take up the entire back yard where you live.

<p>Rushing spends nearly half his time across the Atlantic where he says “Everybody gardens!” The “slow food” movement has really been cultivated in Europe but not so in America. Here, people are timid to garden so he says the best place to start is with your kids. He suggests starting with a tiny 10 by 20 foot plot, a whole family can learn how to garden.</p>
<p>Taking that a bit further, he noted that “community” is also an alien concept for Americans. We epitomize the “Wild West” with fences between our properties. So why not break those boundaries with a beautiful shared veggie plot?</p>
<p>Think about asking your neighbor to co-mingle their yard with yours and begin your own community garden. If the old adage is true “many hands make light work,” sharing the work load and bounty will be fun and rewarding. Two years ago at the <abbr title=MSU Extension Kent County office, staff got together and installed a “lunch break” garden that out-produced our wildest expectations! Everyone took one 30-minute lunch break to weed, fertilize or water and each of us was rewarded with beautifully ripe tomatoes, tender zucchini and crisp cucumbers. My personal favorite was the kohlrabi!

Plant-a Row for the Hungry

That being said, everyone knows that one zucchini plant can feed a neighborhood right? So why not get on the wagon (or garden cart) and start providing fresh produce to your local food pantry? An idea sponsored by Garden Writers of America is that you plant one row for yourself and another row for someone in need. It’s that simple.

If you want to learn more about growing vegetables, you can down load a whole basket of tip sheets on everything from asparagus to zucchini from a new website at MSU . Click on the vegetable tab and read on.

Hear Felder Rushing at the March 5 conference

Felder Rushing will be featured this year at the annual MSU Extension Stuck on Gardening Conference on March 5, held in tandem with the West Michigan Home and Garden Show. His zany, laid-back garden personality will encourage any type of gardener to stick a few plants in the ground. Information and about the conference can be obtained at Also, Rushing will be appearing on the garden stage on Friday evening, March 4 at 6:00 pm.

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