You can grow your own Dirty Dozen:
EWG just released their Dirty Dozen list for the year. To our collective dismay, many of our most favorite fruits and veggies have made the list. But as one Facebook reader commented, “The good news is that most of these are easy to grow right at home.”
If you are thinking, “Who in the world is EWG and what is this Dirty Dozen list of which you speak?”, keep reading!
EWG, or Environmental Working Group is non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. Each year, they compile a list of fruits and veggies with the highest pesticide load as reported by the USDA in annual testing.
Why should we care about pesticides in our food?
Many studies have been done showing serious health effects from various pesticides, many of which accumulate in our vital organs. At biggest risk are children and babies, those still developing, as well as those with compromised immune systems.
So what are our options? Many of the produce on this year’s Dirty Dozen list are staples in most of our households.
1. Buy Organic. Organic produce while, not necessarily completely chemical-free, will still have a significantly lower pesticide burden.
2. Buy local, seasonal, and talk to your growers. Many local growers are able to produce fruits and veggies using organic methods, but aren’t certified organic because organic certification can be costly. Locally grown foods also typically require less pesticides due to natural resistance.
3. Grow your own. Many of the fruits and veggies on the Dirty Dozen can be easily grown at home and in most US climate zones. What better way to guarantee your produce is chemical-free than by growing it yourself!
Growing your own fruits as veggies doesn’t have to be a daunting undertaking. There’s something magical about getting out in the dirt and discovering the fruits of your labor as your plants begin to grow. I’ve compiled my favorite tips and tricks for even the most novice of gardeners to successfully grow your own organic Dirty Dozen list.
Start by figuring out what climate zone you are in. This will determine what can be successfully grown in your area, and won’t be challenged by things like frost, heat, excess water, or drought. The USDA has an easy interactive map, simply enter your zipcode here. Once you have your zone (I’m 6a), pick out varieties that will work in your area. This can be seeds, seedlings, or larger plants. Seedlings and plants from local garden stores or public markets will be great for your zone. If you shop online for your plants or seeds you will need to double check the hardiness zone for your area, but by and large, most companies list the zones on each plant, or even give you the option to filter only the plants adapted to your zone.
Strawberries are great because they come back every year (perennial) in most zones, and spread well. In my experience, they are one of the easiest fruits to grow organically, with minimal effort or cost. We’ve even over-wintered hanging strawberry baskets in zone 6 and had fruit subsequent years. (And by “over-wintered” I mean that I left the baskets hanging outside all winter because I was too lazy to toss them in the fall.)
More tips on growing your own strawberries:
Apples can be a bit tricky to start, but once established, trees do very well. Apples do need two different varieties planted relatively close in order to be pollinated and produce fruit, but that can be as simple as an ornamental dwarf crabapple tree planted in the front yard. (Or you can get a tree with multiple species grafted onto it.)
More tips on growing your own apples:
Nectarines are another fruit tree that can be added to your home orchard in most US zones. Check our your local Cooperative Extension Office for species that do best in your area. Prep the soil well, and plan to do a bit of annual care, such as pruning, to ensure a healthy bountiful nectarine harvest each year.
More tips on growing your own Nectarines:
Peach Trees can be a great addition to your Dirty Dozen home harvest, with just a bit of soil preparation and yearly upkeep such as pruning and fertilizing. Peach Trees typically do well in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9, depending on the variety. They also come in dwarf form if space is an issue.
More tips on growing your own Peaches:
Celery makes a great winter crop in the South, a summer crop in the far North, and a fall crop in most other areas. It does require rich soil, so I recommend adding lots of compost before planting.
More tips on growing your own celery:
I’m a bit biased with this one because I happen to live in an area of the country known for excellent wine production, and therefore an abundance of grapes. We even have wild grapes here on our property, although wild life usually gets to them well before we can. Still, as common as they are here, finding organically grown grapes can be a bit tricky. If you stick to proper planting times, and plan to prune the old growth every year, grapes can be a great addition to your home grown Dirty Dozen.
More tips on growing your own grapes:
Cherries come in many forms including standard trees, dwarf trees, and bushes. Your region will determine what form will be best suited to your area.
More tips on growing your own cherries:
Spinach is another easy growing vegetable that does well in many different climates, including colder weather. Spinach doesn’t require much maintenance, and I’ve found it does well planted directly from seed. You can also stagger planting time to have fresh organic spinach through most of the year.
More tips on growing your own spinach:
Tomatoes are probably the most commonly homegrown of the Dirty Dozen. There are so many varieties, adapted to most US climates, that virtually anyone can grow them, directly in the ground, in pots, hanging upside down, or even indoors. Tomatoes aren’t without their challenges if your soil is poor, but here are a bunch of tips on growing your best organic tomatoes ever.
More tips on growing your own tomatoes:
10 Sweet Bell Peppers
Sweet Bell Peppers are probably the second most common homegrown veggie on the Dirty Dozen list. Another easy one that grows well right along side those tomatoes that everyone is so fond of. I would argue that they are even easier to grown than tomatoes, at least here in zone 6a! I’ve grown some giant bell peppers on plants that only got 2 feet tall!
More tips on growing your own sweet bell peppers:
11 Cherry Tomatoes
Similar to regular tomatoes (see number 9), there are many cherry tomato varieties that grow well in almost all US hardiness zones.
More tips on growing your own cherry tomatoes:
I’ve had amazing cucumber success here in zone 6a over the years. Because our property is generally very wet for much of the spring, but can also get nice and warm mid to late summer, we often get a bumper crop of cucumbers with very little work.
More tips on growing your own cucumbers:
There you have it. Lots of tips on growing your own Dirty Dozen fruits and veggies and avoiding added pesticide exposure.