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Oklahoma City's urban gardeners can grow their own food for next to nothing


Nathan Gunter May 22nd, 2008

With grocery-store prices increasing, Oklahoma City residents have been able to grow their produce and save money. BOUTIQUE FADSTATE SOIL HELPING HANDS When I was 5, my dad took me out into the quar...

rowing your own is that you can grow four specific flavors and textures. The fact that it's fresh means that it's usually sweeter, not gritty like the ones at the supermarket. The taste is massively different.

"Our goal this summer is to have all our vegetables come from our garden or the farmers' market."

STATE SOIL
The benefits of growing one's own vegetables are legion, according to horticulturist Steve Dobbs, author of "The Oklahoma Gardener's Guide" and plant operations director for the University of Arkansas " Fort Smith. From 1990 to 1995, Dobbs hosted the television show "Oklahoma Gardening," which was selected as 1992's best TV gardening program by the Garden Writers Association of America.

Growing one's own produce, he said, "fulfills the human instinct to nurture, provides more connectedness to nature and the elements for a better appreciation of what our farming community does for their livelihood."

"I can't think of any downside, really, other than it takes time, which is time well spent," he said. "It really is a win-win experience."

A horticulture graduate of Oklahoma State University, Dobbs said Oklahoma provides a climate wherein a person could conceivably grow crops year-round.

"There are not many really that won't work in Oklahoma as far as annual vegetables," Dobbs said. "Warm-season crops like tomatoes, corn, okra, sunflowers and sweet potatoes are relatively easy. Cool-season crops like lettuce, broccoli and potatoes work nicely, too, if planted at the correct time.

"Plants more challenging to grow would be ones that are considered perennial that don't always take our heat, like ginseng and horseradish. Even then, you'll hear of gardeners who have found microclimates within their yard that can make it work."

Dobbs said that starting a garden is easy, but it takes time and dedication. He encouraged gardeners to place their plants near the back of the house, so they will see them and remember to care for them daily. According to him, the key is good soil.

"Most Oklahoma soils, particularly in Oklahoma City, have a small percentage of organic matter. Typically, they're more clay. Composted products will help to initiate this process," he said. "For vegetable gardening, Oklahoma City is really not unique from the standpoint that most urban areas are alike where heavy soils are brought in to construct the home's foundation. A good topsoil for gardening is often an afterthought at the time of construction."

He added that is why it is important to add organic material, no matter what your situation, and to conduct a soil test every couple of years.

"Start small and pace yourself," Pressler-Henderson said. "Start with flowers in pots and then maybe a couple pepper plants in pots. You can start small and it's really rewarding when you can go out to your porch and pull a bell pepper and bring it in."

HELPING HANDS
Both said that asking for help is a must, and Dobbs noted that Cooperative Extension System offices are a great place to start. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Web site, the Cooperative Extension System is a nationwide, noncredit educational network. Each state and territory has a state office at its land-grant university, and a network of local or regional offices. These sites are staffed by one or more experts who provide practical and research-based information to agricultural producers, small-business owners, youth, consumers and others in communities of all sizes.

Pressler-Henderson has found the Internet to be a valuable resource, especially as she has researched new methods such as square-foot gardening. She learned all about that method from Mel Bartholomew, author of the book "Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work." His Web site, www.squarefootgardening.com, gives tips on how to maximize space in a small plot, like the ones that challenge most urban gardeners to make the most of every bit of land.

Still, most new gardeners are prone to making mistakes. The biggest one, according to Dobbs, is that new gardeners don't learn how to mulch. Mulching, he said, minimizes weeds and adds much-needed organic material to soil. Yet, even with good mulching, weeds and invasive Bermuda grass can take weeks or months to get under control.

"Just waking up one morning and saying,

 
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