You want a garden. All of your crunchy friends and neighbors have been working on their gardens since Jan 1st. They have seedlings growing in cute little biodegradable pots that they hand made from newspapers saved from last year. Their children have collected smooth stones and have carefully printed the names of the plants on them to be used as markers in the garden. They’ve been out in their raised garden beds tilling the soil and fertilizing. And you haven’t even bought a seed. You wonder when you will have the time to do all that stuff. Your kids keep asking when they can grow something. So how can you make a garden happen this year?
Reading gardening blogs or looking on Pinterest (or even at your neighbor’s garden) can really take the wind out of your sails. It seems complicated. There seems to be so much preparation! Don’t get discouraged. There is a way to have an amazing garden without going nuts! There are many options to fit your circumstances. I will give you a basic step by step for growing a healthy garden in your back yard.
Step one: Location, location, location!
Go out into your yard at 10am, noon and 3pm ( a peek out the window will probably do too). Look around and mentally note the places that are always sunny, always shaded and which spots get some sun and some shade. You will want a nice sunny spot to plant.
Step 2: Make a simple raised bed.
You can grab some old bricks, logs, tires, cinder blocks-be creative! Check Freecycle in your area for free materials. I’d not recommend using old pallets because they could be contaminated with petroleum products or chemicals and there is no way for you to really know. You don’t want that to leech into your soil. Aside from that, there are so many materials that will work to form walls for your raised bed.
In the spot you’d like to make the raised bed, remove any other plant material and till the soil well. Then make your walls for the raised bed and grab some top soil. I prefer organic top soil. I’d avoid miracle grow. You can even get free topsoil on Freecycle (great place for all sorts of free stuff) or Craigslist. Use those at your own discretion. If it doesn’t look right to you then move on and just grab a few bags from your local garden or hardware store.
Building, tilling and adding topsoil will take most of a day. It is fun work though!
Step 3: Get your hands on some plants!
Here is the real trick! How do you get the vegetable and fruit plants that will grow well in your climate and that will be mature enough to grow well outside? Remember those other crunchy families have already been growing those seedlings since February! You haven’t even purchased a pack of seeds!
There are two things you can do: 1. buy seeds for plants that have a short growing time. Peas are fantastic and start producing in as little as a month. Kids love picking and eating them raw. Or 2. Go to your local garden center. I don’t mean any of the big name, chain stores. Avoid them if you can. Instead look around for a mom and pop type garden center that only focuses on plants and gardening. The staff should be familiar with growing in your climate and should be more than happy to guide you in a few choices. They will have lots of young plants ready to go into your garden. This is a more expensive way to go but the plants you buy are usually sturdy and you won’t loose many if any. You will probably spend the same as or less than a meal out with a family of 4.
Step 4: Plant!
Grab your seeds or young plants and read the instructions as to how far apart and how deep to plant and start digging. Once everything is in place, give your garden some water and then sit back and enjoy.
If you have young children (or even older children), get them involved. Teach them to be gentle and careful around the plants. Let them examine the leaves and stems for bugs. Collect some of the insects you find and look them up. If you have children around 4yrs old and up, this is a great time to give them a notebook and allow them to draw the insects and maybe even write a little about what they’ve learned or observed. You will find you begin to really appreciate insects and their roll in our world.*
Step 5: Maintenance
You’ll want to have access to water. A garden hose with a spray nozzle is helpful. In the first few weeks you’ll want to water once or twice a day. Once plants are well established you can skip a watering day here and there if it’s not very hot.
To prevent harmful bugs you can employ a few things. Look into buying a bag of food grade diatomaceous earth. Another simple trick is a little dish soap and water sprayed on the underside of leaves and on stems. In general, healthy plants are very resistant to pests and don’t need much care.
I hope this gives you an idea of the basics and how you can garden with minimal effort and time. Building the garden bed and planting can all be done in one weekend. Once you begin harvesting and eating the things your grew in your garden, I think you’ll be hooked.
Share your beginners tips!
*I grew up in an urban area and had a very real fear of anything creepy crawly. We’ve been gardening for about 5 years now and I’ve come to love some of our 6 and even 8 legged friends. I pick up beetles and help my children collect things in jars for observation (we always catch and release). I’ve even helped save a jumping spider from a band of killer 1st graders! If you knew me well, you’d know that is a huge change for me.