Grow Your Own Food: A Spring Gardening Primer

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Photo courtesy: DumboCSA

With the price of food increasing along with the prevalence of GMOs and other nasty sprays and insecticides, growing your own fruits and vegetables makes sense on so many levels.

Creating a garden does not have to be expensive. This article will examine a small garden that was created by one person for less than $100. The garden includes tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, bell peppers, cantaloupe, watermelon, zucchini and crookneck squash and was started from seed approximately 1 month prior to planting.

Understanding what plants require to grow happy and healthy is an important step to becoming an effective gardener. An excellent resource can be found at Bonnie Plants, which has an easy search feature and specifics about hundreds of fruits and vegetables.

One of the first things to determine about your garden is which zone you will be planting in. A simple tool to determine what zone you are in can be accessed via this link for the USDA Hardiness Zone Finder Map.

According to the USDA’s website, “The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones” (the zone for this garden is 7-B).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Always wait until threat of a hard freeze or frost before placing plants outside and give them time to “harden” by setting them outside for a few hours at a time.

If any threat of frost does occur, plants may be covered, either individually with plastic cartons (milk cartons work well with the bottom cut out) or by gently laying old sheets or plastic over the plants.

Planning is always a critical step for a successful garden; this garden was actually started last fall by collecting containers such as plastic milk crates and lining them with landscaping fabric. Each container was either donated or bought very cheaply at local thrift stores and they are an excellent method of growing if your space is limited or your soil is hard or clay-like.

Another important job to complete prior to planting was the stringing of hemp twine, which was placed on two separate fences, allowing the vines of the tomatoes and beans to be more easily trained to grow vertically.

Grass clippings were mixed in with the soil two weeks prior to planting and covered each space in order to warm the soil. Keep in mind if you grow anything with a vine (cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkin) to allow sufficient space for the vines to grow. They can be trained to grow anywhere in the yard (even vertically for smaller species).

We purchased packets of organic seeds at a local store for under $1 each, along with a small “greenhouse” with a dome from Jiffy, and the cantaloupe and bell pepper seeds were harvested from fresh plants. We first placed the seeds in Miracle Grow potting soil inside the greenhouse and misted them for the first week. As the seeds began to germinate, they were transferred into larger pots and kept inside for approximately one month.

All of the supports for the tomatoes and bell peppers were created and installed prior to planting (very important to do before planting so the plant is not disturbed after going in the ground). The supports for the tomatoes were created using 96 inch boards (cut in half at the hardware store for free) at a cost of $1.08 each.

Before placing any plants in containers, ensure the soil is well worked, with mulch and plenty of nutrients. An easy method is to simply water the dirt prior to transplant with Miracle Grow and continue to use it at least once a month. After the soil is damp, place the plant gently, tamping with fingers to cover the root ball and base of the plant. Composting is also important for healthy plants.

Once planted, water the plant gently and check it daily for moisture. By inserting a finger to about the second knuckle (about an inch), a gardener can determine if the soil is in need for further watering.

By keeping an eye on the garden daily, ensuring there is sufficient water, sun and nutrients, anyone can create and enjoy a personal garden, virtually anywhere.