By Barbara Danza, The Epoch Times
As families aim to make the most of stay-at-home orders and social distancing, spring just happens to be springing.
What better activity to enjoy with your family than to start a garden?
Whether you have a green thumb or have never planted anything in your life, we’ve got the information you need to get a backyard garden started. We asked Levi Gardner, the founder and co-executive director of Urban Roots, for his advice to do just that.
The Epoch Times: What benefits might a family enjoy by growing and nurturing a garden in their backyard?
Levi Gardner: In addition to the satisfaction of growing and eating food from your own garden, research has shown the biophysical and psychological benefits of being in the elements. From touching the soil to soaking up the sunshine, gardening has multiple positive effects for individual wellness in both its product and its process. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as biophilia, and it’s the explanation for the innate tendency humans have toward mimicking life and lifelike processes.
Furthermore, no place can be as educational as the garden. From learning about soil biota to solar paths, from thermodynamics to geometry, a wide variety of topics can be covered in the garden. For more information, check out LifeLab.org.
The Epoch Times: How should families prepare their backyard for a garden?
Mr. Gardner: There are a few really important elements. If you live in the city, you should always soil test for toxicity prior to growing anything.
Assuming you have a backyard where something is already growing, you can till but we strongly recommend no-till methods. What this often means is using sheet layers of cardboard covered with compost. Ideally, this can be in a raised bed if you desire, but most beds are only about 8 inches to 10 inches tall, while the taproot on a carrot can easily be more than 2 feet deep! We strongly recommend folks do what’s called “double-digging,” which you can learn more about in this video (bit.ly/2UGNUPQ).
If you do use a raised bed, I strongly recommend you still cover the base with cardboard (remove the tape first!). As it breaks down, it will smother weeds, trap moisture, and help develop a better root zone for your veggies.
The Epoch Times: What about those in urban settings? What types of gardens can city dwellers create?
Mr. Gardner: Using biointensive methods, families can actually grow a lot more in a small space than they may imagine. Even one bed that is just 50 square feet (approximately 4 feet wide by 12 feet long) can easily yield more than 100 pounds of produce).
For those without a backyard, use as many large buckets and planters [as possible] on your patio—always taking care to provide fertility to your plants, whether through compost or organic fertilizers.
Sometimes, it’s not about horizontal space, but vertical space as well. Concepts like vertical growing, trellising, and interplanting can help urbanites get the most out of their small areas.
The Epoch Times: For the absolute beginner, what are the fundamental steps of starting a garden?
Mr. Gardner: Start small. It’s easy to build on success, it’s hard to bounce back from too many failures.
Start with a small area, do it really well, and then add upon there. Use compost, use the right tools, use appropriate irrigation methods. Start each year with just a few easier crops to grow, and keep a journal.
You’d be amazed at what you forget at the end of the year. A journal and a diligent hand will go a long way. Also, we have a lot of resources on our webpage to help with those sorts of questions: UrbanRootsgr.org/gardeners-resources.
The Epoch Times: What types of plants do you recommend newbie gardeners grow?
Mr. Gardner: We, of course, grow arugula to zucchini, but it’s ideal to grow a combination of (1) the things you are excited to grow and (2) the things that are more rewarding or offer an easy return.
Simple staple garden vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers are ideal. Root crops including beets, carrots, or turnips are enjoyable but also require a little bit more intention with soil preparation.
Also, for kids things like peas, pole beans, and melons can be most enjoyable and tasty.
The Epoch Times: What common mistakes do people make in creating and caring for their garden?
Mr. Gardner: This is such a large question—I could write a book on this! Some of the biggest mistakes people make, though, is thinking that there is something “wrong” with the plant. There is almost never anything “wrong” with the plant. Plants grow—it’s what they do. However, if they aren’t getting the resources they need (be it soil fertility, drainage, sunlight, or good soil media) it looks like something is wrong with them.
When the plant doesn’t look healthy, focus on the things you can change. And most likely, you won’t be able to change them this year—so learn for next year. I’ve been growing for over a decade, and every mistake is the opportunity to learn something new.
Also, I can’t stress this enough—put the energy into preparation. You can’t change the soil profile once you are into your season, so remember that each season is an opportunity to have a few successes and a few failures; the failures are what you learn from!
The Epoch Times: What are the keys to ensuring a successful garden throughout the season?
Mr. Gardner: Think like a living being. You don’t “build” a garden, you nurture it, steward it, support it, cultivate it. It’s more like a child than a building. So treat it that way. Use worthwhile tools. Adapt with the season. Have fun. Learn something new!