A few years ago the non-profit Environmental Working Group released its “dirty dozen,” a list of the produce that generally has the highest rates of pesticides. On the list were peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes (imported), spinach, lettuce, and potatoes. In many locales, home gardeners can plant the trees and vines whose fruits appear on the dirty dozen. Producing fruit from trees and woody vines will take many years, however, so let’s look to what you can grow this year.
Various types of strawberries grow well throughout the United States. If you are willing to wait a couple of years, you can start from seed. If you’d rather have strawberries within a year, start from crowns. You can purchase crowns at your local garden supply store or online. Just remember that your strawberry patch will produce for years, so be cautious about where you plant it.
Sweet bell peppers, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes all grow well in the Ozarks. Celery does not, but it may grow well where you live. I can cut my organic food bill substantially by growing what works here. The key is accepting that you’ll be eating certain things seasonally. Spinach and lettuce, for example, do not survive hundred-degree (F) summer days in the Ozarks, but they’ll grow really well in the fall and spring (and the winter, with a little help). Note that I use chard and mustard greens for summer. I can’t grow regular celery, but cutting celery (same flavor but much smaller stalks) will grow here. I can easily grow sweet peppers, but I grow few standard bells and opt instead for smaller peppers that will ripen more quickly and produce better than bells (plus they’re really cute!). If you live much further north than here, you’ll definitely want to start with plants instead of seed for peppers, to be sure that they have plenty of time to develop fruit. With the “dirty dozen” as your guide for gardening, you can still eat clean and organic without breaking the bank.