JULIE FINUCANE

Stay-at-home orders are changing our lives for a time. One practical, positive reaction is a renewed interest in “Victory Gardens,” promoting self-reliance and reducing demand for resources.

Growing a home vegetable garden means fewer trips to the store. Gardening gets us outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine, tending plants, watching and helping them thrive. Pulling weeds and pruning can be cathartic, healthy ways to release the stresses of daily living. The garden can be a happy place where we escape into our own back yards, at a time when other options are limited.

And growing your own vegetables is a rewarding pursuit. Absolutely fresh, sun-ripened produce has better flavor, is more nutritious, and is nearly impossible to obtain by any other means. You’ll know firsthand how your food is grown. You alone control whether chemical pesticides are used, exactly what has been applied and when it is safe to harvest again.

A greater assortment of vegetable varieties is available to grow than can be purchased in the produce department of the grocery. Because the vegetables do not have to endure commercial harvesting equipment, packaging and trucking, qualities such as flavor, texture and color can take a higher priority. Simply choose varieties that are pest and disease-resistant and have time to mature in our summer.

A home vegetable garden can help reduce the family grocery bill. It would seem obvious, but start by growing what you like to eat. Consider how much of your garden produce you’ll want to eat fresh, and how much (if anything) you’ll want to can or freeze for use until the next season.

I think the fresh use is easiest and probably the most cost effective, considering the added cost of canning supplies and time and energy for preserving the foods. However, there is also value in being able to control added salt and sugar and to know exactly the quality and ripeness of the produce when it goes into the jar or freezer bag. This also makes your preserved foods more appealing than canned goods from the store, and certainly better than the flavorless pink tomatoes in the winter produce department.

If you wish to grow for both fresh use and preserving, this should influence how much you plant and which varieties. For example, nothing beats a beautiful beefsteak-type tomato for a BLT sandwich or the perfect hamburger, but you may also want to grow some cherry or grape tomatoes for eating by the handful and tossing onto salads. For tomato sauce, salsa or ketchup, grow some Roma or paste-type tomatoes. These have more flesh and less seeds and juice, and will cook down quickly to a thick, meaty sauce.

Minimize mid- to late summer vegetable overload. Look at the days to maturity for each variety, and try to plan so everything doesn’t come ripe at the same time. I prefer fresh green beans to canned or frozen, but don’t want them for every meal, so I don’t plant many. I do like black beans and other dried beans, which can be harvested very late, and shelled in the winter if you prefer. Just allow them to dry and store in a clean jar — no canning, freezing or preserving.

Another example is lettuce. This is a fast crop, with many of the leaf lettuce varieties ready for harvest as “baby lettuce” in as few as 30 days from sowing. Most will bolt quickly to seed in the heat and become bitter, so plant small amounts every week for six to eight weeks to ensure a continuous supply of tender young plants.

Grow what you like to eat and plan for the harvesting and preserving so that you won’t feel overwhelmed. If you end up growing too much, share the bounty with neighbors, friends and the local food pantry.

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