Last year was our first garden, and beginning was very daunting! When to start, how to plant, how to avoid pests, what to choose, how much to water.....there's so much to learn in the beginning. But begin you should, because gardening has so many benefits. Most of our food travels an average of 1500 miles before it gets to our table. This requires the produce to be picked before it is ripened, which in turn makes it less nutritional, and frankly bland. Growing your own produce will help save billions of gallons of gasoline, a non-renewable source of energy which is growing scarcer by the minute. Also, by growing your own produce organically, we can collectively reduce the amount of pesticides that eventually run off into our water sources. Victory Gardens are being revived all over the country! So where can you begin? Here are some of my recommendations:
There are so many great resources out there, you can get lost! My two favorite books that I am constantly returning to are: Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and The Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food by Tanya L.K. Denckla. As a busy mom of 4, working at home, I don't have much time to fuss with a garden...it's just not an option. The Square Foot Gardening Method is so easy to grasp, and learn, which makes it perfect for beginners. No soil testing, or thinning plants, and even weeding is nearly non-existent. There are also a plethora of gardening forums and helpful websites. Some of my favorites:
Decide what you would like to grow by taking into account what you love to eat. Our family eats tons of squash, zucchini and green beans. I knew these would be the staples of our garden. However, your space or climate may restrict what you can grow. We don't have room for corn, so this is something I buy in bulk at our farmer's market, and then can & preserve. Read up on your favorite veggies and what it takes to grow them. You will start some plants by directly sowing the seed outside, but others you will either need to buy as transplants, or start indoors yourself. If something seems too complicated for your first year, commit to buying them locally and focus on a small amount at first. Last year we started with 4 raised beds, and will expand to 8 this year, along with some blueberry bushes and potted herbs.
Once you've decided what you want to grow, next comes the when. You Grow Girl has an amazing spreadsheet that will help determine your planting times specific to your climate zone. Prepping your ground comes next. For the SFG method, it's as simple as building some raised beds, and making a soil mix affectionately dubbed “Mel's Mix”. Mel's mix includes 1/3 vermiculite, which normally is sold in small bags. Call around to your local, family owned garden centers to see if you can buy this in bulk. This will make it easier to mix, more cost-effective, and create less waste. Also, call your local extension agent for local compost sources. There are local sources that will deliver a load of compost, often for less than you would spend on buying by the bag at a box store. Freecycle is a great source for wood scraps that can be used for your raised beds. Finally, plant! Your local farmer's market is a good place to buy plants to transplant in your garden. Your local nursery will also have a wide variety to choose from, as well as seeds. Other trusted seed resources:
Commit to spending ½ hour, to an hour each day to maintaining your garden. Pests will come, but the best defense is a good offense! Buy resistant varieties, and use row covers whenever possible. Watching your garden carefully will help you stay on top of disease and pests before they are unmanageable. Visit Garden Forum for specific remedies to problems you may encounter.
I hope you're inspired to start a garden, whether it's just some tomatos and herbs on your porch, or several beds in your backyard. Next post we'll discuss some advanced gardening skills, including composting, water collection and organic pest control. Get started today!