By Lindsay Courcelle
Lately, our farm has been selling vegetable plants to home gardeners, and a common question is, “What is hard to kill?” Folks who are just learning how to garden or have limited time or space want to know what to plant to get the most bang for their buck.
With that in mind, here are some tips for the beginning gardeners out there.
Are you interested in gardening, but don’t know where to begin? First of all, start small. You can start with as little as one plant, like a pot of basil or jalapeno peppers. Starting with a small garden ensures that you can keep up with summer weeding tasks and feel “successful” all season long.
Once you’ve decided to start small, choose the crops you’d like to grow and talk with farmers or gardener friends for growing advice. Start with crops that you love to eat or foods that you buy regularly. Rather than buying lettuce every week at the grocery store, buy a $3.00 packet of lettuce seeds. Plant some of the seeds in the soil each week and harvest the biggest leaves throughout the season. This could be the lettuce for your sandwiches or enough for daily salads.
Learn about perennials, like herbs that return year after year. One of my favorite things in the spring is seeing the rhubarb start to pop out of the ground, and smelling the return of the chives, thyme, sage, oregano, and lavender. These herbs will spread and continue to grow back each spring, especially if mulched in the fall.
You can also think about container gardening. You can fit a lot of veggies in pots on your deck or porch. Some crops, like corn, melons, and winter squash, need larger spaces to flourish. But many veggies thrive in containers, like salad greens, herbs, cherry tomatoes, and peppers. Imagine how nice it would be to walk out your front door and have fresh oregano to sprinkle on your pizza, or homegrown cherry tomatoes for your children’s daily snack.
And if you have kids, encourage them to help. As Karen Ranz wrote in a recent Harvest Watch article, gardening is the perfect way to empower children and help them learn the value of community, something that comes naturally when your garden is full of zucchini and the only thing to do is share them with neighbors. Kids love themed gardens like a “Taco Garden” with tomatoes, cilantro, and greens, or a “Pizza Garden” with basil and all of their favorite pizza toppings. You may be surprised by how observant your children are, noticing different insects and wondering aloud how plants grow. There’s something quite special about gardening with children, and I’d venture to guess that it’s harder to find those magical moments when everyone is playing with electronic devices!
One of the best things about gardening is one’s ability to take control of her food supply and grow without chemicals that are harmful to our health and the environment. Let nature work its magic, without chemicals. Local garden centers and the Rutland Co-op carry organic potting soil—stay away from Miracle Gro if you can. Your health and your garden do not need it! Nature has it’s own process of alchemy, using energy from the sun, combined with water, soil, and air, to sprout the little seeds in your garden and give them what they need to grow. Realizing how much food grows from one tiny seed can be life-changing!
When a question arises, ask someone! I remember in our first community garden plot asking another gardener if we could still eat the greens that had been munched by flea beetles, a common garden pest that creates a Swiss cheese effect by eating tiny holes in brassica crops like broccoli, kale, mustard greens, and cauliflower. He smiled and laughed, realizing he had a newbie on his hands, then told me nicely that of course I could still eat them. Most gardeners can remember a time when these things were new to them, and will be happy to answer your questions and provide advice.
Lastly, eat the food you grow, as much as possible, without delay. This is the freshest food you have access to, and there is something unique about veggies that you pick yourself, right before your meal. Don’t be surprised if your tiny apartment begins to overflow with tomatoes or if the kitchen table is covered by bunches of fresh picked herbs on a daily basis. Change your routines, take back your health, and have fun in the garden with your family this summer! It’s never too late to start!
Lindsay Courcelle and her husband Scott own Alchemy Gardens in Shrewsbury, VT. Learn more at http://www.AlchemyGardensVT.com.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.