Published on 06/22/06

Get better, cheaper vegetables from home garden

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

You can save money on your food bill and serve your family fresh vegetables. You just have to get your hands dirty and plant your own backyard garden.

A University of Georgia horticulturist says planting and tending a home vegetable garden is easier than you might think.

"Most people are a little nervous at the thought of planting their first garden," said Bob Westerfield, a consumer horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "It's fairly simple. But you have to stay on top of it."

Growing, planting, learning

Westerfield plants fall and spring vegetable gardens as part of his work duties. But he also gardens at home to provide his family fresh vegetables.

"A home vegetable garden is a great way to supplement your diet with fresh vegetables," he said. "And you know exactly which chemicals were used on the plants because you were the grower."

Grocery vegetables can't compare to freshly picked, he said.

"Buy a tomato, grow a tomato and compare the two," he said. "There's just no contest. The homegrown one will be far superior."

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

"Sugar builds up in sweet corn just before it's harvested in the field," he 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. With sweet corn growing in your home garden, you can go out and pick it and eat it within an hour."

The sugar-to-starch conversion is one reason the triple sweet corn variety has become a popular option over the traditional Silver Queen variety. "Triple sweets are designed to have more sugar content," he said. "They have genes that help the corn store the sugar longer."

Inexpensive food source

Westerfield says home-garden vegetables aren't just better. They're cheaper, too.

"Seeds are really cheap," he said. "And you can store your harvest in cans or in the freezer and enjoy your home garden vegetables year-round."

At home, Westerfield and his family freeze sweet corn and broccoli and can green beans and homemade tomato paste. At work, he donates the vegetables from his trial gardens to area food pantries.

"The food pantries really appreciate the fresh vegetables, and so do the patrons," he said. "Fresh vegetables are welcome treats to someone who's used to eating primarily canned foods."

Georgia’s climate allows home gardeners the luxury of planting summer and fall gardens. So, it’s never too late to start.

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