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Homegrown vegetables inexpensive and tasty

Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Planting a backyard vegetable garden is one way Americans can save on their food budgets and provide their families with extra nutrition.

"Seeds are really inexpensive," said Bob Westerfield, a University of Georgia horticulturist. "And, you can store your harvest in cans or in the freezer, which saves money year-round."

You just have to be willing to put in some sweat equity and get your hands dirty to harvest an ample supply.

Novices may be apprehensive about planting their first vegetable garden, but Westerfield says it’s not as difficult as many may think.

"Most people are a little nervous at first, but it’s fairly simple," said Westerfield. “But, you do have to stay on top of it.”

He recommends growing squash, cucumbers and okra from seed and growing tomatoes, peppers and eggplant from transplants.

“You can grow tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables for pennies on the dollar,” he said. “In comparison, your cost will be about a tenth of what the grocery store prices are.”

Produce costs are most likely going to continue to rise because of a variety of problems in the California produce industry, he said. “This will affect us because that’s where the majority of our produce comes from.”

Westerfield plants research garden plots as part of his responsibilities as a consumer horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“By planting a research garden plot, I can see firsthand the problems that Georgia home gardeners are facing,” he said. “And, I can donate the harvest to the local food pantry.”

He also plants a home vegetable garden to provide his family with fresh vegetables.

"A home vegetable garden is a great way to supplement your diet," he said. "And you don’t have to wonder which chemicals were used because you were the grower."

Store-bought vegetables can't compare to freshly picked in Westerfield’s opinion.

As a taste test, he suggests growing a tomato and buying a tomato and comparing the two. "There's just no contest,” he said. “The homegrown one will be far superior. I guarantee it."

Sweet corn is an even better crop for a homegrown-store-bought comparison test.

"Sugar builds up in sweet corn just before it's harvested in the field," Westerfield said. "When it's picked, the sugar turns to starch within hours. By the time you buy the corn from the grocery store, it could have been there for a week or so, and the sugar has all turned to starch.”

The sugar-to-starch conversion is one reason the triple sweet corn variety has become a popular option over the traditional Silver Queen variety, he said.

"Triple sweets are designed to have more sugar content," Westerfield said. "They have genes that help the corn store the sugar longer."

For the best taste, homegrown sweet corn should be eaten within hours of its harvest.

At home, Westerfield freezes sweet corn and broccoli and cans green beans and homemade tomato paste.

"If you’re primarily used to eating canned foods, having fresh vegetables at your fingertips will be welcome treats,” he said. “There’s just no comparison. Homegrown is the winner every time.”

(Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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