Thinking About Starting a Garden? Jump Right In!

Reader Contribution by Colleen Vanderlinden
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All is right with the world again. Tiny seedlings huddle beneath the fluorescent lights in my basement, and the little greenhouse is full of more cool-season plants, waiting to be planted out into the garden. They are all so delicate looking. Yet these plants will feed my family throughout the spring, summer and fall. We’ll eat the food they produce through the winter as well, thanks to all of the freezing, drying and canning I’ll be doing this summer. From a few flats of tiny seedlings, a family of six will eat like royalty.

This is the magic of gardening. So many obsessed gardeners, like me, compare gardening to a drug. Once you start, you just have to keep doing it. And you soon find that one little container, or one 4-by-8 bed, is no longer enough. You want to grow more, and you want to start earlier and end later! Soon, you’re erecting greenhouses and low tunnels in your garden, because they’ll buy you a few more precious weeks. It’s the best kind of addiction I can imagine.

I may be the worst (or best, depending on your views) type of gardening addict. I’m not content to just garden for myself. Not anymore. I can’t keep quiet about how awesome it is to grow your own food, to make your own little corner of this Earth a beautiful, fruitful place — and one that does it in partnership with nature instead of in opposition to it. I write, I talk, I encourage. I give seedlings and seeds. I show up at my mother-in-law’s house with a few blueberry plants, some compost and a bit of peat.

I’m officially a pusher.

So if you’re thinking about starting a garden, or you’ve gardened in the past but thought it wasn’t for you, I’m here, pushing, hoping you’ll give it a go this year. If you’re thinking about starting a garden, here’s my best advice:

1. Grow what you’ll eat.

Radishes are pretty and easy, but if no one in your family likes them, there’s no point in growing them. If you love salads, grow plenty of lettuces, a few tomatoes and some herbs. If you love pasta and pizza, grow plenty of tomatoes, peppers, basil and oregano.

2. Start small.

There’s nothing more frustrating, or more likely to turn you off to gardening, than ending up with a huge, tangled, weed-infested mess. Start with one 4-foot-by-8-foot bed, or one window box, or one self-watering container, and just see how it goes. You’d be surprised how much you can grow in one garden bed. Take a look at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Garden Planner, or find a copy of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening.

One bed, or one container, is easy to maintain. You can keep it planted, watered, weeded and fed in literally minutes a day. And with a successful season under your belt, maybe you can expand next year.

3. Expect problems.

No gardening season is without its challenges, even for those of us who have been gardening for a long time. Your pumpkins might get powdery mildew, hornworms could attack your tomatoes. A hot, dry summer could send your salad greens bolting. It happens. It’s not a personal failing, just part of the gardening life.

4. Pay attention.

Spending time in your garden is the best way to learn more about gardening. Really get in there and observe. Which plants seem to be doing the best, or the worst? What is that bug on your cucumber plants? How dry is the soil, and who is eating your lettuce leaves? Notice the little problems before they become big problems, and learn more about what makes for a healthy garden by getting up close and personal with your plants.

I’m so happy to be blogging here at MOTHER EARTH NEWS! I’ll be sharing organic gardening advice, photos of my garden, and probably some cooking and preserving recipes along the way. All while pushing the magical drug that is gardening, of course!

Will you be starting your first garden this year? Tell me about it!