Is 2018 the year that you would like to learn how to grow your own clean and healthy fruits, veggies, herbs and edible flowers? Are you thinking that growing edibles, creating a healthy habitat, (not just yourself but for pollinators and plants) and connecting with the food you eat is a healthy lifestyle choice that you’re ready to make? Are you ready to learn a life skill that is beneficial, therapeutic and empowering? Perfect!
Where do we start.
As soon as the New Year arrives I enthusiastically wait for the seed catalogs to appear in my mailbox. My inbox becomes full of newsletters and marketing material from the many gardening sites Ive subscribed to and I find myself glued to my laptop, scrolling for new trends and ideas. I catch up with other landscape professionals and home gardeners who love to share their successes and failures from the previous growing season as well as their hopes and goals for the season ahead. This is how we Grow…..Together.
I start scribbling out notes, bookmarking pages online, paper clipping catalog pages, and filling shopping carts and wish lists online. I organize my “edible expectations”, best I can, as soon as they come to mind. I thoroughly research catalogs and magazines like Organic Gardening, High Mowing and Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I also surf the web to follow the big boys like Mother Earth News, Farmers Almanac (who’s gardening calendar I love), Modern Farmer and Grit.
After I get my inner gardener flowing, I try to sit quietly, (not an easy task) while I replay those “ah ha”, “oh yeah”, or “oh no”, moments from last years growing experience.
Remember, “A gardener learns more in the mistakes than in the successes.” Barbara Borland, Author of This Is The Way My Garden Grows.
I make a wish list, sticky note my catalogs and magazine pages, bookmark websites, pin on Pinterest and most importantly, check my inventory.
My wish list allows me to get excited and dream big. Bees, more blueberry bushes, and a grape arbor are on my personal wish list for 2018. I also want a cam super-line dump trailer for moving mulch, soil, compost and gravel but that’s made the list for a couple of years now. So, I remind you and myself, it’s a wish list.
When Im done wishing and dreaming, I make my “Get Real” list. This list is based on successes and failures, space and time limits, and crop selection and variety.
You can make a “Get Real” list by asking some simple questions and giving honest answers.
Where am I going to be growing?
Where’s the best light? Where am I guaranteed at least 6 hours of full sun? Like Roger Swain, from The Victory Gardens, says,” it’s not negotiable”.
Will I be growing in a raised growing box, a container or an existing plot? How much space do I have? Know your space. Knowing your square footage is not only helpful when ordering seeds but important when applying organic fertilizers and other amendments.
It’s also great to think out of the box. For example, did you know that potatoes could easily be grown in a trashcan? Strawberries fill a whiskey barrel nicely and herbs look great in recycled tins or wine boxes.
Who will be tending the garden?
For Real. How many minutes a day or hours a week will you, your family or Gardens by Renee be in the garden?
A 4’x8′ raised bed takes about (3) 15 minute visits per week, not including watering. I couldn’t agree more with Jeanne Nolan, Author of “From the Ground Up: A Food Growers Education, in Life, Love, and Movement That’s Changing the Nation”, when she tells her clients, that, if they have a free hour to tend the garden, she’d rather they engage with the plants than spend the time hand watering.
Perhaps the single most important aspect of your daily gardening is irrigation. Irrigation is close to a must. Veggies need one to two inches of water per week. Inconsistent water causes stress and stress causes disease. Disease causes lack of production and often times, death. No fun.
What must I have and just can’t imagine the season without it? What am I excited to try? What can I easily do away with?
Every growing season one staple crop that we eat a lot of and can’t do without is Swiss chard. It’s very healthy and can be used in a variety of tasty dishes.
Last year we grew Georgia Collards and Hakurei turnips for the first time and absolutely LOVED them. I also want to plant more Roma tomatoes for sauce making. What can I do away with? Easy.
Although extremely prolific and super easy to grow, Mexican Sour Gherkin and Ground Cherry are veggies that we just don’t eat. I’ll continue to grow these for Mountainside Childcare Center and some of my other clients with little ones, who can’t seem to get enough, but there’ no space for it in my home garden.
Here’s a question most don’t thinks to ask.
When do you want to harvest and how frequently?
Here are some examples.
Although I love the look, feel and flavor of haricots verts and filet beans, I’m not likely to grow them in my clients’ gardens that I harvest on a weekly basis. Most bush beans need to be harvested every 36 to 48 hours to ensure a continuous yield and avoid toughness. That’s every other day and a half! Once a week just wont cut it. Every year I grow a round pod, pole bean from Johnny Seeds named Fortex. It’s beautiful, produces early, often and is deliciously string-less at any length. I picked ten inchers last season and the flavor and consistency were great. This year Im trying another bush bean named Dragons Tongue. I think its a beauty.
Did you know that tomatoes are are grown in 2 different fashions, determinate and indeterminate? Determinate tomatoes grow like a bush and are easier to contain. They produce fruits and ripen within a concentrated time period. You would harvest once or twice during the season. Think Roma, sauce and Yum!
Indeterminate tomatoes are vine Tomatoes and continue to grow, and grow, and grow. Which means you have to plan accordingly for space and training. I like a constant supply of Cherry and Italian Borghese tomatoes for salsas, salads and roasting. I also like an Heirloom slicer for sandwiches because I don’t think theres anything better than a fresh tomato sandwich.
Don’t give up on the idea of an edible garden just because you are away in the summer. If you don’t have time for a garden in the summer, plant for spring and fall. You should skip the summer classics like tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini and instead plant onions, lettuces, kale, radishes, turnip and peas. Then plant spinach, beets, collards, asian greens and carrots in the fall. The options for your garden are endless.
What are my edible expectations? Am I growing for production, variety or the pure pleasure?
I’m a food glutton and I’m not afraid to admit it. I LOVE growing more than we can eat. My neighbors and friends love it too. “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to garden and the whole neighborhood gets tomatoes.” I’m all about production but learned my lesson about crop selection the year I grew six eggplant plants. We had eggplant every night for dinner for six straight weeks! After a family revolt I learned that two plants are more than enough for us. Similarly, unless you plan on making hot sauce, one hot pepper plant, maybe two if you put that *%#@ on everything, is enough.
Once you have a “for real” list and a wish list, its time to order seeds and seed starting supplies. You may be wondering where to purchase your seeds or plants? You can start your own plants from seed, purchase select seedlings from GBR or shop at our local gardening centers.
One of my constant goals is to keep growing by becoming more self-sustained, independent and more self-reliant. This year I was able to save lettuce, arugula, kale, parsnip, and green bean seeds from plants in my garden. This is called propagation or seed saving. It’s very rewarding. It’s one of the benefits to growing heirloom versus hybrid.
The image below is Winterbor kale seed pods. I grew the kale, let it go to flower and then waited for the seed pods to form. I cut the stalks, let them dry and opened the pods to find tiny black kale seeds. I planted the seeds last year and enjoyed healthy kale from Spring through Fall.
This year, Im going to try to collect and dry tomatoes and peppers. A lot of what I grow self sows in my garden. This is the best. I have mache, dill, cilantro, anise hyssop (great for the bees) and nasturtium that appear every year, all on their own.
If you do need to purchase seeds, try to buy them from like-minded growers. Have you ever heard of the safe seed pledge?
“The Safe Seed Pledge was created in 1999 when High Mowing Organic Seeds guided a coalition of 9 other seed companies in drafting a statement about the signers’ stance on genetic engineering.”
So, there you have it and in writing to boot.
I hope I was able to provide you with some helpful insight and information from my years of experience growing. This should provide you with the ability to get off to a great start this gardening season. Remember, Gardens by Renee is here to help you grow. The goal is to connect people to nature, their food and each other. There’s always going to be more lessons to learn from our gardens and the best way to grow is to grow together. It’s an endless and rewarding journey.
I encourage you to follow, learn and grow with GardensbyRenee online.
Renee Bolivar, MCLP