Mary Ann Quinn - Reading, MA Real Estate, Wakefield, MA Real Estate, North Reading, MA Real Estate

Cooking vegetables from your own garden is a great experience. In the same way that you appreciate a meal made from scratch more than a frozen dinner or takeout, cooking food that you grew yourself is an extremely rewarding feeling. Aside from being delicious, growing your own food can help you save money, waste less food, consume less plastic packaging (helping the environment), and try out new recipes you normally wouldn't. When it comes to planting vegetables for cooking, however, there's more to it than simply tossing some seeds in your garden. Here's how to get the most out of growing your own vegetables for use on the dinner table.

Plant smart

One of the first mistakes beginner gardeners make is planting the wrong vegetables or the wrong proportions of vegetables. One or two squash plants, for example, will provide ample amounts of squash for most small families. So, think about the meals you love to cook and what vegetables they require. Then find out how much those plants yield. Some vegetables can be planted and harvested at many times throughout the growing season. If you eat lots of leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.), don't plant a huge row all at once. Instead, plant in intervals of two or three weeks so you can reap the rewards throughout the season. Similarly, many lettuces (such a romaine) are able to be continually harvested--that means there's no need for pulling the whole planet out of the ground and replanting.

Plan your meals

To get the most out of your garden plan a weekly menu that incorporates items from your garden. If your tomatoes look like they're ripening, plan for making tomato sauce, pizza, or caprese sandwiches the following week. Get creative with recipes. If you have a surplus of peppers, try different stuffed pepper recipes. The internet is your best friend when it comes to discovering new uses for surplus vegetables.


A garden should be useful to you year-round, not just during the autumn harvest season. There are several methods of preserving your vegetables. The way you choose depends on your own need. Common means of preservation include:
  • Freezing meals. Remember those stuffed peppers? You don't have to eat them every day of the week once your peppers are ripe. Cook up some rice, beans, and sauce, stuff your peppers and bake. Eat however much you want and place the rest in airtight bags in the freezer. They'll make great lunches for when you're in a rush.
  • Blanching and steaming.  If you're not quite sure how you'll want to use your vegetables but you know you'll use them later blanching and steaming are great options. Boil or steam them for five minutes then toss them into a bucket of ice-water to cool. Once cool, drain them and freeze them in bags.
  • Canning.  This method takes some preparation and research but canning is a great way to save fruits and vegetables for use throughout the year and are great if you don't have extra space in your freezer for frozen vegetables.

Are your home flowerbeds or garden plagued by insect pests? Experienced gardens rely on the many ways that herbs benefit the landscape, especially the vegetable garden. For centuries herbs have played a prominent role in garden lore as gardeners and growers utilized “companion planting” as a method of pest control. Even though you have used fertile, organic soil and tended each plant the way it should be grown, providing for the plants needs and proper culture, insect pests do appear. Herbs can help you control the problem and minimize damage. There are a great many ways in which plants help with pest control. A few exotic tropical plants consume bugs outright, using the ingested material as plant food. Other plants help in the war on bugs by emitting a scent that attracts them to one area of the garden for easy handpicking and removal. Still other plants are used in the preparation of insect repelling sprays. Some plants ward off insect infestation by having a sharp or bitter taste and a pungent smell that confuses “critters” thus protecting companion crop that might be subject to insect attack. This method is known as companion planting. Herbs – Heroes Of The Garden Some gardeners consider companion planting to be somewhere between wisdom and witchcraft; other savvy gardeners do not question traditional methods and folk tales. Rather they follow the old ways of planting asparagus with tomatoes and parsley, and carrots with dill. Traditional gardeners have learned through years of observation that specific types of cultivated plants, grown adjacent to each other in the garden exhibit a beneficial effect upon each other. Fennel, beans, and cucumbers, when grown separately do all right on their own. However, when grown together cucumbers love beans and produce an abundant crop of both, but beans hate fennel. When fennel and beans are grown next to each other, neither crop does well. Aromatic herbs play a pivotal role in the deterring the presence of certain insects in the garden. Insects are attracted to or repulsed by the odor of these plants from the pungent essential oils the plant secrets. As an example, caterpillars are strongly attracted to the mustard scented essential oils of cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. On the other hand, mosquitos, flies, gnats, ants, and other pests are repelled by the scents of lavender, thyme, citronella, rosemary, basil, dill, and all varieties of mint. Organic gardeners find that interspersing these pungent and powerfully scented herbs between groupings of plants or in alternative rows in the garden, will ward off an insect infestation that would otherwise cause havoc in the home landscape. Choosing The Right Insect Repelling Plants For Your Garden Most herbs used for companion planting grow well in United States Hardiness Zones 3 through 9, with some doing best in colder climates and some herbs thriving in tropical climates. To determine which companion planting methods are most effective in your part of the country, talk to your local county extension agent for advice and plant suggestions. Herbs native to your local area will have the strongest properties to defeat local insects.

A rising trend in urban and suburban neighborhoods is the concept of a community garden. What began as a way for people living in cities to grow some of their own vegetables has turned into a community-building sensation across the country.

Why start a community garden?

The benefits for having a community garden in your neighborhood are endless. First, it allows people to grow their own food--a rewarding process in itself. You'll learn about sewing seeds, caring for plants, and harvesting the vegetables. When it's all said and done, you'll save money as well, since it's much cheaper to grow your vegetables than to buy them from the grocery store. Gardens are also a great way to build a sense of community in your neighborhood. You'll meet new people, make new friends, and have something to be proud of together. Plus, talking about what you're planting is a great ice-breaker when it comes to meeting the neighbors for the first time. Aside from helping you and your neighbors, community gardens are also a modest way to help the environment. A garden means more food for bees, a refuge for local critters, and more plants producing oxygen. Plus, when you get your vegetables right from your garden you cut back on all of the resources used to wrap, pack, and ship vegetables across the country to grocery stores, reducing your carbon footprint in a small way. Excited yet? I hope so! Now that you know why to start a community garden you need to know how.

Steps to making a community garden

  1. Get the neighborhood together Invite your neighbors to a local cafe or library to talk about starting a garden. To build interest and awareness, start a Facebook group and post a few flyers in your neighborhood.
  2. Figure out the funding and logistics  At this meeting, start talking about how the garden is going to be funded. Seeds, tools, fertilizer, and other expenses don't have to put a damper on your fun if you're prepared. The three main sources of funding for a community garden are finding sponsors, running neighborhood fundraisers, or having a membership fee for plots in the garden.
  3. Find a spot for your garden The best places to turn into gardens are plots of land that currently bring down the aesthetic of the neighborhood. Find an area that could be cleaned up and approach the owner of the land with the idea. You can offer them free membership or whatever other resources are available in exchange for being able to use the land.
  4. Throw a cleaning and a kick-off party To build the garden, invite everyone from the neighborhood over to the plot of land for pizza. Then once they're there stick a shovel in their hand (okay, maybe let them eat a slice or two first). Once the garden is ready to be planted, you can host another "kick-off party" so everyone can celebrate their hard work.
  5. Rules are made to be spoken  Community gardens are a ton of fun. But to keep them that way you're going to need to decide on some ground rules for things like open hours, membership acceptance, tool usage, leadership, and so on. Post the rules on the Facebook, website, and at the garden itself so everyone can see them.
  6. Keep the momentum If you want your garden to last you'll need to do some work to keep everyone excited. Make a Facebook group, a website or whatever else you think will help people stay connected. Ideally, you want your messages to include everyone involved in the garden so that everyone feels involved.