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Plant a Vegetable Garden

Let your children help you plant a vegetable garden, and together, you’ll enjoy the many benefits. Plus, try our homemade Marinara Sauce.

You want your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables now, but you also want them to develop lifetime habits of healthful eating. One of the best ways is to show them how the food cycle works; a great teaching tool is to plant your own pesticide-free vegetable garden. When your kids see those vegetables ripening on the vine, they’ll be eager to dig into foods they formerly just pushed around their plates. The key to starting your home garden is not to let the great be the enemy of the good. Start small and build on it every year. For a few hours and about $150, you can build a home garden that will pay for itself the first season.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Pick your site.
The site should get at least eight hours of sun per day—the more, the better. In addition, when planning the bed, make sure you will be able to walk all the way around it to make harvesting and weeding easier.

2. Prepare the site.
Start by marking out a 4- x 8-foot area. It is preferable to pull up the grass underneath but not necessary. If you choose not to pull up the sod, cover the area completely in wet newspaper or flattened cardboard boxes laid thick enough to keep down the grass.

3. Build the bed.
There are many ways to do this: pavers, stones, bricks or bales of hay, for instance. The simplest approach, however, is just to put together four pieces of lumber using metal brackets. Note: Avoid using treated lumber; the chemicals imbedded in the wood may migrate into the soil. So, if you buy three 1- x 8-foot pieces of cedar at your local home store, you can have them cut one in half for free and voilà: You have an 8- x 4-foot garden bed. The brackets should cost no more than $1 each and can be attached with simple wood screws.

4. Fill the bed with a soil mix.
This should not be pure topsoil but a mix of topsoil, peat (for drainage) and organic material. You’ll need a total of about 20 bags to fill your bed: 14 of topsoil, five of organic compost and one large bag of peat.

5. Select your plants.
A great starter garden in your 4- x 8-foot area would be:
3 tomatoes of different varieties (consider Early Girl, Roma anda yellow variety)

1 cucumber
1 bell pepper
1 hot pepper
1 zucchini
2 basil
1 parsley
1 oregano
Several marigolds (optional)

This will be enough to yield a solid weekly supply of 10-12 tomatoes, 2-3 cucumbers and 1-2 bell peppers, as well as the spices needed to make salsa, marinara and pizza sauce. I do not suggest planting carrots, because they require a deeper bed and are sometimes disappointing for kids. After you’ve planted the vegetables, place some marigolds in the garden’s open spaces. They will keep away pests and draw beneficial insects. They are hard to kill and add a cute look; they will also get your kids excited about the garden, even before your vegetables mature.

6. Follow these green thumb rules:
• Buy your plants after the last frost date in your area.
• Dig a hole for each plant and sprinkle one teaspoon of slow-release fertilizer in the hole. This should take care of your fertilizer needs for the entire season. All the plants should be planted as deeply as they were in the pot. The exception is the tomatoes, which will be stronger if you also plant the first set of leaves in the soil. This may seem odd, but it will produce stronger plants.
• Water the garden three times per week at first and then daily in the heat of the summer. Be sure to harvest your produce daily, as well. When fruits or vegetables stay on a plant too long, the plant stops producing.
You’ll enjoy watching your kids learn about nature, cuisine and science—and they won’t even realize they are learning!

Project Materials for Raised Bed*

• 3 1-inch x 8-inch x 8-foot (1x8x8) cedar planks…$60
• 4 brackets…………………………………..$6
• 14 bags topsoil……………………………..$22
• 1 bag peat…………………………………..$7
• 4 bags organic compost……………………….$16
• Vegetable plants and herbs……………………$30
• Marigolds (optional)………………………….$5
• Organic time-release fertilizer………………..$7
*Costs are approximate.

Marinara Sauce

Recipe and photograph by Matt Armendariz

Makes approx. 8 cups
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: Approx. 1 hour, 15 minutes

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
½ teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
8-12 cups chopped ripe tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 Tablespoons dried oregano

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once heated, add the onions and garlic and sauté for 7-10 minutes until cooked, being careful not to burn the garlic.
2. Add the celery and continue to cook, about 5 minutes.
3. Once all the vegetables have cooked, add the salt (optional), pepper, tomatoes, bay leaves, parsley and oregano and simmer on low heat for 1 hour.
4. Once the sauce has cooked and slightly thickened, remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper, if needed.

by Bridgett Hurley

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