Every morning as I fill the teakettle with fresh water, I look out the kitchen window and scan my garden. What’s blooming, what’s growing taller? Our sunflowers have gotten so big that I can’t even see their tops as I peer out. Sometimes I recall the first months after we moved in, when the yard was bare except for a few stragglers leftover from the previous tenants. Now we have four raised-beds for vegetables and three small herb and flower gardens. We got a late start the first season but ended up with some great cherry tomatoes and lemon cucumbers, and a lot of crookneck squash. This year we planned better and started sooner—now our harvest is in full-swing.

According to the National Gardening Association, 36 million US households grow gardens. More than half of these reported growing their own food because it saves grocery money and it tastes better. Benicia is ahead of the curve when it comes to backyard gardens—I see more and more vegetable gardens sprouting up around town. Benicia Community Garden has set a trend with its visible locations on the corner of Military East and East Second at Heritage Presbyterian Church, and its newer location on First and D Streets.

What's a home garden really worth? One wacky couple, founders of Kitchen Gardeners International, did the math. Roger Doiron’s wife, Jacqueline, suggested that they weigh each harvest and price the items up at grocery store prices (they did three comparisons: farmer's market, conventional grocery store and Whole Foods), then subtract their gardening expenses. Over the season, they saved $2149.15 (www.kgi.org/node/2547%23comment-5349). These are experienced gardeners with a fairly high crop yield. But part of the beauty of growing your own food is that the learning never stops—novices and master gardeners alike will always have challenges to overcome and something to remember for next season. Despite life’s endless to-do list, prioritizing time to garden can be endlessly rewarding.

When children experience firsthand the magic of nurturing a plant from seed to fruit, it gives them an invaluable connection to their food. With a growing number of children being diagnosed with nutrition and weight related diseases, cultivating this connection in the home is important.

Eighty six percent of the National Gardening Association's 36 million backyard gardeners reported growing tomatoes, making them the most popular homegrown fruit nationwide. Cucumbers came in second, followed by sweet peppers, beans, carrots, summer squash, onions, hot peppers, lettuce and peas. Culinary herbs are easy to grow and lend added spice and vigor to any home-cooked meal. What’s popping up in your garden this season?