The early stages of making your garden involves some disturbance of your landscaping. What may be working may not be as abundant as it could be. Or as it will be. Gardening is an art, but soil prep a science. And as much as I would like it to be, it’s not always sexy. You have to be ready to get out there, get your hands dirty and sweat a little. After all, it’s the end result we’re going for here. And like the rest of life, the key is to relax and enjoy the process — the creative aspect of design and layout, the dirt under your fingernails, and finally reaping the rewards of your labors.
Fortunately, the first part is easy. Whether or not you enjoy it is up to you.
The first step is picking your plot.
Next opportunity you have to spend the day at home, settle in and take some time to observe your yard. Bring with you a good book and cup of coffee or tea and settle in. Relax, watch the weather. Maybe take out a pen and paper and jot down the time the sun reaches and later departs the site you have in mind.
Sunlight is crucial for optimum plant growth. Wind and rain patterns are also a strong influence. Find a sunny spot, avoid places that tend to channel strong wind. Six or more hours of direct sunlight is best. Vegetables especially require direct sun, but can handle some afternoon shade. Fruit trees are more forgiving, but you will find your fruit is sweeter if you choose a spot with afternoon sun. Your smaller fruits such as tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, melons, and corn will appreciate the late day heat as well.
Here we are in Early Spring, which means it’s time to get your garden going.
Before you order or purchase seeds, you’ll want to take into consideration the size of your garden plot. If you have limited space like most of us, it’s wise to narrow your selection down to your top priority plants. If you haven’t already done so, take a moment to make a list of the things you’d like to be harvesting this summer fresh from your garden.
It’s also practical to consider what will do best in your area. There are certain popular staples that will grow well most anywhere over the summer. For instance, in my small garden, I recently planted two dozen lettuce (in several varieties), a handful of kale, six basil plants, tomatoes and nasturtiums around the borders of the garden. At the very least, this will ensure that in a matter of weeks I’ll have greens for cooking, as well as plenty of pesto and multicolored salads garnished with tomatoes and edible flowers. My dream garden will be more complete, with an assortment of vegetables for any recipe, but this is undoubtedly a good step toward producing fresher and more vibrant produce for my dinner table.
We’re just into mid-February and I can almost start to sense the days getting longer again. And while a die-hard gardener in a southern climate could probably keep some amount of food growing throughout the year, I, for one, seem to be getting more particular about the kind of weather I subject myself to.
And then there’s the issue of day length — day length fluctuation becomes more negligible the closer we get to the equator. Even in sub-tropical Maui, where the difference between summer and winter solstice is less than 2 hours, you can’t fool the plants. It’s the daily increase or decrease that affects them, not the length of the day. Whether or not the weather is cooperative, vegetative growth will slow nearly to a standstill around the winter solstice, regardless of where you’re growing.
The first step in starting a garden is taking the first step. Simply and easily.
THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
When people say “I’ve always wanted to grow my own food,” the most commonly stated obstacles that follow are “but I don’t own my own place” or “I don’t want to bother in a rental,” or “I don’t have the time” or “the space” or “the money.”
And while these considerations are valid, they’re not insurmountable. I’ve started nine gardens in the last 13 years – at times growing as much as 90% of my own food – and I haven’t owned any of the properties I planted and beautified. Starting a garden is not like building an addition onto your apartment. And yes, it can be difficult to leave your work behind when you move, but the rewards of initiating the project are more than worth the effort. We all leave things behind, whether it be garbage, junk cars or trails of gossip. I prefer to leave abundant food gardens, beautiful flowers or promising fruit trees.
You’ve selected your site and prepped your soil. A bag of all purpose organic vegetable fertilizer sits quietly in your garage. Don’t worry about the soil stains on those designer jeans you thought would make forking more fun — it’s nothing a little soap won’t take care of. Dirt under the fingernails? A quick manicure will fix that. (And if you haven’t checked out how stylish garden gloves have become recently, you should. Mine are hot pink and make me look like a race car driver.)
Revved up and raring to go?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to apply soil amendments, I want to take a moment to reflect on why it’s important to grow organically. Let’s move past the obvious and overstated issues of health, clean water, lowering fossil fuel dependency and cutting the pharmaceutical companies out of our food. I’d like to explore the more subtle, underlying aspects of this important consumer choice.
I got into organic farming and gardening to make a difference, knowing how miniscule and relatively insignificant my contributions were likely to be. While I may not be able to move the mountains I want to — not by myself, anyway — at the end of the day… of the decade… of my life, I want to know that I did my part to make this place more beautiful than it was. That I spread the spark of imagination and demonstrated the possibilities of how beautiful and abundantly we can live.