The year of the home garden

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By The Staff

It's a big year for gardening as more and more value-conscious Americans fed up with high food prices set out to grow a bigger portion of the food they and their families eat. I'm trying to join the trend.

As a rural area with a strong tradition of family farming and gardening, Perry Countians have long produced a lot of their own food, whether growing vegetables and fruits or butchering animals raised in local pastures.

A Reuters story last week reported that American gardeners will spend 25 percent more on growing their own food in 2008 than just two years ago. The home-gardening investment isn't small change, a whopping $1.4 billion, and since spiraling food prices is a worldwide problem, the gardening boom is taking place in Europe, Asia and South America.

Some homeowners are turning sections of lawns and flowerbeds into gardening space, preferring lettuce, cabbage and green beans over lush grass or pretty flowers in hopes of saving money.

Of course, home-grown foods are good for us, too.

I haven't done much gardening yet this year, other than ridging rows of potatoes in my mom's garden and buying a few tomato plants that I hope will bear fruit this summer. I tried my hand at making my own spaghetti sauce last summer, a laborious process of chopping and mincing tomatoes, onions and garlic I'm not sure I want to repeat this July and August. The end product was good but it was almost too much work.

I spent many summer hours in the garden, picking bugs, shucking sweet corn and sharing tales with my mother, brothers and sisters while snapping the green beans for the pressure cooker. I still remember some of those tales, of my mother's Leopold farm upbringing, long-dead relatives and my grandmother, now in her 90s.

I don't have kids to share similar stories with, but I still think of those summer hours filling grocery bags with green beans and then gathering under the shade tree, Mom in charge of cutting off the tips of the beans and the occasional "bug bite" and the rest of us snapping beans into bite-sized pieces.

I did set out several grapevines on an eastward-facing hillside on my farm by the Anderson River, well out of the floodplain and hopefully high enough to escape late frosts. I hope to add a few fruit trees this fall or next spring, putting a small but fertile strip of earth to good use.

The area is near a pond I had cleaned and enlarged last year and I pushed wheelbarrow loads of dried muck pulled from the pond's depths and place it around around the vines as a sort of natural fertilizer.

A few of the grapes are for eating. Others are more suited to wine and I hope to get better at making jelly and wine. I've heard many people rave over the prospects for this year's fruit and even nut crops and while I haven't paid much attention, many trees are reportedly loaded with young apples, pears and pecans.

Strawberries must have done fairly well, too, this spring. A visit to the county-clerk's office Thursday for court news offered a treat of berries and shortcake.

I'm sure my tomatoes will do well in a small plot near my house and I'll help harvest the potatoes at home. Come fall, I'll put up wooden poles and steel wire that will form a trellis from my young grapevines. With any luck in a couple of years, they'll begin bearing fruit.

Farmers Market

A new farmers market will kick off July 5 in Leopold Park. Growers of vegetables and fruits, those with spare eggs or who have other home-raised products are invited to sell their products each Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.