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Let's get growing!

Turn your backyard into a garden of edible delights

Turn your backyard into a garden of edible delights
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How does your garden grow?

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, May / June 2011

That daily struggle at the dinner table to get little Johnny and Jane to eat their vegetables is enough to wear down any parent.

You offer them carrots. Yuck, they cry! Peas? No way! Broccoli? Are you trying to poison us, mom?

We all know that eating fruits and vegetables are a key to improving our health. Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide says we should eat a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. This is linked to improvements in blood pressure, decreased rates of chronic diseases - such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers - and maintenance of a healthy body weight.

But studies show that seven out of 10 children aged 4 to 8, and half of all adults do not meet this minimum. Other than disguising them as something else is there a sneaky way to get more veggies into your kids?

There sure is. It's funny, but almost any kid will eat a carrot pulled out of a garden with only a rinse from the garden hose to get the mud off. So if you want to get your kids into eating their vegetables, why not start growing your own at home?

Every spring, I watch as the avid gardeners in my neighbourhood start digging and planting, and then proudly stand by as green shoots spring from the ground.

I, too, have green thumb ambitions. Like many people, I assess food for nutritional content, and the impact of its production on the environment. I want to know how and where the food is produced and how far it needs to come to get to my table - otherwise known as its "carbon footprint." Growing your own is a the perfect way to shorten the distance from field to table, to supplement what is purchased at local markets, and to have access to fresh food without a trek to the store or the outlay of money to get it.

I will admit it - while I love local, in-season produce, I buy all of it from my market garden neighbours. They are the ones who, in my opinion, hold all the skills required to coax seeds into food. I have the space, the tools and a strong enough back for the work but two essential ingredients are missing: the knowledge of what and how to grow; and the confidence to try.

When in doubt, I always say, ask an expert. Lucky for me, Dr. Diana Bennett loves to teach people to garden. When she is not in her garden, she is a family physician at Health Action Centre at 640 Main St. She is also a University of Guelph, Ontario Master Gardener who is trained in the dissemination of gardening knowledge to the general public.

Beginner gardeners should start out simply, says Dr. Bennett. There's no need to plow a 50- by-50 garden plot when it's perfectly possible to grow vegetables in pots or other suitable containers around the house. This is a great way to introduce children to gardening.

To get started, you'll need some pots, grow bags or suitable containers You can try various sizes up to 12 inches in diameter. Put two or three flat rocks over the drainage hole in the bottom. If you don't have any rocks, put a dryer sheet over the hole. This will keep the earth in the pot, but let the water drain out. Add the soil, and then let your kids plant some carrot, radish or zucchini seeds. Move the pot into a sunny spot outside, and remember to water! It won't be long before your kids are interested in eating the contents of that container.

Pots and other containers are also good for apartment dwellers. You can even grow tomatoes and potatoes in pots on your balcony. As these plants grow fairly large, you will need to use pots that are at least two to three feet in diameter or a larger grow bag (grow bags may be easier to use because they are not as heavy). If this sounds too ambitious, why not try a window box of herbs like sage, basil, thyme or coriander? Herbs like a warm sunny spot, and not too much water, which is a bonus if you are forgetful.

Or you can try leaf lettuce instead of head lettuce. Leaf lettuce can be sown every two weeks, is not prone to garden slugs and will provide you with fresh greens for salads all summer. Just cut the leaves with scissors when they are big enough for a salad.

Cherry tomatoes are probably the easiest tomatoes to grow and are usually very sweet, so kids love them. Radishes of all shapes and sizes are easy to grow and a fun crop for children to try, as they very quickly show signs of growth after seeding. Beans, peas, carrots, rhubarb and raspberries are also easy to grow.

There are other health benefits to growing a garden, other than the delicious produce you get to eat. Dr. Bennett says that when she is in her garden, she is in a "space of mental calm."

So this spring, take the doctor's advice, and get growing!

Colleen Rand is Regional Manager of Community Nutrition for the Winnipeg Health Region.

Wave: May / June 2011

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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