By Sue Odland
Spring rains recede, while sunshine warms the earth, and the time has come to plant a garden. This affordable, enjoyable activity brings fresh, flavorful offerings directly from nature to table. Developing the basic skills needed to grow your own food will always be in style. This season, turn off the TV and computer screens, take the family outside, and connect to Mother Earth.
Here are some simple steps to create a successful, productive garden:
Step 1: Pick a space with 6-8 hours of full sun to encourage strong plant growth and development. It can be an in-ground backyard garden, a raised bed, patio containers, or a community shared garden. Measure the chosen space, and keep the dimensions in mind when purchasing your plants or seeds.
Step 2: Choose what you will use. Grow what you like to eat. Hone in on flavor favorites that you will enjoy growing, harvesting, and preparing. This can be a deliciously daunting task. From Brandywine tomatoes to Malabar spinach to Egyptian Walking Onions, the varieties are endless. Know your tastes and your space before you buy.
For greater success, choose starter plants, especially for warm weather vegetables like tomatoes and peppers. If you’d like to grow from seed, try easy to grow vegetables, including beets, peas, beans, radishes, potatoes, and onions. Choose organic, non-GMO, heirloom varieties whenever possible for better flavor, and less chemical exposure; purchase plants and seeds at the local garden center, nursery, or online.
Step 3: Bring it all together. If using raised beds and patio containers, find a good organic soil mix at your local garden center or nursery, and fill your container of choice. For different ideas on easy and inexpensive DIY raised beds, visit: yourhouseandgarden.com/15-cheap-easy-diy-raised-garden-beds.
For an in-ground garden, prepare the garden bed by loosening the soil and adding organic material like compost or dried leaves. Amending soil with organic matter will provide a strong foundation in which plants will grow and thrive.
To test if the garden is ready for planting, pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it in your hand. If it crumbles and falls apart easily, it is ready. If it forms a small muddy ball, the soil needs more time to warm up and dry out.
If the chosen space is covered in grass, try this easy no-dig method. First, lay cardboard over the desired area. Then cover the cardboard with several inches of grass clippings, shredded leaves, bark or weed-free straw. This mulch will keep pesky weeds at bay and hold precious moisture in the ground, thus reducing the need to water so often when your garden is established. In a few weeks’ time, cut straight through the cardboard to reveal soil ready for planting. Use a small hand trowel to break through the mulch and cardboard to create designated planting spots. Then add a few scoops of compost into each newly opened spot for plants or seeds.
Step 4: Place the plants or seeds in the soil. Check labels or online for proper planting depth and spacing. Before placing plants in the ground, "tickle" their root system at the bottom of the plant to encourage the roots to stretch out after being so tightly wound in the plastic pots. After planting in the ground or container, give each plant a good soak. Do not spray water on the top of the plant; instead aim the water towards the plant’s base to soak the roots. Check the moisture level of your garden soil every few days.
Spend some time each week communing with your new garden. Pick off bugs at first sight. Stake up fast growing veggie stalks and vines. Research organic pest control practices online. Once fruits and vegetables are ripe, simply pick, rinse, prepare, and serve. Remember to donate extra offerings to a local food pantry or church to help your neighbors in need.
Raising your own fruits and vegetables is rewarding, enjoyable, and nothing short of miraculous. Find a few moments this month to put down the remote, and pick up a garden tool for health and independence.
Sue Odland is a freelance writer and Midwestern gardener.