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Residents learn benefits of container gardening

GENEVA – A group of Kane County residents on Sunday learned that they can successfully grow vegetables without using the ground.

About 30 people attended the "Grow Your Own Groceries – In Containers" seminar at the Geneva Ace Hardware, 617 W. State St. Ron and Linda Stork of the Bolingbrook Garden Club led the event.

"For those of you that don't grow your own vegetables, you don't know what you're missing," Linda Stork said.

The free seminar was sponsored by the hardware store and the Just Food Initiative of the Fox Valley, an interfaith ministry committed to building sustainable and just food systems. M. Grace Grzanek, founder of the area's Just Food Initiative, said container gardening provides an alternative to the food sold in supermarkets.

Some commercial food might be harmful because it's been subjected to multiple artificial treatments, like green tomatoes chemically turned red, Grzanek said.

Tomatoes are one of the many foods that grow well in containers, in addition to sweet corn, lettuce and potatoes, Ron Stork said. The Storks mostly focused on Earthboxes as the ideal container gardening option because it has produced the best results for them. Earthboxes are rectangular, made of food-grade plastic and contain a water reservoir.

Stork walked through the process of setting up an Earthbox. He said fertilizer, preferably organic, only has to be applied once at the start of the season. It's important to use a potting mix for container gardening and not ground soil, he said.

Another difference from traditional gardening is that the Storks cover the potting mix with plastic, then make cuts in the areas where they want to plant the food seedlings. The plastic is really meant to just cover the soil or potting mix and the part of the plant below the surface, Ron Stork said.

"The plastic is not stifling the plant," Linda Stork said.

The Earthboxes can be purchased in a variety of sizes and be used indoors or outdoors, as long as the plants have enough water and sunlight. When small animals try to rip through the plastic, Stork suggests adding marigolds or spreading dried peppers to repel them away.

Sharon Garlinsky liked Stork's advice about keeping critters away from the growing vegetables. She said deer and rabbits are a common sight in her Sugar Grove neighborhood.

Garlinksy was impressed with how the Earthboxes work. She does traditional gardening of peppers and blueberries. Batavia resident Terri Grommes has grown potatoes, tomatoes, squash and peppers in raised beds. After attending the seminar, she plans on trying other container gardening methods such as herb seed mats.

Grommes does question whether container gardening is more cost-effective than buying store-bought goods. What she doesn't deny is that local garden plants have a far superior quality.

"I think it's healthier," Grommes said. "Nothing tastes better than homegrown, fresh vegetables."

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