Food and Garden Dailies started as a way to record my family's favorite recipes. It has come in handy many times when I'm asked for a recipe. I simply email a link to the blog! But I couldn't just stick to recipes. The kitchen is tied to the garden in so many ways...and so I let you into my ever changing garden as well.

If you're interested in my all-time favorite recipes, check out this post first: My Favorite Recipes

Monday, February 6, 2012

How to Start Gardening

Pin It On a message board I frequent, one of the ladies recently mentioned that she wanted to start gardening, but was overwhelmed with all the information.  Should she make her own potting soil with worm castings?  Should she be composting her food waste to add to the garden?  As a beginning gardener, these suggestions were too much, too soon.  With so much information available online, something so simple was becoming stressful.

I thought back to my gardening beginnings.  I've always grown up around gardening.  My grandmother always had enviable flower beds and fruit trees.  Growing up in Arizona, my mom  had a natural cacti/desert garden bed, but also grew annual flowers in pots every year.  Though I noticed the gardens, gardening didn't especially interest me.

When we moved from Arizona to Indiana (over 20 years ago) we had a small apartment on the ground floor.  This small apartment had a fenced in yard.  A tiny yard, but a yard, nonetheless.  After living in Arizona for so many years, I was amazed at what could be grown in a more moderate climate (as if Indiana is really moderate!).  Anyway, I recall going out back one day and digging up a strip of earth along the fence line.  I remember being on my hands and knees and getting really dirty.  Somehow I knew to amend the soil, as I hauled bags of soil to the yard.  With my bare hands (I've never been a fan of gloves) I mixed up the native soil with the bagged soil.  My gardening had begun.
Markum's Pink Clematis

My next door neighbor, Sug (as in Sugar), was from Louisiana, I believe.  She was a character who was larger than life.  She spoke with a thick southern drawl and had a cigarette in hand every time I saw her.  Her yard was the same size as mine, and I was amazed at how lush it was.  Her favorite plants were clematis, and they were growing up her fence in every direction.  She packed in the plants, and stuck them wherever she saw an empty spot of dirt.  I know she influenced my gardening, as I longed to have a yard as lush as hers.  Still, it would be a good 15 years before I bought my first clematis plant, and another 5 before I could rival her with such a large variety.

So, back to my little strip of land by the fence....I grew flowers there.  And when I ran out of space I started on another strip next to the patio.  Hollyhocks of every color flourished in this space.  I remember growing morning glory plants from seed that ran up the post and to the patio railing of the apartment above me. 

The neighbors above grew gorgeous tomatoes in pots.  When I asked them their secret, they told me about Miracle-Gro.  I went off to buy my first container of Miracle-Gro, and twice a month I religiously watered my plants with fertilizer.  A couple years later, I was bragging to them about how well the Miracle-Gro was working, and that I was amazed at how long it lasted!  They questioned it lasting so long, and as we got to talking about it, I realized that I'd never taken off the plastic seal on the Miracle-Gro container.  For two years I'd been fertilizing with water!

And that was the start of my learn-as-you-go gardening.  You will do silly things.  You will make mistakes.  You will kill plants.  You will be attracted to plants that don't grow in your zone.  You will buy those plants and hope, hope, hope they survive.  Most likely, they won't.  But that won't stop you from trying again...

And that, is what gardening really is...finding out what you like, and just trying it out.  Start small.  Get comfortable tending to one small patch of land.  Then, if you like it, keep going.

Here's the advice I left to the overwhelmed beginning gardener.  Hopefully it will help someone else out who's just beginning too!

How to Start Gardening

If you get caught up in doing everything right and wanting to know everything there is to know, you are going to wear yourself out before you've even begun! I've been
Raised bed
gardening for 20 years now, and I've never made my own potting mix with worm castings.

1) Think about what you want to plant (small scale). Do you want edibles
like veggies or herbs? Or do you want ornamental flowers? With flowers, do you want something that will come back every year (perennial) or something that has a long-lasting seasonal bloom, but has to be replaced each year (annuals)?

2) Pick out a small space in your yard. Start off small. Is it sunny, shady, or partly sunny? That will influence what you can grow there. How is the existing soil? Grassy? Weedy? Rocky? Clay-like?  You can cover weeds/grass with layers of newspaper to kill them. Then you can dig up that area (or build a simple raised bed on top).