I grew up with huge backyard garden. My mother was a wonderful gardener. Each spring, she would section out portions—a row here or a row there—for each child to plant seeds and be responsible for tending and growing.
You’d think I’d automatically have a garden when I left college—but I didn’t. It wasn’t until much later that I decided to garden. Interestingly, I didn’t know where to start, so I began like a non-gardener and had to learn a lot from scratch.
Here are some beginner steps to share:
Gardening is something you learn to do better over time, and there are many resources available. Join a community garden or garden club, or take a one-day class through your city or county. It’s okay to learn through trial and error, and rewarding to experiment and enjoy outdoor time.
Avid Brooklyn gardener Carlene Fowlkes has great advice: “After the first year, you will be much more confident and excited about the next year. You can expand slowly if you have more yard to cover. Once you have the initial experience with the miracle of gardening, you should be hooked.”
You don’t need a huge yard to garden. Instead, work with what you’ve got. Your garden can be as small as a few indoor herb pots or a full-fledged mini-farm.
“For those of us in townhomes, condos, or apartments, we really just need a sunny deck or patio,” says gardener Amber Christian. “It's a great place to container garden, particularly if it is south facing.”
Additionally, you can intermix edible veggies in with your bushes and flowers for beautiful color and textural variety—just make sure you stick with organic landscaping overall to avoid unwanted chemicals on your food. Says Eco Landscape’s Senior Designer Sean Lewis: “Choose vegetables like red chard, Tuscan kale, and artichoke. Mix these in with your ornamental plants."
Wherever you plan to garden, soil is king. My soil has always been sandy, so I’ve learned to add lots of compost, but don’t make it complicated. You can pick up organic compost from the nursery if you don’t make your own, and add more each season. Also, periodically, add organic fertilizer and your plants will be really happy.
I haven’t yet been completely successful with planting seeds, so I tend to choose already started veggies from my local, family-owned nursery. It has a great selection of heirloom tomatoes, Japanese cucumbers, and squash that are easy to grow.
“Grow in the garden what you and your family enjoy eating,” says Michael C. Podlesny, author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person. “When you grow something you and your family normally eat, you are more likely to stick with it as you have a tendency to be anxious to get to pick your first vegetable that you grew at home.”
You might want to grow lettuce, which is a great choice for beginners, but you’ll fail if you live in an area that gets too hot during the summer. So, stick with veggies that grow in your specific kind of weather.
You can find out a vegetable’s proper growing season by reading online seed catalogs and searching for online planting-season guidelines. Just because the veggie is sold in the nursery doesn’t mean it’s the best time to plant it.
Ideally, you want to water deeply to encourage a healthy root system. Avoid overhead watering, and instead water with a slow-dripping hose at the soil level or install a drip system. Compost and mulch in a garden’s soil will also help to keep the water in the soil longer, which can be really important for drier locations.
Your family can help select veggies, plant them, and work in the garden together. It’s a great experience to teach about work, problem solving, food appreciation, and nature. I learned a lot as a child from gardening—including a strong work ethic. Community gardens can also be a great place to get to know neighbors and other community members, sharing with each other a well-tended harvest.
Above all, have fun! Don’t take on more than you think you can easily manage. Jump in and enjoy your outdoor time. I look forward to hearing about your tasty tomatoes!