Planting Your Own Garden

Last week, my 11-year-old daughter surprised my wife and me in a store with a handful of seed packets.  “Let’s grow our own vegetables this year!”  My mind raced in the moment, excited about the fact that this child, who we have a tough time getting to eat her vegetables, actually wanted to grow some.

I recalled the time years before when she came with me to the nursery to buy some bedding plants for our flower garden.  She’d picked out some that she wanted to plant and take care of on her own.  At that time, I wrestled with how much to water her plants for her versus letting her experience the consequence of seeing them wither.  That was a few years ago, though, and she’s learned a lot of life’s lessons since then.

“I’m thrilled that you want to start a garden,” I told Katie.  “We’re going to have to think this through if you’re really serious about doing this.”  Frankly, I hated to think that this would be a repeat of the last planting project. The truth is, I don’t know much more about vegetable gardening than my daughter.  Sure, I know about raised beds and the need for water, sunshine and time.  But that wasn’t necessarily going to put the salad in our bowls.

With mixed feelings, my wife and I suggested we put the seeds away and do a little research before buying them.  Here’s a short summary of the guidance I found:

  • Start out simple.  Choose a couple favorites to begin your experiment, but check with your local nursery or cooperative extension office about what’s easiest, like peas, radishes, lettuce, zucchini and tomatoes.
  • Pick a good location.  This can be planters on your deck, a raised bed or a plot of dirt in the backyard.  The real key is abundant sunshine.
  • Prepare your soil.  You can either buy make or your organic compost.  This is a great alternative to chemical fertilizers, which can be dangerous.  The soil should drain well so it’s never over-watered.
  • Buy your seeds.  You may want to germinate the seeds in egg cartons or trays, and then transplant the seedlings once they’re off to a healthy start.  Or you may want to just buy plants that are already started, particularly if it’s already late in the season.
  • Budget your time.  Plan to water and tend to your garden every morning.  For a small starter set, this won’t take much time.  Once the plants take root, they’ll need less attention. 

It takes a lot more than this to put a full meal on the table that’s prepared solely from your own garden.  But the key is to get started, and experience the joy of eating fresh, homegrown vegetables.  Once you have a positive, successful growing season under your belt, you can begin to expand and experiment with more.

For our initial adventure, we decided to start out with a couple planters on our deck.  We may not recreate the tomatoes and peppers that we inherited years ago in our first rental home (which made for excellent salsa!), but expect to have a positive experience growing our own food.  Hopefully you will too!

This was published in the Going Green section of the July 2011 issue of Spirit Seeker magazine.

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