Why garden? Well, growing whole, hearty, organic greens is the way to go. Imagine walking outside and there’s delicious food on the ground for you to eat.
If you’ve never tasted garden-fresh vegetables, which many people haven’t, you will be amazed by the sweet, juicy flavors and vibrant textures. There’s absolutely nothing like them. If you grow them yourself, it is a rewarding experience. Putting in the time and energy necessary to produce a tomato from seed to plant to harvest, almost 80 days, is well worth it. Rhonda Randazzo, the mother of Marco Randazzo (‘15), has been gardening since the age of ten, and says the most rewarding part of it is, “Watching it grow… and just to be working outside.” Thinking of starting a garden? Here are some tips.
First, start slow and small. If you try and create a farm overnight, neither you nor the farm are going to be happy with the results. Start by building a couple of raised beds the first season and add a few new ones every year. Planting too much too soon, and way more than anybody could eat or want, never works out. Unless you want to have zucchini filling every nook and cranny of your house, you should plant less, because you will almost always end up with more than expected.
Secondly, what you get out of it is what you put into it, all the while getting a great tan. My first year gardening was an absolute and utter failure; a plot of land with some scraggly plants. I only bothered to check it when I felt like it. Much success in gardening is in the preparation, planning, and reading up on all the vegetables you plan to plant.
Gardening Tricks and Tips for Beginners
- Plant in a sunny location. Vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. The more sunlight they receive, the greater the harvest, and the better the taste.
- Plant in good soil. Plants’ roots penetrate soft soil easily, so you need nice loamy soil. Enriching your soil with compost provides needed nutrients. Proper drainage will ensure that water neither collects on top nor drains away too quickly, be sure that there isn’t just clay under the first six inches of topsoil. Especially if you are planting a deep rooted crop, like potatoes, you will need lots of enriched and aerated soil.
- Space your crops properly. For example, corn needs a lot of space and can overshadow shorter vegetables. Therefore, plant the tallest crops on the north side of the garden. Plants set too close together compete for sunlight, water, and nutrition, and fail to mature. Pay attention to the spacing guidance on seed packets and plant tabs.
- Build raised beds! You get better yields, prevent weed woes, and only feed and water the important plants when you create a physical barrier between your crops and the rest of your landscape. Raised beds can be any length, but never wider than four feet, so that you can reach into the center without stepping into them. That loose, uncompressed soil is your ticket to a lot of food with minimal effort. When vegetables are planted intensively, close together, they shade and cool the ground below and require less watering, less weeding, less mulching; in other words, less drudgery for the gardener. By increasing the width of the growing beds and reducing the number of paths, you will have more growing area that you won’t be walking on, and this untrammeled soil will be fluffier and better for plants’ roots.
- Next to intensive planting, trellising, or growing vining vegetables upwards on a support structure, represents the most efficient way to use space in the garden. People who have tiny gardens will want to grow as many crops as possible on vertical supports, and gardeners who have plenty of space will still need to lend physical support to some of their vegetables, such as climbing varieties of peas and pole beans. Other vegetables that are commonly trellised include vining crops, such as cucumbers and tomatoes.
- Rich soil equals rich yields. Although various fertilizers and mineral nutrients (agricultural lime, rock phosphate, greensand, etc.) should be added periodically to the organic garden, by far the most useful substance for building and maintaining a healthy, well-balanced soil is organic matter. You can add organic matter to your soil many different ways, such as compost, shredded leaves, animal manures, or cover crops. Organic matter improves the fertility, structure, and tilth of all kinds of soils. In particular, organic matter provides a continuous source of nitrogen and other nutrients that plants need to grow. It also provides a rich food source for soil microbes. As organisms in the soil carry out the processes of decay and decomposition, they make these nutrients available to plants.
- Know when to plant what. See the Best Planting Dates chart, a gardening calendar customized to your local frost dates, covering both sowing indoors as well as planting in the ground.
- Grow what you like to eat. I personally love strawberries, which happen to multiply exponentially each year. I started off with five plants; three years later I have over five dozen. They are an aggressive plant. Watermelon are nice to have if you have the space, and tomatoes are a must because store-bought ones taste like water. Lastly, if there are specific plants that you like that can’t be bought in a store, such as heirlooms, try growing them. I love growing yum yum peppers, pear tomatoes, and Nevada lettuce.
- Ladies love farmers.
Finally, we end up where we started, with the realization that, although vegetable gardening can be rewarding even for beginners, there is an art to doing it well. There is also a mountain of good information and advice from other gardeners available to you. Yet, one of the most important ways of improving your garden from year to year is to pay close attention to how plants grow, and note your successes and failures in a garden notebook or journal.
Just as drawing a garden plan each year helps you remember where things were growing, taking notes can help you avoid making the same mistakes again, or ensure that your good results can be reproduced in future years. For instance, write down all the names of different vegetable varieties, and compare them from year to year, so you will know which ones have done well in your garden. Gardening is a never-ending process with constant opportunities to learn and improve.
Get in the habit of jotting it down whenever you apply organic matter or fertilizer to the garden, or the dates on which you plant or begin to harvest a crop.
Over time, this kind of careful observation and record-keeping will probably teach you more about growing vegetables than any single book or authority. That’s because the notes you make will be based on your own personal experience and observations and will reflect what works best for you in the unique conditions of your own garden. As in so many other pursuits, so it is in the art of vegetable gardening: practice does make perfect.
So go grow some greens; you might be surprised at what you accomplish and learn.