Home-grown produce has better taste, saves money

The Compleat

Home Gardner

Marianne Binetti will appear at 11 a.m. Saturday at Molbak‘s in Woodinville, speaking on “Sedums and Succulents for No-Water Landscapes and Container Designs.” Contact: Molbak’

The fourth week of May is a great time to plant your dinner. People have become hungry for more ideas and information about edible gardening both to save money and to enjoy healthier fruits and vegetables. Even folks without a patch of ground can grow herbs, tomatoes and berries by gardening in containers or a window box. If you have sunlight, you can become a farmer.

So what crop will save you the most money at the grocery store? What gives you the most health benefits for the least amount of work? What grows best on windowsills? Start planting now to become a green thumb gourmet.

The Frugal Farmer: Tomatoes Save the Most

Even in our cool climate growing a single tomato plant will save the most money. Next week I’ll detail the most important tomato growing tips for our climate but keep in mind that short season varieties like “Early Girl” and the small-fruited patio tomatoes like “Sweet 100” do best. All tomato plants need the hottest spot in the garden. A covered spot against a south facing wall with reflected heat is ideal.

Growing for Good Health: Blueberries as Easy as Pie

We are lucky enough to live in one of the best blueberry growing climates in the world. Blueberries grow on shrubby plants that become larger and more productive year after year. They love our naturally acidic soil and high rainfall. A hedge of different varieties can keep you plucking these healthy berries all summer long. Blueberry bushes are attractive enough to use in your front yard landscape as they offer spring flowers, beautiful fall foliage and a row can create a nice screening hedge along the property line.

Buy blueberry plants from a local nursery to get the varieties that do best in our climate. For best pollination plant at least two different varieties. Grow them as you would rhododendrons and azaleas, adding organic matter to the soil, giving them plenty of water in the summer and using a mulch on top of the roots to keep the soil cool and moist. As with rhodies, don’t plant your new shrubs too deep. Blueberries have shallow surface roots and can suffocate easily. You won’t get much of a harvest the first summer but after that you can plan for pies or just enjoy these healthy berries right off the vine. Birds will be your biggest berry burglars, so plan to cover your plants with netting each summer – or just plant enough to share.

Small Space, Big Flavor: Herbal Renewal

Condo, city or apartment dwellers can still enjoy the flavor and health benefits of home-grown crops. A single pot of herbs can provide spices and flavorings that are high in vitamins and anti-oxidants and every chef knows how expensive it is to purchase fresh herbs.

For hot and sunny balconies grow a basil plant in a clay pot. The more heat the happier and basil can be pinched and harvested all summer for pesto, salads, Thai food and Italian dishes.

Got shade? Meet the flavorful members of the mint family that can be contained in pots (they spread) and now come in varieties like chocolate, apple and lemon flavors. Freeze bits of mint in an ice cube tray and add to your summer drinks. Pour boiling water over a few fresh leaves for instant organic mint tea. Cut up the foliage and add to stir fries or desserts. The more lean, green, home-grown plants you add to your diet the better.

I’ve got a whole book on the other herbs that like to grow here including lavender, oregano, thyme and rosemary (check out “Herbal Gardening for Washington and Oregon,” Lonepine Press) but the nicest thing about growing herbs is that a few plants can turn any gardener into a chef or any chef into a gardener. In a small space, even urban dwellers can enjoy herbal renewal.

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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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