Starting a Garden isn’t Rocket Science
I inherited my mother’s ability to kill cacti. I know what you’re thinking. How the heck am I going to help you have a productive garden? Because, I overcame my failures and finally developed a green thumb, ok maybe it’s a muddy green, but green none the less.
Even though I have failed a few times when attempting to grow certain plants I have managed to have many more successes. The key to becoming a gardener is to start with the easy stuff. There are a few tips that can help ensure a good harvest. Before you know it you’ll be growing enough produce to get you through the winter!
Why Should I Bother?
There are so many reasons to start a garden. My reason was diet, I wanted to control the types of food my family and I were eating. To know the produce we are eating isn’t being picked before it had even had a chance to ripen fully is a great feeling. Also raising our food from seed to table is immensely satisfying.
Some other good reasons to start a garden would be to lessen your carbon footprint, being more self-reliant, cut costs on your grocery bill, try foods you’ve never had before, teach your kids where their food comes from, and add to your overall health. Another great benefit is that gardening has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Now that you’re excited to start, let’s get to the nitty-gritty.
There are a few things that are essential to any good garden.
- Healthy Seedlings or Seeds
- Determination and a Good Sense of Humor
It’s important to think of your soil as a living thing. In it is a tiny universe of creatures, fungi, decaying material, minerals, and nutrients. Contrary to what modern farming would have you believe, tilling is the worst thing you can do to your soil. Think about the most lush forest you’ve been to, it is an amazing world of vegetation and wildlife. Does tilling happen in a forest? No, it doesn’t. You want to build your soil. If you have a hard clay-like dirt in your yard, just put fresh organic soil from a garden center or topsoil business over it with a nice layer of compost and top it with arborist chips. When you plant push back the chips and either lay the seed or set the seedling on top of the soil, then when the plants are tall enough you move the chips back around their base.
Ultimately the easiest method for a beginner garden is to use a raised bed like the one Aaron talks about here, that is where I have had the most success. Raised beds provide more protection from predators and tend to have better drainage so plants won’t risk getting waterlogged.
Just like you, plants need a certain amount of water and just like you, too much and they can drown. The best way to water plants and the most fool-proof is the drip irrigation method. This will get the water where it needs to be, in the soil, not on the leaves. Avoiding getting water on the leaves is important because that’s when you risk giving your plants a disease, and if you water in the heat of the day you can burn them.
With a drip hose, you don’t have to worry about what time you water either. You want to water slowly in order to give it time to penetrate the soil and reach the roots. I usually only water for about 20 minutes with a nice low stream every other day depending on the weather.
How much light you need really depends on the type of plants you have. I like to use the back of the seed packets as a good guide. It is also good to understand how light travels across your yard during each season and to be aware of how trees and buildings affect the way light reaches your yard.
Healthy Seedlings and Seeds
A really important first step is to know your zone. You wouldn’t try to grow a lemon tree outside in Alaska, just like you wouldn’t try to grow cucumbers in the desert. Certain plants like certain climates. That’s why it’s always a good idea to check your hardiness zone, you can do that with the interactive USDA hardiness zone map. You also want to check your frost dates at the Farmer’s Almanac. Once you’ve done that you can choose your plants. I recommend starting with some of the easier to grow plants like spinach, beans, peas, carrots, potatoes, squash varieties, berries, and tomatoes. I have had great success with all of these.
Starting from seed or seedlings is really a matter of personal choice and also knowing the area you live in. I try to buy from companies that sell heirloom non-GMO seeds. Some of my favorites are Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Uprising Seed, and Seeds Now. You can usually buy seedlings at your local Co-Op or nurseries. Once you’ve mastered the easy plants then you can move on to more adventurous varieties. Every year I like to try something new, last year it was a purple artichoke, this year I’m going to try growing luffa.
It takes time to grow a garden. This is why it’s also good to know when your first and last frost dates are, so you know what plants are best to start indoors and which to direct sow. Plants can range from 50 to over 150 days to fully mature. Then when you consider the time it takes for you to prepare the beds, water, weed, and harvesting it feels like a lot of work. Trust me it is definitely time and effort well spent! When I come in from the garden with a basket of fresh produce, I truly feel blessed.
I Have All This Food, How Do I Keep It From Spoiling?
Preservation to me is one of the most fun parts of growing your own food. You’ve picked all of this beautiful stuff, now you get to figure out how to eat it. Think about all the foods you buy at the store that you could easily make at home with your produce. Tomatoes are great made into sauce or salsa and then canned by using a water bath method. Pressure canning your beans, peas, potatoes, and carrots is a great option. You could also turn those veggies into a soup and can it, no more buying soup for the year! If you’ve grown any berries there is always jam, syrups, and frozen for shakes and smoothies. Then there’s dehydrating, storing in a root cellar, and for the more adventurous freeze-drying.
There are so many ways to preserve the harvest that it warrants it’s very own post (look for that in the future).
Go and Grow!
Now that you’re a total expert in gardening (just kidding)… I’m not an expert either, I’m just a girl with a dream of providing her family with fresh food and a talent for not being afraid to get her hands dirty. I hope I’ve helped to give you the courage to go out in your garden to try new things and to also not be afraid to get a little dirty. Just remember to start simple and always ask for help. Gardening can be one of the most rewarding hobbies and a beautiful way to connect with God’s creation.