A beautiful garden, fabulous flavor, great nutrition, and the thrill of tremendous diversity at your command—this is your reward when you grow your own vegetables. The flavor of just-picked produce is superior to any store-bought counterpart because it is so fresh. And fresh is better. An ear of just-harvested corn retains more nutrients than an ear that has been on a produce truck all night, or all week, busy converting its delicious fruit sugars to gluey starches. A fresh-picked, vine-ripened tomato has up to three times the vitamin C of a supermarket tomato, and the flavor is so rich and delicious it’s hard to believe that the two are related.
A yard full of ambrosial vegetables encourages good nutrition. They are major sources of essential vitamins and minerals. As maturing vegetables approach the moment of best flavor, their vitamin and nutrient content also is peaking. Once vegetables are harvested, the enzymes that bring them to top flavor continue the process, and they begin to deteriorate. Eating the harvest at the peak of maturity means enjoying optimal nutritional content. Vegetables and fruits are very high in fiber and generally low in calories. When they are irresistibly good, you will eat more of what is good for you.
Some harvested plants deteriorate more rapidly than others. In corn the change begins sooner and progresses more quickly than in apples or carrots. On the whole, root vegetables are stable over a longer period—something to keep in mind when deciding which vegetables to give garden space and which to buy at the market.
You will never be bored growing your own vegetables. Money cannot buy the diversity available to the gardener. Garden catalogs lure the chef with seeds of exotic plants that astonish the palate and delight the family. Harvest lemon cucumbers, golden pearl tomatoes, and other heirloom vegetables and fruits our forebears nurtured. Grow wondrously perfumed ‘Galia’ melons from Israel and pungent tat-soi greens. Harvest head lettuce and squash no bigger than your palm.
Try for 600-pound pumpkins. Be tempted by white eggplant, purple and orange peppers, red potatoes, yellow watermelons or golden beets. Serve radicchio, arugula, real haricots verts, and true petits pois without concern for the price.
Flavor your food with herbs so fragrant and beautiful your vegetable garden rivals the flower beds—opal basil, bronze fennel, pepperbox poppies, minty lavender buds, scent-leaved geraniums, and ferny dill.
As garden and gardener mature, the vegetable plot becomes more satisfying and easier to maintain. The first year or two there are challenges. There is a lot to learn, but the food garden’s seasonal chores soon become routine, and the cycles that rule the garden are endlessly entertaining. Each season is different from the last.
Mistakes happen and become great learning experiences. The sun, the sky, and the earth work with you to gloss over the small things that go wrong. And you can count on unexpected success: Some plants grow and produce far better than you hoped. It is something that happens every year—and one reason gardeners become so dedicated. This is a pastime with rewards on every level.