I’ll be brief because I’m finding it hard to spend much time in front of a screen these days. If there’s ever a time to cultivate food literacy and learn how to grow our own food, it’s now, especially in the face of COVID-19. The psychological and physical health benefits of spending time in nature are well-documented. Also, you know who doesn’t have to disinfect their produce before they eat it? Backyard edible gardeners, that’s who!
Here’s a few tips if you’re new to growing and not sure how to get started, but keep an eye on my Gardening and Urban Agriculture resource page for more information.
- Seek out science-based recommendations, to maximize your yield. It’s fun to play around with gardening as a hobby but I suspect many might be turning to this new activity in the hopes that you can feed your family, too. There’s a huge amount of information out there. A tip I learned in my Master Gardener training – add “site:edu” to any google search to get Extension Office and/or agricultural science results. (As in: “how do I start vegetable seeds indoors site:edu”).
- Locate a nursery or garden supply store that carries seeds and soil. Please support your local small businesses if you can – without your help, they won’t make it through this current economic crisis. Trust me, Amazon and Walmart will do just fine. While many supply stores are temporarily closed, some still provide online shopping or curbside pick-up.
- Check out this OSU Extension resource (and also this one, but really anything by OSU) for suggestions regarding what to grow during the cool season of spring. Follow regional advice regarding what plants really should be planted indoors, for later transplanting, and which vegetables can be direct-sown outdoors.
- Start small, if you’re new to gardening. Maybe go with a couple of big patio containers with an assortment of peas, greens, herbs, and onions; when the peas and greens are done producing, transition in a cherry tomato plant and add some basil, maybe a pepper plant or a squash that can be trained to trail over a trellis. A wine barrel can generate a lot of produce, especially if planted with well-amended soil.
- Speaking of soil – healthy soil is essential if you want a successful crop. Get the best soil you can afford (and don’t fill patio containers with straight yard soil). Start seeds in purchased seedling soil or make your own homemade, lightweight, sterile medium. I’ve used a bag of regular, organic (unfertilized) indoor potting soil in a pinch but some seeds have a harder time germinating in heavier soil. Start your own homemade compost system, if you haven’t already, to amend new or existing containers and beds. Here’s some additional resources .
- Seeds need soil, water, and warmth in order to germinate. This is where a propagation heat mat comes in, for many of the vegetables you’ll start inside. And be sure to harden plants off before plopping them into the ground, or they’ll go into shock – and worse case, flat-out die.
- Once your seedlings have been transplanted (or your seeds have sprouted), monitor them regularly. Ideally, daily. Watch out for slugs, snails, and other pests that will munch up your new garden babies. Row covers and homemade cloches (such as juice or milk containers with the bottoms cut off) can help protect starts, but you’ll lose some leaves to the critters. That’s nature. I’ve learned to plant some crops such as Chinese Cabbage and Pak Choi only in the fall. Here’s some additional slug baiting tips.