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Gardening is good for the soul. It burns calories, relieves stress, and improves our immune systems. These health benefits are reinforced when you grow your own organic, nutritious and delicious food. Growing herbs and vegetables at home is a fun and easy way to introduce better nutrition to your plate.

Here’s some food for thought.

Herbalicious

Herbs are simple to grow in-ground and in containers. They add so much flavor and brightness to summer dishes and can be dried or frozen to liven up winter cuisine. Fresh herbs from the grocery store can be expensive and not entirely fresh. Grow your own for the best tasting, organic herbs for your dishes. Here are our favorites:

Basil

If there is one superstar among herbs, it’s basil. And it has to be fresh. Use it in Cplanting-basil-1aprese salads, toss it on pizza, tuck a leaf into cocktails or make pesto. Freeze pesto and brighten up a cold winter day. Basil needs about 6 hours of sun per day, but some protection from the harsh, late afternoon sun is appreciated. Water when soil is dry to the touch. It isn’t very cold tolerant so cover with an overturned nursery pot if the springtime temperatures turn cold.

Thyme

Thyme smells like summer. Plant where you’ll be able to brush your hands over it to capture that fragrance. Originally from the Mediterranean, this herb is one of the most drought tolerant. Seeds are slow to germinate so it’s best to start with young plants. Use the tiny leaves in salads, marinades for meat and anything Italian. Harvest in mid-summer before it blooms and hang to dry. Once dry, rub it between your hand to dislodge the leaves from the stems, save in a spice jar for months.

Parsley

This fantastic herb can be added to practically anything. Sprinkle fresh leaves in salads, add it to scrambled eggs, and make herb butter or chimichurri sauce. Parsley loses its flavor when dried so freeze it and add to dishes at the last minute. Tip: You can freeze homemade herb butter too!

Chives

Another under-appreciated perennial herb is chive. It will come back every year and is the first to break ground in late winter. Pollinators love the pink flowers and so will you. Sprinkle chives on salads and cheese toasts. Add them to eggs and herb butter. They’d be pretty and delicious in a bloody Mary. Chives also get extra points for repelling Japanese beetles so plant around roses.

There are so many more to try. Treat yourself to this delicious group of plants. And don’t forget herbs for Mother’s Day and girlfriend gifts.

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Veggies Rule

Vegetable gardening is growing increasingly popular with gardeners of all ages. You can grow many kinds in pots on a balcony or terrace. And even just a small veggie garden can yield big returns. What’s got everybody hooked? The taste! Nothing beats freshly picked veggies, nothing. A fresh carrot or green bean from the garden tastes completely different from those bagged products. Want your kids to eat their veggies? Let them help you in the garden with these easy to grow choices.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes come in every imaginable size, shape, and color. Some are perfect to munch on right off the vine, some are best for canning salsa and others make the most magnificent BLTs on the planet. There are patio and cherry tomatoes that

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thrive in containers and if you have more room, larger varieties can produce enough for the whole neighborhood. If possible, plant a variety so you’ll have fresh-picked goodness from early summer through fall. Just add sunshine and water.

Hot Peppers

Hot peppers are truly hot. Everyone loves growing their own for summer backyard parties. Think stuffed jalapenos, your own deadly hot salsa, serrano wings, stir fry, queso, not to mention tacos. Jalapenos are the easiest and fastest to grow. Their big brother, the poblano, is one of the largest and often prepared stuffed, as in chili Rellenos. If you can take the heat, try Scotch bonnets or habaneros. Turn up the heat at this summer’s chili cook-off.

The Leafy Stuff

It won’t be hard to get your family to eat their greens when you plant a variety of lettuces, spinach, kale, arugula, mustard greens, and Swiss chard. If you have a veggie garden go ahead and plant these delicious, fast-growing greens in rows. If that doesn’t apply, don’t worry, leafy greens grow well in containers. The foliage textures and colors of these greens are so beautiful; don’t be surprised if people think they’re just decorative combinations. Add some nasturtiums to spill over the edge of the pots. Their flowers taste peppery and are gorgeous in salads.

Zucchini and Summer Squash

Everyone knows that once zucchini get growing they produce a ton of food. But there is a trick to keeping them in line. Harvest them when they’re young and tiny. You can pay a fortune for baby zucchini, not to mention their gourmet blossoms. Harvesting when just 3 or 4 inches long gives you a superb vegetable that can be cut up and eaten raw in salads or served as part of a crudités platter. They have more flavor, fewer seeds, and less water than the big ones.

Call or come into Homestead Gardens and browse our extensive selection of herbs and vegetables from Chef Jeff. Talk to a team member about your garden goals and our expert staff will be delighted to assist you in choosing the right mix of herbs and veggies to suit your lifestyle.

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