Produce doesn’t get more local than your own yard or patio. It’s gardening season again–what are your plans?
This week, we are finishing up plans for our vegetable and herb garden. We have made some changes to our gardening to take advantage of our strengths and minimize our challenges (which are many). Our raised beds now make a more cohesive gardening area in our one patch of full sun, and we have plans for a mulched walkway leading to the back yard, which should make our sunny side yard a little more appealing. Although we had hoped to fill our raised beds with compost this weekend, several days of severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings (nature’s way of telling us to watch more basketball) kept us inside. Our goal is to get a LOT of work done over the next two weekends so we can take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and get plants in the ground a bit early. One thing we need to do once we decide the raised beds will stay, is have a water spigot added to that side of the house. In the hot summer, even water from our rain barrels isn’t enough to keep the plants going and hauling a hose from around the house while mosquitoes are attacking me is not my idea of a good time.
Previously, we planted only vegetables in our raised beds, but this year we are adding more herbs to the mix. Not only will the herbs complement the vegetables we receive from our CSA, many of them will overwinter, saving us some work and expense next year. They will also save us a good deal of money this year. Those packets of fresh herbs at the grocery are crazy expensive!
Are you planning a garden this year? We received some wonderful information and support at the Dig In! conference, sponsored by Advocates for Health in Action. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself before you start picking out plants and digging your garden beds.
- What do you want from your space? –Do you want flowers for the table? Food for your family? Both? Herbs to season your food? Does the garden need to be decorative?
- What are you willing to put in?–This is an important question and my guess is that most gardeners (myself included) don’t confront this question honestly. I swear to myself that I WILL water the garden even when the mosquitoes are as big as horses and coming after me. This, of course, is a lie. Think about what you can really give in terms of time, money, work, effort and space.
- What kind of land do you have?–Is your plot of land a balcony? A small farm? A suburban lot? A plot in a community garden? The kind of land you have (and how much) will dictate whether containers, raised beds, or a tractor are in order. Even a small space like a balcony can, with the right sun, be a vegetable garden.
- Get your soil tested!–I don’t do this because with our tree roots, we use raised beds. We fill them with certified, composted material and fertilize with fish emulsion and as long as we are watering (read #2 above), we do well.
- Know what soil your plants need.–If you like boggy plants (sweet flag, some irises), put in a pond. If you want roses, you will need a richer soil. We like many Mediterranean herbs (oregano, rosemary, basil), and these don’t require rich soil or a great deal of attention, but they also don’t like to be overwatered as their natural climate is hot, dry, with rocky soil. Any good garden center will be able to tell you what your plants need.
- Create a friendly space.–If you want to spend time in your garden puttering around or if you have outdoor animals (or small children), don’t plant thorny or toxic plants. This sounds obvious, but some stunningly lovely plants can be toxic if eaten. And if you want your child (as I do) to feel comfortable tasting in the garden, you need to check out your plants!
- Consider all the senses.–Consider taste, scent, appearance and texture in the garden. Good plants to start with are swiss chard, lemon balm, rosemary, fig trees and strawberries.
- Compost!–We have a rolling composter that is wonderful for using up the many leaves we have in the fall plus the coffee grounds and vegetable trimmings. Homemade compost practically makes itself and is almost like free gold for your garden! If you have a patio garden, there are smaller composters that do not take up much space or you can try worm composting (more on this later).
- Use readily available materials.–If you have a patio or container garden, go to your local garden center and ask for larger black pots that shrubs and small trees come in. They may charge you a bit or they may be so happy to find someone to use them that they will be free. Also, if your town does some landscaping, they may have all kinds of pots for you.
- Consider an herb spiral. These spiral shaped gardens use brick, rock or other materials to create a spiral with plants added between the lines of the spiral. See one here from another blogger, The Kale Yard.
Here’s to the optimism of spring, when all gardening miracles are possible! Have fun planning your garden, whether it is a few pots or a few acres!