Okay, so I’m not actually going to tell you how to get free groceries from the grocery store. That headline used a fair bit of hyperbole.
However, I AM going to tell you how to get started with a garden because, for us plant-eaters, it means free food…from the EARTH!
I asked my friend, Desmal, to answer a few questions for us today. In addition to having a gorgeous garden from which he cooks AMAZING vegetarian food, Des is an art professor at East Georgia State College and an accomplished artist and photographer, too.
Check out his stellar photos and art projects (and buy a print, would ya?!) at desmundo.com
What do I need to get started with a garden?
Not much, just a hand full of pots, a patch of land, maybe some scrap lumber for a raised bed. Any of these options will allow you to start growing your own veggies right at home. In the yard, on a patio…anywhere you have access to the sun. You will also need time, patience and a love of watching your plants grow.
Is it expensive?
No and yes.
I mean, you can save your own seeds which may cost you very little. If you are sowing them in your own soil and watering them with water from your own well it won’t cost you a thing.
On the other side of that coin, it can be a really expensive path to pursue. There are plenty of companies out there willing to take your dollar for a bit of garden gadgetry or a some miraculous additive to make your garden burst with fresh veggies.
I would recommend starting on the cheap end and if you love what you do….expand from there. Try growing peppers in a pot. You can cut the side of a milk carton for a quick planter if you don’t have any pots ready to be recycled/reclaimed.
Take care to start with good soil. What is good soil? Judge it by color, texture and smell. You want a good dark color soil that feels a bit like a sponge and has a deep earthy smell to it. If feeling and smelling your dirt sounds like a bit much then you can head to your local garden supply store and bit up a bag of organic garden or potting soil to start with.
How much space do I need?
The amount of space depends on the scale of your vision. I would recommend starting small and as your plants grow…let your garden grow with it. Remember, a few pots on your patio can produce plenty of fresh veggies for summer salads. I love my 4’x4′ raised beds. They are easy to weed, as I need more space I simply build another bed. (Beware the sticker shock of buying soil/compost for a 16″ high 4’x4′ raised bed.)
When do I plant/harvest? Is there a specific time table?
Here in Georgia we have the option to plant early in the Spring, again in the Summer and then there is even room for a Fall planting as well. Pay attention to what you are planting because each plant will have an ideal growth/production temperature.
We planted Lincoln Peas (first time using this variety) this Spring and we ate peas all the way up to Summer. I was shocked by how well these plants did. We are currently on our second run of Summer Squash (the seedlings broke ground yesterday.)
Start with what you want to eat (it sounds simple enough…but stick to planting things that you like to eat. There is no reason to grow a field full of eggplant if you don’t like eating a lot of eggplant) then research what varieties will do best in your area and plant accordingly.
How do you keep out pests and bugs?
Time, patience and a variety of old and new techniques.
We avoid using chemical toxins in our garden. This means I spend a lot of time picking bugs off of plants, running ants from one corner of the garden to another and constantly trying out new approaches. I don’t have a quick answer for you on this one.
I would recommend a variety of approaches. For instance, planting marigolds in and around the garden seems to do a great job of deterring certain insects, planting plants that attract beneficial insects is another approach (we plant a lot of zinnias in and around the garden for that very reason) and falling back on some natural deterrents like coffee, cinnamon and as a last resort diatomaceous earth.
What plants or varieties should I start with? Are there any that are easier than others?
I find peppers to be the least troublesome of all of my plants. I find tomatoes to be the most troublesome of all of my plants. They constantly need my attention. Therefore I plant a lot of peppers, kale, carrots, and just a few tomatoes. Squash are also pretty easy so long as the squash bugs don’t find them and they get a chance to dry out between rains.
How often should I check the plants?
How often should I water them and when?
When the soil is dry, water and water them well. You want those roots to dig deep and grow strong. Frequent light waterings will leave the roots near the surface where they become dependent on the daily shower.
Where can I find more organic gardening resources online?
Wow, there are so many forums out there to dig into. The seed sellers I listed above have great forums that can help but in all honesty a local old timer will be one of your best resources. They know the weather, they know the soil and they know what works in the area. Now I don’t let that stop me from trying out new/different plants but I always plant what my grandfather planted to guarantee food on the table.
And, finally, spinach or kale? Why? Try not to be too controversial in your answer. My readers are ANIMALS!
Kale. In our area- it just seems to grow without hassle.
I should add that I am just a hobby gardener with little experience ‘in the field’. There is no better resource than an old timer down the street with a plot full of fresh veggies on the vine. Seek them out. I have found they are almost always happy to talk shop, share secrets and more often than not…send you home with a basket of fresh picked veggies.
Have fun with it and weed daily.
Working with the earth is good for the soul.