Posts Tagged: vegetables
Grocery shopping can be the most anticipated or the most dreaded necessity of daily life. A trip to the market can end with a smile over the thrill of victory from finding great bargains or end with a frown from the agony of defeat over budget anxieties. For most of us, budget is the primary factor in our food experiences. Low budget or no budget is often the culprit that leads to unhealthy food choices.
Food connections to local agriculture are highlighted through the partnership with the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center. The center will host agriculture tours and family nutrition education activities at a Wellness Fair later this month to wrap up the program.
According to recent United States Department of Agriculture studies, nearly 16 million children live in households where they do not have consistent access to food throughout the year.
UC 4-H Food Smart Families empowers families through food knowledge and education to build sustainable solutions that confront food insecurity and improve health. Youth are engaged at a critical age for growing skills and establishing behaviors today that become sustainable, healthy habits for their families and communities tomorrow. Youth learn they can prepare food themselves and parents learn about working together as a family to plan healthy meals.
Thoughtful discussions, and sometimes passionate debates, ranging from whole grain pasta versus whole wheat pasta to the tasty virtues of hummus, mixed with youthful laughter. The teens were pleasantly surprised to discover they had additional budget to spare. Return trips were made to the produce department for more fruit, vegetables and even hummus.
Comments from the teens told the story of their success. “Now I know what my mom has to go through when she's shopping for food,” and “Look at my cart. Food Smart Families is really influencing me!” Who knew grocery shopping could be so much fun?
The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion offers these 10 tips for affordable vegetables and fruits:
• Use fresh vegetables and fruits that are in season.
• Check your local newspaper, online and at the store for sales, coupons and specials.
• Plan out your meals ahead of time and make a grocery list.
• Compare the price and number of servings from fresh, canned and frozen forms of the same vegetable or fruit.
• Buy small amounts more often to ensure you can eat the foods without throwing any away.
• For fresh vegetables or fruits you use often, a large size bag is the better buy.
• Opt for store brands when possible.
• Buy vegetables and fruits in their simplest form.
• Start a garden for fresh, inexpensive, flavorful additions to meals.
• Prepare and freeze vegetable soups, stews or other dishes in advance.
There are several ways to overcome these gardening pitfalls to help ensure you have a successful warm-season vegetable gardening experience.
Plan, plan and stick with your vegetable garden plan!
Planning is a key component to having a successful vegetable garden, but is frequently forgotten or overlooked. Planning includes selecting an appropriate location for your garden, choosing the correct varieties of crops for your space and developing a garden plan for what you would like to grow.
When selecting a location it is important that the site receives at least eight hours of full sun, is close to a water source (hose, irrigation or hand-watering) and has good soil for optimal growth. Once you have an appropriate location picked out, creating a garden plan will help contribute to your growing success.
Too often the overall size of the garden area and the size of mature plants is not considered. Keep in mind a young plant can become established and quickly overtake a small garden lot, challenging or dominating other plants for resources.
“A well planned garden can provide fresh or preserved vegetables for use year-round. The plan should contain crops and amounts to be planted, dates of planting and estimated harvest, planting location for each crop, specific spacing between rows, and trellising or support required,” according to the California Master Gardener Handbook (see Figure 13.1 on Page 342).
Invest a little time and develop a detailed plan to help guide you on where, which type and how many plants you will need for your space. Your vegetable garden plan will keep you focused while shopping at your local nursery and prevent impulse buys of tempting transplants!
Caring for your vegetable garden
Irrigation is a key component in a successful vegetable garden. Consistent, deep and sufficient watering will produce better tasting and superior quality fruits and vegetables, especially during the hot summer months when it is easy for the soil to quickly dry out.
“As a rule” the handbook says on Page 349, “it will be necessary to irrigate your vegetable garden one to three times a week in summer ... The frequency will be determined by the depth of crop roots, soil texture, and weather conditions. Wet the soil to just beyond the bottom of the root system at each watering.”
Even in a time of drought, vegetable crops require the soil to remain moist during their crop cycle. Poor irrigation practices and infrequent watering will produce smaller yields and poor quality fruits and vegetables.
Weed prevention and maintenance is an important piece in caring for your vegetable garden. Without monitoring and controlling weeds, your crops could quickly become overrun by these pesky unwanted plants. Apply a three- to four-inch layer of organic mulch to discourage the growth of weeds. Prevent weeds by hand-weeding before they become established and go to seed. The UC Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program has detailed information available on its website about sustainable weed management in the home landscape.
Harvesting (and enjoying) your crop
“To get the most from your vegetables, harvest them when they are at the best stage for eating and store them under conditions that will keep them as close to garden-fresh as possible,” recommends The California Garden Web. “Vegetables will be crisper and cooler when harvested in the early morning.” (cagardenweb.ucanr.edu)
Once harvested don't forget to enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor. Few experiences can compare with the gratification of eating homegrown fruits and vegetables for the first-time!
Learn more with UC Master Gardeners
Interested in learning more about how to grow a thriving edible garden or home landscape? The UC Master Gardener Program has University trained volunteers who are eager to help. Volunteers are available to answer questions about preparing your soil, fertilizing, mulching and more. With local programs based in more than 50 counties across California there is sure to be a workshop or class near you. Visit our website to find your local UC Master Gardener Program, mg.ucanr.edu.
A diet containing lots of vegetables is lower in calories and higher in fiber and good for our health. Yet, not everyone has easy access to fresh vegetables in the United States.
“Growing vegetables and having a garden is an effective intervention to promote increased vegetable consumption among all Americans,” said Susan Algert, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Santa Clara County, who conducted the survey. “This is evidence for bringing back popular home gardens or ‘Victory gardens' of the past rather than investing exclusively in SNAP benefits for purchased foods.”
SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps), now allows participants to buy seeds with their benefits, which helps low-income people who want to grow their own veggies, she said.
Vegetable consumption falls well below the U.S. Dietary Guidelines in much of the U.S., particularly among African American, Latino, low educational attainment, and low-income populations.
Algert and fellow UC Cooperative Extension researchers looked at background characteristics, vegetable intake and program benefits of people who cultivated a home garden versus those who participated in a community garden.
“The home gardeners were significantly younger, had lower incomes, were less likely to have completed college and were more ethnically diverse than the community gardeners,” said Algert, who specializes in nutrition. “In other words, the background characteristics of the two groups varied significantly. In spite of these significant demographic differences, both groups increased their vegetable consumption from the garden to the same extent, by about two servings.”
In fact, by supplementing with food from their gardens, both groups met the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for recommended daily servings of vegetables to promote optimal health.
A lack of experience as gardeners didn't affect the results much. Fifty eight percent of the home gardeners reported having less than two years of experience whereas only one-third of community gardeners were novices.
“This study demonstrates that growing fresh vegetables in either a home or community garden setting can contribute significantly to a person's nutritional intake and food security at all income levels by making it a more affordable to maintain a healthful diet,” said Algert. Urban gardeners also experience a number of other benefits including exercise, stress release, and learning about gardening from their peers and mentors.
The study was a partnership with the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department of the City of San Jose and La Mesa Verde, a project of Sacred Heart Community Services of San Jose. The UCCE research group worked with the Parks Department to administer a 30 question background survey to 83 community gardeners in four different gardens during April through September 2012. The same survey, slightly modified, was administered to a group of 50 home gardeners participating in Sacred Heart's La Mesa Verde project between September 2013 and April 2014.
“Tomato spotted wilt virus spread by western flower thrips is a big problem for peppers,” said Shimat Joseph, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. Tomato spotted wilt can cause a plant to produce discolored fruit that is unmarketable and it can kill the plant. Joseph advises pepper growers on integrated pest management methods to control insects.
“We believe it is critical to manage thrips early in the season because when the plants are small, they are more vulnerable,” Joseph said, “and the disease may not show until later in the season.”
He is currently studying the effects of applying insecticides a month after transplanting to discourage thrips from feeding. He also recommends removing weeds, which can host the virus.
The idea that weeds can be edible pops up periodically, with articles suggesting one person's weeds are another person's salad bar, highlighting chefs who “have a way with weeds,” discussing ways medieval gardeners encouraged weeds, and even suggesting ways to eat away at invasive species. But is this something we should take seriously?
“We call these plants weeds because of the way we interact with them. They're in our gardens, they're in our lawns, and they're competing with plants that we prefer to eat,” said Lynn Sosnoskie, a weed scientist at UC Davis. “But a lot of the plants that are weeds here in the United States were brought here purposefully—to be eaten.”
Sosnoskie's doctoral thesis was on just such a plant, with the tasty name of “garlic mustard.” She has also worked at length on Palmer amaranth, a pernicious weed found in cotton fields that can be glyphosate-resistant. In response to one Georgia farmer asking in exasperation if he should just eat the plant taking over his fields, she did some preliminary research into eating Palmer amaranth.
“It's probably not feasible to eat our way out of a serious weed problem,” she said. “But I certainly feel like we can investigate them as other potential food sources.”
In fact, the Horticulture Innovation Lab at UC Davis has a project that is researching three “indigenous vegetables” in Africa, two of which — amaranth and black nightshade — are considered weeds in the United States. The vegetables can be nutritious and profitable options for small-scale farmers in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and elsewhere.
Though he holds a Ph.D. in weed science, Weller is now figuring out the best ways to cultivate amaranth and black nightshade — instead of to eliminate them. Before he started working with these plants, common assumptions held that they should be easy to grow because, well, they “grow like weeds.”
“But we found out that growing them is more intensive than we were initially led to believe — similar to growing any other vegetable,” Weller said. “They need water, they need fertilizer, and pests are a problem.”
Caveat emptor: Though weedy plants can indeed be a source of food, both scientists cautioned against thinking of weeds as a “free-for-all forage buffet.” Some plants may be toxic, and weeds in farm fields may have been sprayed recently. It is important to be knowledgeable of the plants and how they've been grown before trying to eat one.