I’m sitting here listening to the crickets and watching the moon rise. Quiet and beautiful. I’m also staring at a large backyard. By my estimates, it’s at least a quarter of an acre but may be closer to a half. What am I thinking about? Produce. That’s right. Tomatoes, cucumbers, honey dew, spinach, and carrots.
But, regrettably, I may never see those things. Not here at least. My big excuse? I’m renting the house that sits on this fertile lot. I could probably convince the landlord to let me use a tenth of the space to grow a nice staple of fruits and vegetables. Even so, I have another excuse—I’m afraid.
I’ve never grown much of anything. I helped my grandma in her garden two decades ago but quickly got bored and tired of the heat. I’m also part of the technological generation. Which means waiting for something to happen (like watching a plant grow) can be excruciatingly painful. But that’s nothing a little research and a few good books can’t solve.The following are a few tips I’ve learned as I dip my toe into the gardening jungle.
Grow With the Seasons. Most produce needs at least six hours of direct sunlight a day—preferably eight. That means I need to start my seedlings as early as possible to take advantage of the full growing season. But not everything needs to go into the ground all at once. I can save cool weather crops like lettuce, peas, and carrots for the later, cooler time of year. Translation: take it easy on the plant variety. Spacing out what I plant and when I plant will give me fresh fruit and vegetables nearly year round.
Start Small. I must use all available space to plant my crops. Not true. This is a common beginner mistake; taking on too much right away. I’ve seen my brother-in-law’s neglected, acre wide garden in the middle of July. Weeds. Everywhere. So many weeds that it’s hard to distinguish between them (the weeds) and edible crops. Just because I have the space doesn’t mean I have to use every inch. Even though my mind and body may take exception to it.
Ditch the Weeds Altogether. I admit that seeing other people’s gardens scares me the most. The work that goes into keeping weeds and critters out doesn’t always seem worth the trouble. But I discovered another resource—square foot gardening. This method was invented and perfected by Mel Bartholomew in his book Square Foot Gardening. I won’t get into the details here but he claims you can get the same amount of produce in a space that’s 80% smaller than a typical single row garden. Minus all the weeds.
Have Fun. At some point in history, we considered growing our own food to be a good thing. Our ancestors had to eat so they planted huge gardens. And they hunted. And they raised cattle and chickens. It wasn’t an inconvenience, it was survival! Was it fun? I don’t know. Will it be fun for me? I’m willing to find out. Are you?
PS: you might also enjoy my review of The Town That Food Saved.
About the author:
Jerret Turner curates the Web’s best personal budget tips. Read more at budgetsnob.com