Friday, March 4, 2016

Growing Veggies for Your Dog, Part 1: Easy, Low-maintenance Vegetables

Chewy, being a Golden that practically lives to eat, loves his veggies. Every year, we grow some veggies (and fruits) that we can share with him. Fresh vegetables from our garden add pizzazz to his commercially prepared diet, and are a low-calorie and vitamin-rich alternative to regular dog treats. In addition to getting unmatched freshness, growing your own vegetables allows you to control what goes into the soil and thus into you and your dog's food. Now that spring is almost here, it's time to plan our garden for the upcoming growing season.

Gardening means more time outside for Chewy to relish in the fresh air and roll in the grass. He even likes to pick his own veggies! Sometimes he sniffs out the good ones before deciding which to pick. Other times, he just chomps/pulls away in a frenzy.

Carrot for me!

If you would like to start growing vegetables for your dog, below are some kinds to consider. They are especially good for beginning gardeners who would like some fool-proof plants to experiment with, or for those that want a low-maintenance crop.

These plants are easily grown from seed - just follow the instructions on the seed packet, especially paying attention to when to plant, sun requirements, planting depth, and plant spacing. When selecting plant varieties, consider the characteristics listed on the seed packet, such as sweetness, size and whether it is best suited for salad or cooking. Also pay attention to the days to maturity/harvest, so you have an idea of how long it will take to grow.

Vegetables can also be grown from nursery transplants, available at your local garden center. These are started plants that are ready to be planted into the ground.

Keep in mind that individual dogs, like people, have their own food preferences, and yours might refuse to eat certain veggies. Some dogs might dislike certain raw vegetables but still enjoy them when cooked.

Easy, relatively low-maintenance vegetables to grow for dogs

1. Radish
Radishes come in many different colors and varieties, many of which mature quickly and can be ready to harvest in as little as 21 days. When raw, radishes are crunchy and have a bit of a peppery bite, which a dog (or person) might not like. Chewy will gladly eat one anyway, because he is Chewy. To remove the bitterness, they can be sliced and soaked in water, steamed, or boiled. 

The first time Chewy pulled a radish from the garden, he thought he was getting a carrot (I planted them next to each other). He took one bite and was like "BLEGH!" and ditched it. A few accidental radish pickings later, he started eating the whole thing. Perhaps it is an acquired taste? He doesn't eat the leaves, but he likes to shred them up and spit them out.

Itty bitty radish

Giant radish! (for cooking)

2. Bush beans
There are two types of green bean plants: bush beans and pole beans. Bush beans grow into a little bush, while pole beans grow vines that require supports to flourish. Bush beans are the lower-maintenance kind, but require more space per plant.

One bush bean plant will produce numerous bean pods, all maturing at approximately the same time. Planting more bush bean seeds every few weeks will provide a steady stream of green beans. Bush beans also come in colors other than green, such as purple and yellow. The purple ones turn green when cooked! Other than color, they're all pretty much the same.

Although they can be eaten raw, I like to boil green beans until they are bright green before feeding them to Chewy. I freeze any extras so Chewy can have a chilly snack on hot days.

3. Parsley
Parsley takes awhile to start growing, but once it gets going, it can survive well into late fall/winter. Like many herbs, it will grow better the more often you cut off some leaves and stems. Parsley plants will likely attract the black, green and yellow striped caterpillar of the swallowtail butterfly, but they should not cause much damage and can usually be left alone. 

Parsley supposedly freshens dog breath, among other health benefits. It can be chopped up and added on top of your dog's meals, or mixed into home-made treats.

4. Lettuce
Lettuce is typically low in nutrients, but the crunchiness can be very appealing to dogs. A lot of lettuce can be grown in a small area. There are many different varieties, with varying colors, textures, tastes, and speed to maturity. Loose leaf varieties (as opposed to heading lettuce) can be harvested at any time during their growth.

Chewy likes sweet and extra crunchy Romaine leaves. He only recently discovered that he likes lettuce: at first, he licked one and spat it out, but when he heard the crunch it made when people ate it, he decided it was for him. Now he begs for a piece when he sees anyone with lettuce!

Stay tuned for intermediate vegetables...

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