3 Quick Steps to Home
Gardening in Even the Smallest of Spaces By Denis
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There's no denying the benefits of a home
garden. It provides healthy, organic food that spends mere minutes traveling
from plot to plate, ensuring freshness that translates to more nutrients.
Furthermore, a home garden means exercise, outdoor time, and savings at the
But, unfortunately, planting that plot can
seem a little like skydiving. Everyone wants to be the kind of person who does
it, but when you're faced with the actual prospect, it suddenly seems
Truth is, they're not at all the same. When
you're 12,500 feet in the air, you're either in the plane or out of the plane;
there's really no in-between. Conversely, a home garden can grow slowly. Even
the smallest of gardens - one rosemary plant in a terra-cotta pot - can be
vastly rewarding. So find yourself a little dirt and a couple of seeds, and let
us show you how to get started.
Where to plant your seed?
you're a rural homeowner, finding a little dirt isn't an issue, but we can't
all be so lucky. If you don't have access to huge tracts of land, get
yourself some pots. Unless you want to plant something pervasive like
melon, most produce will do fine in terra-cotta or plastic confines. If you're
not sure, read the instructions on the seed pack or ask the person you buy your
don't have the space for that, you can always hang a flower
box from your sunniest window or your balcony. I live in a tiny
apartment in Los Angeles, so I don't grow squash in my backyard (given I don't
have one) but between pots and flower boxes, my green thumb gets an excellent
are also a growing trend. These large, open spaces
subdivided into smaller plots for individual gardeners add a great social
aspect to your weeding and hoeing experience. It's also an excellent way to
learn from more experienced gardeners and to barter fruits and veggies. Grew
too many squash this year? I bet that guy with all the tomatoes would be
willing to swap a few.
community garden in your area using the American Community Gardening
Association's Web site. (www.communitygarden.org)
are also a good place to start. Many of them are low maintenance, and unlike
fruits and veggies, there's no waiting around for the yield. As soon as your
plant is established, you can start clipping leaves. Furthermore, they take up
little space, making them ideal for the aforementioned flower box.
herbs can produce more leaves than you need. The best solution for this happy
problem is to pluck those leaves and dry them out in the sun under cheesecloth
to prevent pests and wind from getting at them.
off with perennial plants, or plants that grow for years.
Three particularly tough perennials that I always have on hand are
mint, oregano, and rosemary. Although they can require
watering, I basically ignore them until I want to zing up my pizza or iced tea,
then it's just snip and enjoy.
Parsley is a biannual, meaning it produces leaves in its first year
and flowers in its second year, and then it dies. But it's very robust and
during that first year, you'll have all the parsley you need.
tarragon, and chives are also easy perennials to try.
you've mastered perennials, you can try annuals, which only
last one season and require a little more care. Basil can be
used in scores of recipes. The trick to getting it to last all summer is to
pluck off the flower buds every morning. The more you pluck, the harder it'll
try to grow and the more leaves you get to put in your pesto.
works in a similar fashion. Every morning, pluck the
flowers and set them aside. For every one you pluck, two more will grow. Dry
these flowers under cheesecloth. By the time a well-managed chamomile dies in
fall, it will have provided tea for months into the winter.
good annuals include dill and cilantro.
Produce some produce.
simple at first. Leafy greens are a great place to start. Like
herbs, you can harvest from them all season long. I've had great success with
arugula and chard.
tomatoes are supposed to be hardy and fun to grow, I've always found them to be
a pain. You need to stake them, and because they're bright red and sweet,
they're particularly susceptible to pests like possums. If you don't want to
fight that fight, try something just as tough but not as delectable. If you
have space, it's hard to miss with any kind of squash or cucumbers. If
space is limited, try Japanese eggplant or chili peppers. Considering
that Serrano chiles are five times hotter than jalapeÃ±os,
rodents don't mess with Serrano chile.
mind that the plants I'm mentioning above are just things I've had success
with. Don't be afraid to experiment on your own. I have yet to try growing
beans, but I hear good things. If a crop doesn't work, it will cost you little
more than a bag of seeds and a little real estate. No big thing.
downside of growing your own food is that, well, a person can only eat so many
cucumbers. I make a point of sharing particular large harvests with my
neighbors. It's a practice that has made me plenty of friends and resulted in
unexpected payback when I needed it most, once as free legal advice and another
time in the form of pie. But if you want quicker returns on your crops,
look into garden exchanges in your area, where backyard
farmers meet to swap produce.
Web search for "garden share" or "food share" and your state or city should be
enough to find like-minded people in your area.
of packing up a summer's worth of produce and heading out to a fruit 'n' veg
swap meet may seem a million miles away at this point, so don't rush it. As I
said at the start, one pot and a few seeds is all it takes. Once you master
that, your green thumb will itch for more and every year your garden will grow
a little bigger without your even needing to try. It'll just happen . . .