Interested in starting your own garden in 2014?

Gardening is as easy as you want it to be.

by Crystal Moore-Stevens

A good hands-on introduction to gardening can begin in a kitchen window. Fresh herbs are a great place to start. Culinary herbs are highly medicinal, fresh and dried. They serve a dual purpose and therefore are incredibly important to have on hand. Most standard culinary herbs do well inside in pots next to a south facing window. Outdoor herb gardens not only create a gorgeous edible landscape, but also attract pollinators. Vegetable gardening has been traditionally thought of as growing vegetables in backyards that get full sun but there are many individuals and groups that are challenging that notion. With the boom in aeroponics and aquaponics, many do-it-yourselfers are bringing gardening to the next level. Wherever you grow, vegetable gardening has many benefits.

Imagine yourself this spring in a warm and sunlit area of your yard, planting your own vegetable garden. You could be providing fresh organically grown produce for your friends and family all summer long.

Benefits of organic gardening are remarkable:

  • Know exactly how your food is being grown without having to worry about unsafe pesticides.
  • Organically grown freshly picked vegetables provide an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and nutrients to your diet. Their taste is fresh, crisp and delightful. They are packed with authentic flavor.
  • Cut costs tremendously at the super market by growing your own produce.
  • The joy of witnessing the firsthand experience of the seed to table connection is immeasurable.

Materials and supplies helpful for successful gardening:

  • Seed starting trays, terra cotta pots and wooden planters (for transplanting/container gardening)
  • River rocks, loose gravel, or sand (to line the bottom of your pots for adequate drainage)
  • Nutrient rich potting soil (we go through a great company called Beautiful Land Products)
  • Watering can or hose
  • Compost (broken down of course)

Patience and a little time to weed and water your plants. Think of it as your meditation hour. Try to take this one hour to disconnect to the world around you and turn off your electronic devices. Use this hour per week to ground yourself, to focus on your breath, to dedicate energy to making your plant friends thrive.
Start with herbs that you would typically buy fresh at the market (basil, chives, rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, parsley, dill, cilantro). Some herbs are perennials, some are annuals, and some are biennials. Do your research and make yourself a handy chart of all the things you are growing. Include seeding recommendations, spacing, light requirements, and other important information in a garden binder. I suggest keeping a journal to record the steps you took, the dates you planted, and the varieties of seeds and plants you chose.

Once your plants start thriving, chances are you will want to keep on growing! You might find yourself with a tiny jungle on your balcony. Based on my experience, I have found that certain small details seem to meld into one another over time. So keeping a record of your green thumb adventures can help you out year after year. Instinct gardening is equally fun and rewarding and surprisingly has the tendency to work well.

Gardening, Helpful Hints:
The most important component to a healthy garden is healthy soil. Have a soil test done or build up your soil with organic matter such as grass clippings, leaves, compost. Organic fertilizers will add micronutrients to your soil and can be purchased from many local companies including Worm’s Way and Garden Heights Nursery.

Choose an area that gets full sun for at least 6-8 hours per day.

The winter is a great time to start planning your garden and ordering seeds. Seedsofchange.com has an excellent variety of Organic Seeds. Morgan County Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds are great local sources.
Organize your seeds according to planting dates.

In this region, the following fruits and vegetables are well suited to be planted in early Spring; broccoli, cabbage, spinach, carrots, peas, chard, salad mix, lettuce, radishes, potatoes, onions, scallions, strawberries, beets & turnips. In late spring, tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers, melons, peppers, beans, okra, raspberries, blackberries, and herbs such as basil and dill can be planted to enjoy in the summer.

In the summer, plant the same crops you planted in early spring, as well as sweet potatoes, winter squash, and cauliflower to enjoy in the fall. Start the following seeds indoors under grow lights mid February through mid April; broccoli, cabbage, onions, eggplant & early tomatoes. You may also purchase established vegetable plants & transplant them into your garden. Garden Heights Nursery in Saint Louis is an excellent source for Organic vegetable starts. www.gardenheights.com

Plan the layout of your garden. There are a number of books available at your local library on vegetable gardening which offer garden plans ranging from raised beds to acre plantings.

If you have a large garden space that gets plenty of sun, till your space as soon as the ground is ready. Your goal should be a fine tilth soil. Be sure to add plenty of compost, bags of leaves, grass clippings, and cow or horse manure before you till. These amendments will feed your plants throughout the year.

Raised beds can easily create raised beds with straw bales, cinder blocks, or untreated scrap wood. In a raised bed, the bottom layer should be leaves, followed by straw, grass clippings and more leaves, and compost. Finally, your top layer should be well decomposed compost mixed with topsoil. You want your top layer to have a fine tilth so that it is easy to sow seeds.

By the time your beds are ready, in early March, the following seeds can be sown in the ground; carrots, beets, spinach, peas, parsley and cilantro. Mid March is a great time to transplant the cool weather seedlings you have started indoors. Be sure to mulch your transplants in with straw to beat the weeds.

Weed regularly and use soaker hoses on your beds. Keep your seed beds well watered until they sprout. Water on a regular basis once plants are established. You can repeat the process with warm season crops and then again for fall crops. Just follow a planting guide for your zone or region.

By following these steps, you will acquire a green thumb in no time and will be enjoying a lovely garden and a bountiful harvest of fresh, homegrown, seasonal, organically grown produce this Summer & Fall. Avid Vegetable Gardeners are able to enjoy the fruits of their labor from April until November.

Mother Earth News has a wonderful Crop Growing Guide and an amazing When to Plant App available for smart phones!

Contact your local University Extension Office for gardening tips, planting charts, seed suggestions and soil testing. Click on the Lawn and Garden link.

Reputable Seed Companies:
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Seeds of Change, Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Like my page on facebook for growing tips and seed to table ideas!
Happy Planting!