After a long Winter, I can’t help but notice the birds singing again in the morning. Have you heard them?
For me, their chatter has always been one of the first signs of Spring. The days are getting longer, we’re feeling hints of warmer weather, and the first push of daffodils are peeking through the soil.
At Oak Spring, we’re tending Spring crops in the tunnels and sowing seeds for our April plant sale. But growing up, it always meant it was time to prepare for our own family’s “kitchen” garden.
Do you already have a garden? Are you thinking about starting one?
Whether it’s your main source of produce or it supplements a CSA share or market haul, having your own garden is rewarding. It’s a wholesome way to connect with your food and family. It’s another way to nourish your mind, body and soul with creativity, fresh air, exercise and a deep sense of accomplishment.
I’ve had a garden as far back as I can remember. From smaller, apartment-style potted gardens to raised beds to ½ acre plots it’s all satisfying. Now that I grow food for a living, I’m asked what the “secret” is to starting a successful garden.
My answer is pretty straight forward:
Pick. Plan. Prep.
…and for those who already have a garden…
Decide where/how big your garden will be and how many types of veggies you’ll grow.
- What do you like to eat and which produce ends up in short supply at your home?
- What can be easily canned, dried or frozen if you have a bumper crop?
My suggestion is to start with kale, lettuce, chard, spinach, strawberries and herbs in the Spring, then tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers for Summer.
All can be easily grown in pots on a porch or a small patch of ground. One benefit to having a potted garden is the potential to start indoors earlier, then move outside when it’s safe from frost.
Set reasonable goals. You can always add to your garden next year!
Now that you’ve decided what you’ll grow, where will you plant them? Wherever you choose, it’s important that your location receives six or more hours of direct sunlight each day.
- If you’re starting with a potted garden, use pots that are food graded. Don’t use metal or dark colored pots to avoid “cooking” your plants’ roots in the hot sun. To avoid root rot, your pots should have several drainage holes in the bottom.
- When deciding how large your garden should be, a good rule of thumb is to space seedlings 18’-24’ apart. You can measure and map out how much space you’ll need on graph paper. Now’s the time to build any garden boxes.
Once you’ve decided where and how big your garden will be, it’s time to set your garden up for success. You can start to prep your garden once the frost has lifted and the soil is workable.
- Before adding soil, place coffee filters in the pots to screen the dirt from coming out the holes. If it’s a pot from the previous year, be sure to loosen the soil and add compost.
- If you have a patch of ground you’d like to convert, define the area with stone, wood or other natural material. Remove grass, weeds, debris, or layer with a tarp to kill the vegetation underneath. This will need to stay on for several weeks. Research lasagna gardening as one way to create garden beds from scratch.
- Compost! Compost! Compost! Whether using your own mix or store bought, this is an important step. It’s garden food that will improve the soil’s texture, nutrient content and moisture retention. You can buy bags or truckloads of mulch from local garden stores.
Ok, truth be told, I don’t believe in perfection, but now that you’ve gotten your feet wet with gardens from previous years, it’s time to ask yourself: what worked well, what didn’t? Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t give up if something goes wrong — learn from it!
If you’re a CSA Farm’ily member, you also have the added benefit of asking other members for advice on the Farm’ily page. Many have their own successful kitchen gardens.
If you’re already a gardening pro, I encourage you to experiment. Try new varieties, enlarge your garden, practice crop rotation, experiment with trellising, or add herbs or flowers as companion plants.
Keep records of when you seed and transplant, harvest and remove the plants. Taking notes from year to year will help you make better decisions on plant placement, planting dates, pest control, fertilizing, etc. It can even help you plan your vacations, giving good directions to whomever will be tending your veggies.
What questions do you have? What’s (not) worked for you? Let us know in the comments below!