This is a guest post from one of our passionate readers and mom of two young girls, Ramona Underwood. She wrote me suggesting I write a piece on gardening. Since it was obvious she was the real expert, I asked her to write it. Below are her how-to’s on getting started with your own vegetable garden.
I’ve enjoyed gardening ever since I was a child. I like watching things grow and develop too, whether it is a plant, animal, or my children. I LOVE watching my children discover their environment and the wonders around us.
It is important to me for my children, two girls aged 5 and 2, to learn where food comes from and to at least teach them, hopefully, the joy of tending a garden. My family has a small garden; one large enough to feed a family of four that still produces enough to share and preserve some.
If you have thought about growing a garden, what’s stopping you? Here are some easy steps for making it happen.
1. Start with container gardening: Container gardening is a good start for those of you who might be intimidated or have little space. It can also be a good way to try out one plant that may be a little ‘odd’ for your family, or to plant one of your child’s choices that you may not be sure of.
When it comes to containers you have to make sure you have the correct sized container for the plant(s). You also need to purchase the best potting mix you can find; go ahead and buy the best soil at the nursery/lawn & garden center. You will save a lot of disappointment and frustration as your plants will have a solid foundation to start from.
An excellent resource for container gardening can be found here.
2. Choose the right veggies: Many of your traditional ‘space hog’ veggies may have a container appropriate variety, i.e. bush green beans, patio tomatoes, patio/container cucumbers and many others. These can be found as seeds or plants at most gardening centers.
Many vegetables can be grown in containers, and some make better companions than others. This site, is another resource for putting together containers, but also provides information on which vegetables to choose.
The Best Vegetables for Containers:Potatoes, chard, lettuce, cherry and bush tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, summer squash, Asian greens, pole beans. And don’t forget herbs!
Here are the minimum soil depths for healthy growth. Keep in mind that you can get by with less depth if you use a self-watering planter.
• 4-5 inches: chives, lettuce, radishes, other salad greens, basil, coriander
• 6-7 inches: bush beans, garlic, kohlrabi, onions, Asian greens, peas, mint, thyme
• 8-9 inches: pole beans, carrots, chard, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, leeks, peppers, spinach, parsley, rosemary
• 10-12 inches: beets, broccoli, okra, potatoes, sweet corn, summer squash, dill, lemongrass
• Beans, carrots, squash
• Eggplant, beans
• Tomatoes, basil, onions
• Lettuce, herbs
• Spinach, chard, onions
Combinations to Avoid:
• Beans with onions and garlic
• Carrots with dill or fennel
• Tomatoes or squash with potatoes
• Onions with beans and peas
4. Graduate to raised bed gardening: If you have the space and are ready for more than I suggest raised bed gardening. I have found that container grown plants do not last as long as those planted in the ground.
I have two garden ‘beds’; one is 3′ x 6′ and the other is 3′ x 9′ and are contained by frames. In these two relatively small spaces I am growing tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, dill, basil, green beans, basil, dill, and marigolds thrown in for color. There aren’t many plants, sometimes there is only one, but this produces enough for us to eat fresh home grown vegetables during the summer.
Since the soil should be more fertile, and easier to amend, the plants are planted closer together. With the plants closer together and with a heavy layer of straw or old hay as mulch, there are much fewer weeds and watering requirements. This means that you spend more time enjoying your garden. You can step back and watch it grow, focus on your harvest and not become frustrated trying to wrestle the weeds. If you see some trying to grow, they are easily plucked out as you harvest or water.
5. Involve the Kids:
My girls help with plant choices and planting, they watch the blooms come, and the vegetables grow. They enjoy seeing the different shapes, colors, and varieties that emerge.
They will try different things while exploring the garden that they wouldn’t even touch at the dinner table. Both my girls will pick bell peppers off the plant and eat them like apples. If I were to take the same peppers, even if they picked them, and try to incorporate them into the meal, they won’t eat them. But, I am sure they will someday.
While picking green beans this summer, my youngest sat in my lap and ate every single one as soon as I put it in the bucket. She is learning there is a difference in taste and texture between raw and cooked. Both girls enjoy watching the process of turning a cucumber into a pickle.
You can choose to either continue to garden into a fall season, or go ahead and ‘put the garden to bed’. I usually find our fall activities limit us, so I close up the garden once the summer plants are done.
The biggest thing to remember is to enjoy yourself. It’s fun! Let your kids learn where food comes from and that it doesn’t miraculously appear in the produce section of the grocery store. Let them learn and you learn, how good home grown produce tastes.
Are you growing your own vegetables? And for those of you who aren’t, what’s been holding you back?