Every spring, I squeeze my eyes shut, click my Crocs together and chant, “There’s no place like a garden, There’s no place like a garden, There’s no place like a garden.” Sadly, when I open my eyes, I’m not in the middle of a verdant plot of red, ripe tomatoes and bushy squash plants; a white stone path leading to a lemonade back porch.
Instead, I’m left in my postage-stamp backyard, staring at a plot of dry, crumbly soil, scratching my head about how to make my garden fantasies come true. Not trusting the web, because how and what to grow is so localized, I asked Michelle White of City Folk’s Farm Shop and Kate Hodges of Foraged and Sown for their advice.
Both agree that location is the first thing to consider. “Pick a sunny location (that doesn’t have standing water), and stay within range of your hose. Keep in mind that some locations that are sunny noww won’t be so sunny once the trees leaf out,” said Hodges. “Don’t write off your front yard as a potential growing area!” White also noted to be mindful of critter visitors – if you have frequent visits, it’s best to build a fence.
Soil is key as well. White counseled, “Get a soil test. Often overlooked and under appreciated, healthy soil is vital to sustaining a flourishing garden. Test the soil in the location you’ve chosen and add any amendments as necessary. Most edibles thrive in a soil pH of 5.5 to 7.0. Or, consider building raised beds and filling them with store bought soil and compost. Raised beds allow the soil to drain better and to warm up faster in the spring.”
Also, be honest with yourself about how much time you have to devote to your edible project. It’s fun picking out and planting seeds and seedlings, but you’re also for a season’s worth of work. “Time will determine the size of your garden, whether you’ll start plants from seeds or buying plant starts, and management throughout the season. A successful garden does require attention, as you’ll need to water, weed and harvest,” said White. “As you’ll find out, however, gardening feels less like a chore and more like a leisure activity once you start seeing (and tasting) the results of your efforts.
As for what to plant, White suggest planting what you like to eat. “For beginners, we suggest planting the majority of the garden with foods you and your family enjoy. Tomatoes, beans, greens, and herbs are beloved for their heavy yields and versatility in the kitchen.” It’s also important to be aware of the provenance of your seeds and seedlings. “Start with healthy seedlings and quality seeds to minimize growing frustrations,” said Hodges. “The farmers’ markets are a great place to purchase seedlings directly from the growers.”
Keeping track of what you plant, the successes and failures, is important as you learn the personality of your garden space. A garden log is also a useful document so you can record where you planted each crop, allowing for rotation in the years to come. Something that “is key to keeping your soil healthy and pests at a minimum,” concluded White.
With all this soil testing, note taking, and sun chasing, it might as if gardening is more task than joy. But, like any art, you have to lay the foundation before you can improvise. As White noted, “Gardening is a world of endless possibility.” And you always get another chance “Don’t be intimidated to get started, every year you try gives you another year or knowledge and experience,” shared Hodges. “Have fun! Growing is a fun, life-giving, delicious endeavor.“
Michelle White is co-owner of City Folk’s Farm Shop, cityfolksfarmshop.com, a one-stop shop for urban homesteading featuring everything from gardening gear to classes, 4760 N. High St.; Kate Hodges is owner of Foraged and Sown, foragedandsown.com, an urban garden that offers its radiant produce at the Clintonville Farmer’s Markets, as well as hosts classes and foraging adventures during the season.
If you are just starting out, it is easy to go overboard and buy every new and shiny tool on the garden store wall. However, don’t get toy happy just yet, a few well-chosen gardening aids will get you started just fine.
To prepare your plot of land, you may need to till the soil. Cutting up sod and turning the soil is backbreaking work when done by hand, but buying a tiller is a serious investment. Instead, check one out of the Rebuilding Together Central Ohio Tool Library. There is a short application to join and a $40 per year for an individual member, or $15 if you just want to join for a month to check it out. A sliding scale can apply, depending on income. You can also borrow lawn mowers, weed whackers, lawn rollers, and more.
To have on hand, however, three tools and a sturdy set of gloves can get the gardening growing. A soil knife looks super cool and dangerous, but all it cuts through is weeds, is great for dividing plants, slashing through roots, and aiding in transplanting.
And once the bed is prepared, it’s time to start planting seeds and/or seedlings. This handy little number is printed with a ruler so when the directions say, ‘plant this two inches deep,’ you will know exactly when you’ve hit the mark. It’s pointed and thin, rather that u-shaped, which makes for smoother dirt penetration.
Finally, the three-pronged hand cultivator makes scratching up weeds, removing leaves, and dispersing compost throughout the topsoil. Cultivating the soil around plants know and then throughout the growing season allows for better drainage and airflow.
Garden gloves don’t only protect manicures, these striking Mud gloves also protect your arms from irritating prickers or itchy plant defense systems. And they look cool.
The tools pictured were picked up at Oakland Park Nursery, a family-owned local business that strives to feature plants grown in Ohio. The Fiskars brand, which its bright orange handles (easy to find against the brown of soil) is the oldest company in the world, its roots reaching back to the 1600s. If practice makes perfect, than these tool are aces. •
Check out the tool library at Rebuilding Together Central Ohio Tool Library at rtcentralohio.org/tool-library. Oakland Park Nurseries, oaklandparknursery.com, and can be found in Columbus, Delaware, Dublin, and New Albany.