To Garden or Not,  Is That Your Question?

By Wayne Kessler

Have you been debating whether to plant a garden this year or not? Read this before deciding. Here are a few ideas that involve a little planning and a light amount of elbow grease. Maybe we can eliminate your indecision and excuses.

The benefits of gardening are clear: lowering household costs for food, improving the quality of our food and the health of our families, personal satisfaction of doing something for ourselves, plus building a growing community with friends and neighbors. Digging done correctly is good exercise. We strongly recommend gardening with friends or neighbors as a way to share work, produce and friendship. And, as gardeners know, gardening reduces stress and worry.

Grow organic or not:  We garden oganically because we don’t have to worry about chemical or pesticide residues in our food.  With no pesticides or poisons, healthier soil with worms and mycelium, healthier crops, healthier food, healthier you! Growing organic costs about the same, but takes more elbow grease and time: You have to compost and mulch, learn how to save your seeds, learn what bugs to kill and those you want to live.

Excuses: The biggest problem may be time in establishing a garden at first or moving from hobby gardening to sustainable gardening. What we hear the most is, “I work full time and don’t have enough time to garden.”  Sure, food gardening takes lots of time and years of learning by doing, building your soil, learning what you like to eat and what stores the best.  Another reason or excuse we hear is, “I don’t have a place to garden.”  With practice and planning, all you need is a space as little as 10’x10’. This is enough space to save over $700 on your grocery bills each year.  Have only cement space? Look into container gardening and/or strawbale gardening. There are ways if you have the will. Many lawns are a great place to start. With new techniques such as no-dig gardening, composting, mulching, water timers, weed and shade cloths, you can plant and tend a garden efficiently.

The Learning Curve:  No one can “teach you how to garden.” You have to learn it yourself. One of the best ways is to go around your neighborhood and search out the best gardens, especially the year-round ones. Go to your neighborhood gardeners. Observe their techniques and layouts, ask a few questions, and offer to help out if needed. Learn by doing. Another way is to attend a workshop or two. And, if you are a book person, buy or get a book out of the library. Online information can be useful as well. Two of my favorite books are The Practical Organic Gardener by Brenda Little and Organic Garden Basics by Bob Fowerdew. Seed catelogues are often good references where you can learn about how plants grow.

Keep It Simple:  Don’t try to grow everything in the first year. Choose three to five vegetables that you especially like to eat, that are easy to grow and that you can store, can, dry or freeze. And, each year try something new. Have fun experimenting with one or two new varieties each year. Your garden will train you to become a scientist because you will be experiemting with what grows best. There will be failures caused by weather, bugs and ignorance but failures are good teachers.

We try to follow the 4-R principles of re-use, repair, re-purpose, and recycle. These save cost and in many cases time. Good planning and working with friends and neighbors certainly helps.

Be aware of the balance between costs and production. In other words, you don’t want to end up with $30 per pound tomatoes by buying fertilizer, pesticides, equipement and tools when using the 4-Rs and some compost/manure will produce the same amount at a fraction of the cost.

Wayne Kessler:  A fresh food advocate and lifelong grower of food, agricultural enterprise developer, organic nursery owner, garden workshop presenter