Green Thumbs and Green Rewards: Starting a Vegetable or Herb Garden
May 15, 2013
Nothing is more rewarding that starting your own garden. Watching the whole process from a plant seed in a paper packet to a tiny sprout emerging from damp soil to a finished, glowing, and ready-to-pluck vegetable or herb. Moreover, that new plant doesn’t just look like you know what you’re doing, but your harvest makes for über-fresh ingredients for all dishes beyond just salad. Let’s take our thumbs off the remote and out to the yard, patio, or deck and see if we can’t make it a tad bit green this season!
No need for a girly apron or a funny-looking hat (though you can get those if you want– we’re not judging). First, you need to figure out how much room you’ve got to plant a garden. Don’t think you need to have something like those pictures in Better Homes and Gardens. With the right tools, a thoughtful choice of plants, and some TLC, starting a garden won’t be nearly as time-consuming or daunting as you might think.
- First, consider how much space you’ve got. Even a small outdoor space like a balcony can provide enough room to grow something, and plants in containers tend to yield more than plants grown over a large space. If you’ve got the room to plant in the ground, there’s a bit more planning to do (but also more options).
- Figure if your ground soil is even appropriate for starting a garden, and check things like drainage, sunlight, and even your climate zone. Prepare your soil to feed new plants: grab some fertilizer and give your soil some organic matter like old twigs, leaves, and even food scraps like vegetables.
- While you’re at the gardening store, be sure to grab some basics like soil (duh), a watering can (if a hose won’t reach), a small trowel, and some shears.
And now for the fun part: choosing what to grow!
What to Plant
Nothing is more exciting than perusing the seed packet aisle and gazing at what could be a fruit of your labor. It’s also easy to forget that you have to invest some time and care into each plant. Yes, kind of a buzz kill, but it’s not as difficult as growing a new life might seem.
Think about what you want your garden to do: is it just a space-filler? Do you want to eat more greens? Or are you looking for small herbs to enlighten meals? Pick up a packet and read the care instructions. Now think back to what you realized about your potential garden area– sunlight, space, and that sort. Would what you’re holding accommodate it? What about the amount of water it would need? Any frequent fertilization? Is it an annual (lives only for a season or two) or a perennial (grows back every year)? It helps to have an idea of how much effort you’d like to invest before hand. I bought a super-fragrant gardenia plant recently only to find out it needs to be fertilized every two weeks and requires morning sunlight only, and even with both, it still might not bloom. And it doesn’t, dang it.
If you’re still not sure what to plant in your garden, check out these easy-to-grow novice-friendly vegetables and herbs:
- Gourmet Lettuce (like baby spring lettuce)
- Garlic (yes, you can use the cloves themselves!)
- Mint (mojitos, anyone?)
- Thyme (my favorite, and ridiculously easy to grow)
Or you could cheat and just get something like a Magic Flower Pansy Plant, which, unlike planting and gardening, would require only one thing from you: water it. I personally love pansies, and though mine currently look like they belong on skid row, they make an attractive and colorful border plant and a very festive annual. Plant them in larger pots as they outgrow the included can, and enjoy their beauty all season long!
Once you’ve chosen your mix, start growing! Use old egg cartons or toilet paper rolls as seed starters, and move them onto containers or ground soil when they’re bigger. Note: if you’re prone to over-watering, try a soil mix like Miracle Gro Moisture Control, or just touch the top of the soil of your garden. If it’s dry and the first inch is also dry, it’s time for some H2O.
As your outdoor garden begins to spread, make sure to pay attention to weed growth: pull them by hand for container plants and small gardens, or use a hoe in larger gardens. Note any growing number of insects as well. If you see black dots, you’ve likely got spider mites, and they suck– and they multiply faster than a grade school math whiz. Plant pests can damage your crop or flowers and easily travel from one plant to the next, so fast containment is essential.
Harvesting From Your Garden
So, your plant has bloomed, there’s clearly something recognizable hanging off the branches, and it’s all looking good. When do you know when to harvest? If it looks like it’s ready, it probably is. Take red tomatoes, for example. If they’re green, they’re probably not ready for you. It ain’t rocket science; it’s a patio plant. Don’t fear about over-picking your garden bundle, either: the more you pick from your plant, the more it will give. Let’s say, however, that you forgot to grab fresh vegetables from your little bundle of joy and now they’re looking like they belong in a trash bin. Well, they probably do, and it’s best to pluck those energy-suckers away from the stem so that the plant can invest more energy into new blooms and hence remain healthy.
Sooo…. is that it? Is it really that easy? Yes, it really is. Starting a garden is a small effort with a big reward, and if you take care of it, it will take care of you. And stay away from gardenia!