Spring is here and that means it’s time to start planning and preparing my garden. Although I grew up helping my parents garden, that was more out of obligation than desire. When I started my own garden three years ago, I wasn’t sure where to begin. The good news is I didn’t overcomplicate it and I still ended up with a great garden. A few years later, I’m still experimenting and I encourage you to do the same.

Why Garden?

There are so many great reasons to grow a backyard garden. You can shave some cost off of your weekly grocery bill. Fresh, ripe fruits and vegetables taste incredible, far better than their grocery counterparts picked early to keep from spoiling in the shipping process. As backyard gardening and buying local produce becomes more prominent, collectively we can decrease the amount of petroleum required to ship produce from distant locations as well as decrease the resulting GHG emissions. And while all those reasons are sufficient, there is something about gardening that nourishes the soul. So, I encourage you to try a backyard garden experiment – and involve kids too. Teach the next generation that food comes from plants, not grocery stores. Let them share in the awe and satisfaction that comes with growing your own food.

How to Experiment with Gardening

1. Select a Sunny Location: The first thing you want to do is figure out the best location in your yard for a garden. Look for a spot that gets sunlight eight hours a day. There are two locations in my yard that would’ve worked. I chose the one closer to my house and water source. Last year I was fortunate enough to get a rain barrel for Mother’s Day and we connected that to our downspout, collecting rainwater for the garden.

2. Create Your Garden Bed: Choose the kind of garden bed that you want. I was able to salvage a used raised bed structure. You can easily build your own raised bed using wood, rocks or bricks to define the edge of your bed. Don’t forget that vegetables can also be integrated into your landscaping as well. Who says that space is only for flowers? One thing to keep in mind is critters. We have wood stakes around the inside of our garden frame with an attached wire fence. I can step over it at the same time it keeps the rabbits out. To fill a raised garden bed with dirt, we ordered a truckload of organic soil but you can buy bags as well. There are lots of tips around nutrients you can add to your soil, but it’s not necessary. I don’t add anything to my soil and still have a very productive garden. If you are working with an existing space, remove any grass and till the ground to break up hard soil, allowing for easier plant growth.

This is my preferred method for staking tomato plants to support their growth. It’s effective and it looks great too. You can purchase long wood stakes or bamboo rods at your local home improvement store and reuse them year after year.

This is my preferred method for staking tomato plants to support their growth. It’s effective and it looks great too. You can purchase long wood stakes or bamboo rods at your local home improvement store and reuse them year after year.

3. Choose What You Will Grow: This is just an experiment, so select what you will try, get going and see what works. You can switch it next year. Given the limited space in my garden, I had to be selective. I thought about what I would like on hand weekly or what I could freeze or can to use in the winter. I asked some avid gardeners what was easy versus difficult to grow. For me, tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, spinach, peppers, carrots and herbs grow without troubles, in Ohio. I’m planning on adding new veggies this year and working some berry bushes into my landscaping. I would not recommend cucumber or other vine-like plants such as cantaloupe or watermelon in a small garden. Vine plants take over your garden and squeeze out other plants. Talk to a gardener about your ideas and get their suggestions.

My kids and I were very proud of our first carrot crop.

My kids and I were very proud of our first carrot crop.

4. Remember Daily Care: In the dead heat of summer, watering your garden daily is critical to the vitality of your plants. It’s best to water in the early morning, before 10 AM. You can water in the evenings as well, but if the water doesn’t dry and sits on the plant leaves that could cause mold problems. Having an herbicide/pesticide-free garden is important to me, but that also means more weeds. The use of mulch or straw and stepping stones helps prohibit weed growth. It takes some weeding by hand too and thankfully my neighbors forgive me for the weeds I don’t get to.

So what are you waiting for? Start your garden experiment this weekend, even if that means a basil plant in the windowsill or one little potted tomato plant on your back deck. Enjoy your experiment!

By Jennifer Andress, Senior Consultant