It’s time. For a few frosty months there, I had completely neglected a huge part of me. My clever friend Minty Pea Todd reminded me of this. You see, here in the Hudson Valley, the last spring frost will be around April 20th. This means big planning must start today. Like, right this minute. Now, there are more than a few of you out there who either remain uninterested in small silent green beings, or consider your backyards to be barren, sterile and unplantable. Still, others (don’t hide) consider yourselves unplantworthy. This post is for you.
Let me start by saying that I am no Master Gardener. I could go on and on with current examples to illustrate my point—neglected soil-filled moldy pots on our back porch; shrunken, wrinkled leaves of secondhand orchids on the sill; a yellowed kitchen cactus struggling to flower year after year after year. That said, I am fortunate to have a small raised-bed plot in our community garden. Each spring, my tiny but powerful gardening team and I meet to determine the garden’s direction. Our selection of five-star veggies is based on the following quantitative and qualitative characteristics: Speedy Growth, Seed Wow Factor, Easy Peasy, and The Big Yum.
Over the past 8 years, we have mostly settled on the following: looseleaf lettuce/baby greens, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, radishes, summer yellow squash and zucchini, potatoes, Swiss chard, green bush beans, stubby carrots, gourds, and annual herbs and flowers (basil, parsley, cosmos, alyssum, cornflowers, cosmos, zinnia, marigolds, and sunflowers).
Now, let’s be clear. You don’t need a farm or community garden to grow fresh vegetables. You don’t really even need a garden. You do need good soil, a sunny spot, a water source and, most likely, a fence. If deer are known to nibble your Hostas, the entire woodland critter community will crush your dreams of home-grown veggies.
You may consider simply planting your vegetables in a few containers. Almost all of the above would thrive in pots placed in a sunny place—lettuce (I plant many in hanging pots), bush tomatoes (especially cherries like Tumblers or Tiny Tim), bush cucumbers (especially Salad and Sweet Success), radishes (even indoors at south-facing window), potatoes (in bins or spud grow bags), Swiss chard, stubby carrots (in deep pots with light, well-drained soil), and flowers and herbs. Granted, a mini vegetable garden or a container-filled porch may not be enough for subsistence farming, but it may be enough to grow a season of heavenly tomatoes, salad greens and radishes.
Before grabbing your spade (Holy Moly! I can’t wait!), meet with your trusty gardening team and do some research. Consider a few easy plants like those listed above first. Then, find out your final frost date. You can get fancy and go to the National Climatic Data Center, or you can find a simple chart at The Old Farmer’s Almanac site.
Once you and your team have determined your focus, set out to find some seeds. You may have a neighborly neighbor who has an abundance of seeds to gift you. If not, the Organic Seed Alliance has a handy list of seed suppliers. I head to Turtle Tree, a small, non-profit seed company that sells 100% open-pollinated non-GMO vegetable, herb and flower seeds.
Remember, you don’t have to know everything there is to know about gardening right this very minute. Just become familiar with the one or two plants that you plan to grow this year. Once you’re comfortable with those, go find a few more seeds. Just know what you grow.
Harvesting family-grown vegetables can be empowering stuff. Planning, constructing and maintaining a family garden involves research, requires decision-making skills and demands teamwork. Preparing soil for planting is hard work. Nurturing and caring for plants and waiting for them to mature (Can I pick it now? How about NOW? NOW?) requires responsibility and patience. At this very moment, you have the opportunity to play a unique and vital role in a little person’s environmental awareness, to make your family healthier while reducing your ecological footprint, and to potentially empower your child to make a difference.