Extension service hosts Homegrown workshop

Published 8:10 pm Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lindsay Mason of Alabaster relishes the idea of summer lunches made with juicy tomatoes picked straight from her backyard.

To learn to grow the Southern favorite, and other veggies, Mason attended the Homegrown workshop, hosted Saturday by the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service.

“There is a long list of reasons people grow their own vegetable gardens,” said extension agent Tony Glover. “Some want their veggies fresh, some want organic, some people want to save money because of the current economy.”

The workshop taught basic gardening tips to people with all of the above interests. Master gardeners and extension agents covered soil and plant nutrition, vegetable and herb garden basics, container planting and edible landscaping.

Mason said she’s never grown vegetables, but wants to give it a try.

“My husband and I asked ourselves what we would do if the grocery store wasn’t there,” Mason said. “We realized that we wouldn’t know what to do. So, we decided we need to try and be more self-sufficient.”

Extension agent Nelson Wynn said he receives calls every week from people seeking to turn their backyard into their own personal grocery store.

“With the economic situation we’re in, a lot of people are looking for ways to cut costs,” Wynn said. “They want to know planting dates and tips for vegetables they’ve never planted before.”

David Biddle of Leeds and his wife want to know how their food is grown.

The couple has read a lot about food processing and aren’t thrilled with what they found, Biddle said. They also recently had a daughter who Biddle said they don’t want to feed unnecessary preservatives or potentially harmful chemicals.

“We’re so used to going into the grocery store grabbing what we need and going,” Biddle said. “We don’t often think about where the food comes from.”

He admits that neither of them know too much about vegetables. But they both have done their research.

“Gardening is something my wife and I want to be involved with because it allows us to work the land and know exactly what we are eating,” Biddle said.

He said he hopes to be eating fresh squash, tomatoes, bell peppers and herbs later this year. Now, they just have to decide whether to start off small with containers or break up a patch of dirt.

Mason doesn’t plan to till up her entire backyard just yet. Instead, the mother of two wants to start out small.

Wynn said doing so is smart for the first-timer.

“Most people find it hard because they try to do too much,” Wynn said. “Anyone would hate gardening if they started out having to spend three to four hours in it every day.”

Wynn said a small garden might take just three hours of maintenance a week.

For someone with little to know green space, Wynn suggests raised bed or container gardening.

“You know how they make the houses now; you don’t often have a huge backyard,” Wynn said. “But we’ve had more than enough tomatoes before out of a five-gallon bucket.”

Wynn encourages first-time gardeners to focus on vegetables their family really loves. He said it wouldn’t make sense to grow three rows of broccoli if only one person loves it. He said proper planning helps you obtain the largest benefit from the smallest amount of work.

For more information about creating your own backyard garden, visit Aces.edu.