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As Evanston celebrates its 150 years, there is great interest in growing food. Even with all our excellent farmers’ markets and grocery stores, most people still want to learn and do more.
Growing one’s own food is an em-powering, creative activity. Raising something to eat can be great fun and a learning adventure. Anyone who has not tried growing vegetables before should start small and grow something appealing.
Vegetables need water (not too much, not too little), light (six hours of sun), air and a bit of care. Remembering to water plants is easy if the plants are in a visible location. A pot on a windowsill, a container on a balcony or a small plot outside the back door can provide lots of pleasure without much work. Some edibles are so ornamental that people even insert them throughout their flower beds. The idea is to think fun, not farm.
In Evanston, the weather pattern does not follow the calendar the same way each year. The “average” last spring freeze occurs somewhere between two weeks before and two weeks after May 15. The “average” first fall freeze occurs somewhere between two weeks before and two weeks after Oct. 15. The time between the freeze dates is the growing season, which in our area runs about 154 days. Providing additional protection from cold at each end can lengthen the growing season.
At this time of year, there are many sources of seed and small plants just ready to plant. A challenge in buying seeds is deciding how many plants will fit into the plot.
Seeds and plants grow, so it is wise to refer to the seed packet or plant tag for spacing.
There is no need to plant the whole packet at one time. Seeds can last for years if they are kept cold and dry. An easy way to save them is to put the packets in a large-mouth glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the back of the refrigerator.
A few lettuce or radish seeds planted every week or so can expand the length of the harvest.
A plant’s purpose is to produce flowers and fruit; its goal is to reproduce its own kind. Once the seeds start to mature, the plant stops producing. Gardeners who want to keep eating must keep picking.
Note: In the past half century, researchers have found that school children growing plants, especially vegetables, develop feelings of pride and self-worth as they plan, plant, and wait for results. Casual observation suggests that growing plants can have the same results on much older people as well.