Cecilia Nasti is an organic food gardener and enthusiastic home cook. She produces and hosts the weekly radio feature Field & Feast broadcast on public radio in Austin, Texas. A nature lover, she also produces and hosts Passport to Texas, a daily statewide radio series about the outdoors for Texas Parks and Wildlife.
This time of year seed catalogs start showing up in my mailbox, and targeted banner ads for gardening supplies appear like magic during my online searches. I don't even mind that I'm being tracked by a marketing bot sniffing out and calculating my algorithms, because they're on my wavelength. I'm excited about starting my spring food garden, and welcome anyone (or thing) that ignites that passion.
If I've learned anything from years of growing kitchen gardens, it is this: vegetables and herbs cannot thrive on excitement alone. To help you avoid future frustration, here are a few tips to get you growing in the right direction.
It can be overwhelming if you go too big too soon. Think quality over quantity. Start with two or three crops you know you and your family will eat. Also, if you're not sure you're ready to dig up your yard for a garden, or have limited space, you can easily grow most edible crops in containers. Just be sure to fill the bottom of the container with gravel for drainage and use a light potting mix.Sun
The majority of food crops need full sun. Find a spot in your yard (or patio or balcony) that receives at least six to eight hours of direct, unobstructed sunlight a day. Here’s something to consider: while you may have sunny areas in your yard now, how will that change once the trees have leaves again?
When selecting your garden site, make sure it is near a water source, and if possible, put in an irrigation system. I made the mistake of putting my first garden all the way in the backyard of my rented house; too far for my sad little hose to reach. As I was just out of college, a VISTA volunteer, and broke, buying a new hose was out of the question. So I hauled buckets of water to the garden, which got old fast. Only the jalapeños survived that year. Learn from my mistake.
When to Raise
Raised bed gardening creates garden beds that drain well, and are perfect for square foot gardening, which allows you to grow more food in less space. People who live in areas with little topsoil may opt for raised beds and have garden soil trucked in. However, if you have great soil, dig in! Whether you have a raised bed or surface garden, clearing out the area of weeds and grass before planting will keep you ahead of that chore as the season progresses.
It's up to you, but growing food organically means no toxic persistent pesticides for you, and healthier soil for your plants. It's win-win.
The best thing for your garden is your shadow. That means the more time you spend in it, the more familiar you become with your plants. You'll notice immediately when pests or diseases start to raise their ugly heads, and you can stop those problems in their tracks. When you do, you will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor all summer long.
What tips do you have to help your fellow gardeners have a more enjoyable and productive growing season?