We interviewed our Garden Manager, Ashley Kenney, in advance of the second class in a three part series on gardening. Here’s a peek at the kind of learning you can expect during Growing Community, which continues with Growing Community|Planting Your Garden on February 14th.
Posted Jan 26, 2018
You Asked We Answered | Planning Your Own Garden
Posted Jan 26, 2018
1. Why offer these classes?
Gardening is a time-honored profession and hobby that interests people of all ages and walks of life. At Grace Farms, I have been honored to manage the Community Garden and explain its purpose to visitors who run the gamut from novice gardeners to professionals. Many come through the Garden curious about renting a plot. When they discover that we define “community garden” as one that produces food to go out to the community through food service and donations to those in need, they immediately follow up with questions about how to get started gardening at home. I frequently have people show me pictures of plants in their gardens, asking if I can diagnose problems! Of course, I am always happy to answer any questions to the best of my ability. A few months ago, after a tour with a local Garden Club, I realized that even experienced perennial and floral gardeners have questions and are eager to learn about taking care of their vegetables.
Many people don’t start gardening out of fear of failure; I want these classes to ease them into something that is all about the process and the journey rather than the pursuit of perfection.
2. Why is gardening important?
When you garden at home you are no longer limited to the fruits and vegetables you see at the store. You know where your food is coming from— free of heavy chemicals and inorganic pesticides. You have the opportunity to grow heirlooms like those you may have tasted as a child on your family farm or from your Grandmother’s garden, or you can experiment growing something you’ve only eaten at restaurants.
Gardening also gives you the ability to provide for your family and donate any excess to local food pantries and other food justice organizations.
As an added bonus, scientists have recently proven that gardening reduces stress and calms your nerves, as it decreases cortisol which is a hormone that plays a role in stress response. When you work outside, with your hands, it also creates a greater connection to your food, and becomes a way to connect with your family and loved ones, while working as a team.
3. What are the easiest plants to grow in my first year?
The easiest vegetables to grow are simply the ones you want to eat the most because you will spend more time caring for them! There are some other factors to consider though. Some plants have a long growing time and require heavy amounts of fertilizers and pest management that you might not want to take on. The vegetables that fare best in our area, for those with minimal prior knowledge in vegetable gardening, are sugar snap peas, loose-leaf lettuces, swiss chard, kale, and radishes.
Maybe start by trying to grow a salad garden with lettuce, snap peas, radishes, cucumbers, and some potted tomatoes from a nursery. This isn’t an enormous challenge, and will keep you in salads for four to five months if you plant successively—meaning when one crop is done, you add a replacement for it either through seed or started plant.
It’s also fun to look at gardening as an exercise of “what do I want?”—both from the perspective of the experience you want to have and what you want to eat.
4. How do I satisfy my interest in gardening during the winter months?
Right after the Holidays is a wonderful time to start looking at seed catalogs from all over the country. I love to get Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Territorial Seed, and Baker Creek catalog and settle in with a cup of tea in the evening, flipping through all the vegetables I might like to grow the next year. There are incredible online gardening programs, such as Mother Earth News’ Garden Planner, that can help you plan out the succession of plantings and arrangements of your fruits and vegetables through the winter so you’re ready to start your seedlings in late February/early March.
Winter is also a popular time for gardening classes at local farms, as farmers and gardeners have a lot of down time when the exhaustion of the previous season has finally lifted. Be sure to check out the other classes in our series!
It’s also a great time to hit the Grace Farms Library in search of books about the practice of gardening, as well as those that remind you why you want to grow your own food in the first place (i.e. The Third Plate by Dan Barber, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, and Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman).
If you’re really eager to start and don’t want to wait for winter to pass, consider purchasing a T5 Grow Light, a bag of potting soil, a few packets of microgreen mix seeds, and a tray to grow your own microgreens in your kitchen. These are great to top off salads, or prepare with your produce and meat. I personally find that winter is also a good time to reflect on the gardening done during the previous season, and digest what worked, what can be improved upon, and what new goals I should set for myself for the upcoming season.
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