Dare to Dig In: A Guide for Beginning Gardeners

Growing your own food may seem daunting for beginning gardeners. But don’t let your lack of experience keep you from discovering the joys — and the ease — of a kitchen garden.

| June/July 2005

Everyone who has ever eaten a homegrown tomato knows it can taste better than any other tomato on Earth. And tomatoes are just the beginning — once you start growing for yourself, you can explore the many small specialty companies that offer seeds for plants you can’t find in any store. Many of these plants produce crops that are too fragile to ship in good condition, or too unusual for a farmer to count on selling, so they remain largely unknown to people other than gardeners.

The freshness you enjoy when you pick food right before you eat it does more than guarantee good flavor; it also safeguards nutrients. Once a fruit or vegetable is picked, its nutritional content begins to decline. Good handling slows this down, but even the choicest produce you can buy contains fewer vitamins and minerals than the crops in your back yard.

Great food, the gratification of growing your own and having a good time are the reasons most people continue to garden year after year. The satisfaction of bringing in armloads of gorgeous food; the look of a lush, healthy garden; and being outside and active in the fresh air enlivens many gardeners’ spirits. As for exercise, some people set up their gardens to require a bare minimum of effort; others arrange their plots to give them as much exercise as they would receive from a fitness gym.

Children are drawn to gardens, too. They may lack the necessary perseverance to weed and water a small area, but they never lose interest in watching the plants progress from a pair of seed leaves to a fruit-bearing adult, and they never tire of watching ants, slugs, ladybugs, spiders and all the other creatures bound to happen along. Best of all, vegetables once considered frightening green aliens when they appeared on the dinner table are suddenly greeted by name and gobbled right up. After all, if you are the one who picked it, it’s hard not to relish eating it.

What follows are the key guidelines for a successful new garden:

Build the Soil

The easiest way to start new garden beds is to cover an area with cardboard or newspapers topped by compost, soil or mulch. This will smother any grass and perennial weeds if you leave the covering in place for at least several weeks. Then, just cut through the decomposing material, set out your plants and add more compost, grass clippings or other fertilizer.

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