There are reasons aplenty to not grow vegetables on your own: Not enough space, time, or not being blessed with a green thumb.
But local gardening experts say those reasons should not be barriers to growing your own veggies. Annette MaCoy, horticulture extension educator and master gardener at the Penn State Extension in Cumberland County, says gardening can be a healthy and fun activity.
“It’s a good opportunity to get outside,” MaCoy said. “For kids, particularly, to get outside and see things a plant can produce, a fruit or a vegetable, is just an amazing process that kids can enjoy.”
MaCoy said that Extension, part of a national and statewide network providing agriculture-related information to residents, has noticed an increased interest in vegetable gardening in recent years, she said. Some people start in an attempt to avoid eating produce sprayed with pesticides, while others are motivated to grow produce that is expensive or hard to find in grocery stores, she said.
Greg Spahr, garden supply manager at Ashcombe Farm and Greenhouses in Monroe Township, said he has also seen an increased interest in vegetable gardening in recent years. “Last year, I probably sold more vegetables than flowers,” he said.
For many vegetable gardeners, practical concerns play a role in their interest in the hobby, he said.
“It’s a lot easier to go out to your yard and pick out what you want than to go to the store,” he said.
Both Spahr and MaCoy encouraged those without a lot of space and time to still consider gardening.
With the exception of vines, most vegetables can be grown in a pot or other container, Spahr said. In fact, Ashcombe sells seed directly from its bulk supply, meaning a gardener can get as few or as many as they need.
“Most vegetables can be grown very successfully in containers. You just need to have a little bit of space and sunlight,” MaCoy agreed.
In fact, she recommended those lacking confidence in their gardening abilities to start small.
“Start with a container, start with one tomato plant, and you will develop that confidence,” she said. “Success breeds success, so you just have to start somewhere.”
She also recommends that novices start with a plant rather than seeds, and start with easier crops like tomatoes, squash, radishes, beans, and lettuce.
“There are a lot of crops that are very easy to grow and not intimidating to get a nice crop out of,” she said.
At Ashcombe Nursery, people can also receive expert advice and a chart that explains when to begin planting, how far apart to place seeds, and other specific rules of thumb for individual plants, Spahr said.
“You have to have a little bit of knowledge of gardening yourself, but it helps,” he said.
While nothing can replace gardening experience, if you water your plants, weed your garden, and check for bugs and rodents, “you’ll have a great garden,” he said.
Interested in vegetable gardening yet? If so, Spahr recommends you start soon.
Gardeners can begin preparing as soon as the ground thaws enough for digging, he said. Many popular vegetables are cool weather vegetables that are good to grow in the springtime, including beats, lettuce, spinach, peas, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, he said.
Both the Penn State Extension and Ashcombe Nursery are offering classes with tips for aspiring gardeners in March.
“Garden guru” George Weigel will be presenting time- and labor-saving techniques for vegetable gardening at a workshop at the Penn State Extension at 310 Allen Road in Carlisle from 9:00 a.m. to 12 noon March 15.
Weigel is also discussing straw-bale gardening, which involves placing plants in straw bales rather than in soil, McCoy said.
Those interested in attending can register by calling at 717-240-6500 or the toll-free number 1-888-697-0371 ext. 6500. There is a $10 registration fee. Walk-ins will be accepted only if space is available, according to the Extension, and space is limited.
Ashcombe will be holding open houses for prospective gardeners from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 22 and 29.
In addition to a variety of vendors, the events will feature an instructional class by Spahr on growing potatoes and a class for children on planting flowers, Spahr said.