By Jeni Chan, BAGT Intern
As the warm spring days march on, the sun and blue skies can inspire the urge to sit in a cool green garden with a glass of lemonade. If you’re like me though, you have to grow that garden first – and sometimes out of an expanse of weeds and rocks. With little past experience in the gardening realm, I find myself overwhelmed by the wealth of information surrounding this topic, so having some simple guidelines to follow is a big relief.
First of all, why should I grow my own plants?
Although growing your own food is time-intensive and sometimes frustrating, learning the process can create an invaluable relationship with your food, and one that may ultimately lead to positive changes elsewhere in your life. Growing your own vegetables can be very rewarding, not to mention the concrete economic benefits of starting your own garden. Blogger J.D. Roth on popular site getrichslowly.org kept track of his gardening expenses versus the net worth of the produce he harvested, and found that his 60 hours of work and kr2,106.34 spent ultimately saved him kr4,014.97 In summary, gardening may not only lead to a more knowledgeable and healthier you, it may also lead to a bigger savings account. Starting on a small gardening project is probably a good idea, so as to not overwhelm yourself.
Gardening should not feel like you’re burdening yourself with a process to produce something you’ll have to force yourself to consume. You’re not filing a tax-return, you’re sowing seeds to grow an array of delicious food options. Decide what you want to grow and how much actual spare time you have to spend on this life-giving project. If vegetables are not particularly palatable to you, try herbs, fruits, or tubers. If you reside in the San Francisco Bay Area, you’re lucky enough to be in a climate that allows you to grow almost anything.
It’s the end of April — is it too late to start a garden this spring?
As anyone with passion knows, ‘now’ is always the best time to begin! At this point, you can start growing summer crops right away in your newly tilled designated area (e.g. tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc.), and leave the early spring crops (e.g. peas, onions, carrots, radishes, etc.) for either the fall or next spring. As a novice gardener, you may want to start an indoor garden first so that you have a more controlled environment to work in, before transplanting them to an outdoor location; this two-stage approach will also allow you to get started with the fun of planting while at the same time focusing on conditioning the soil in your outdoor plot.
What are some things I should know before I get started?
Soil. Test the PH of your soil. Doing so will help determine what you can add to your soil to maximize your plants’ yield. For urban gardeners, building and filling a planter box or raised bed may be a good idea if you’re unsure of the soil quality and don’t want to deal with acidity issues. Providing healthy soil will ensure healthy plants with high fecundity.
Location. Choose a plot that will receive at least six hours of full sunlight; this will ensure that your plants mature properly. Take into consideration where the nearest trees and buildings are since they will cast shadows throughout the day. The ideal location is a spot where you enjoy being, is convenient for you to visit frequently, and adheres to your plants’ needs.
Plant type. Decide if you want to create a perennial or annual garden. A perennial plant will flourish greatly during their growing season and then die back during colder seasons. However, roots are still in place and these plants will flourish once more during the next growing season. Asparagus, tree collards, some kales, and garlic are perennial garden plants that you may be interested in growing. These plants survive for two or more years and thus are a great first choice for novice gardeners. Annual plants are those that only survive for one growing season such as lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
Drainage. Compost. Pest control. Weeds. The big four things to keep in mind for your garden. Plant roots can drown if the drainage is poor. There are many ways to create excellent drainage. Be creative and you could turn it into a beautiful art project!
Self-made compost or local compost from garden stores adds extra nutrients to the soil, giving your plants a boost. Coffee grinds, loose tea leaves, and old non-meat food scraps are all suitable for creating compost. You can compost dairy products if the process is done correctly (otherwise the rotting smell of dairy products can attract vermin). Mixing these dairy products with sawdust or leaves deep into the compost pile will “provide counterbalancing carbon materials to the high nitrogen content,” according to Jeannette Belliveau, writer for Demand Media by National Geographic.
Pest control is important for keeping your plants from being devoured. Pests can be anything from crows, to neighboring cats, or insects. Any method you use to manage your pests should be responsible and sustainable. Thinning out weak plants ultimately produces stronger, vigorous plants that can withstand pests. Clearing pest habitats such as weed patches is also a natural method of pest control. Mixing plant types often prevents infestations because many pests are plant-specific. Eartheasy.com suggests rotating crops each year “to avoid re-infestation of pests which have over-wintered in the bed.” Of course, beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings are natural predators and can be bought in bulk for a low cost.
Consider mulching your soil to control the weeds that can out-compete your plants for nutrients, and pull up weeds when small to prevent them becoming established. Seaweed mulch can provide healthy development for your plants and can repel slugs due to its high content of iron, barium, zinc, magnesium, calcium and sulfur.
Any final tips?
Invest in well-made, reliable tools. Skimping on these tools may hinder your gardening interest and ultimately cost you more to repeatedly replace. Gardening is a learning process and should be adjusted as you become more familiar with it. Experiment and be creative as you grow! After all, growing for food consumption is one of the first science experiments humans have engaged in. Finally, don’t forget to share what you harvest with those who may not have the ability to start their own garden – in addition to the people in your life, look up crop swaps in your neighborhood or start your own!
Douglas, Ellen. “What Organic Fertilizer Should I Use on Vegetables? | National Geographic.” Green Living on National Geographic. National Geographic, 2013. Web. 27 Apr. 2013.
“Gardening, Flowers and House Plant Care.” Gardening and Growing with The Garden Helper. N.p., 1997. Web. 27 Apr. 2013.
Roth, J. D. “7 Tips for Starting Your Own Vegetable Garden.” Get Rich Slowly – Personal Finance That Makes Sense. Get Rich Slowly, 11 Jan. 2009. Web. 27 Apr. 2013.
Roth, J. D. “Gardening 101: Plan Today for Summer Success.” Get Rich Slowly – Personal Finance That Makes Sense. Get Rich Slowly, 30 Jan. 2007. Web. 27 Apr. 2013.