So, this is the year you’re finally going to start gardening? Or perhaps re-start? Good for you! I’m with you all the way. Gardening is great for getting us outdoors, connecting us with Mother Earth, escaping from the stresses of daily life, and, of course, growing your own healthy, nutrient-dense produce!
Let’s keep it simple! Gardening is supposed to be fun, not overwhelming. I've built on my knowledge year-by-year because there’s no need to know everything from the outset in order to simply get started, and you can take that approach, too. But it is a good idea to have a little bit of an idea of where you’re headed. To the garden!
January is a wonderful time for garden dreaming and seed buying. Seed buying is fun, exciting, and it can be inexpensive. I recommend not doing what I’ve done nearly every year, which is way over-buy seeds. But honestly, it’s hard not to. And really, what’s the harm? In my experience, seeds keep longer than the date indicated on the packet. My favorite company for heirloom seeds that produce gorgeous herbs and produce like those pictured below (I got really nerdy and made cut-out collages of the plants I want to grow) is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. You can find them at www.rareseeds.com.
My first year of gardening was laughable. I had no idea what I was doing, but we had just moved to the country, and gardening piqued my interest for the first time, maybe ever. My dad always had a tomato garden when I was growing up, my paternal grandparents are gardeners, and my paternal great-grandparents were farmers. But it wasn’t until I was 25 that the idea that I could garden occurred to me.
There was a pile of bricks on our property – good enough to frame out a garden, I figured! I didn’t buy compost, soil amendments… nothing. I just found a sunny patch of dirt where not much grass was growing, and decided that was to be the spot.
I planted some spinach seeds and cuts of red potatoes, watered regularly, and hoped that something would happen. To my amazement (truly, it’s amazing the first time you make something grow), gracious little spinach seedlings sprouted and the potato root cuttings began sending up leafy potato plants! I don’t think the potato plants made it far enough for me to harvest any potatoes from them that year, but the spinach grew big enough for me to eat it. What a goddamn miracle. Seriously.
Although it’s funny to think back on my not-so-long-ago gardening beginnings, there’s also a solid lesson in it – just get started - with whatever you have and wherever you are. Your garden does not need to be a spacious country garden, you do not need an assortment of trellises, or raised beds, or a variety of crops. You can absolutely get started – today – with whatever you’ve got.
Got a suburban backyard? Great. A small porch at your apartment? Perfect. A sunny window? You can make it work. And guess what? You only need one plant to get started. None of us know what the future may bring; maybe next year, or in five years, or in the next decade, you’ll have that *ideal* gardening space that you dream of. But in the meantime, let’s get started. Gardening doesn’t have to wait.
As I mentioned, you build on your gardening knowledge. For me (anxiety-prone and leaning toward more Type B personality, probably my brain trying to offset said anxiety), it suits me better to try something with what little information and skills I have, and build on them from there. I can get overwhelmed easily if I try to plan too much ahead of time, and I can get totally frozen in place by perfectionism if I load up on information before just getting my hands in the dirt.
I probably don’t need to tell you – I mean, you’re already here – but there are so many reasons to garden. Here are a few reasons why I garden:
1. Mental health. The times in which my mental health has suffered the most, I’ve found great reprieve and solace in my garden. I call it my little safe space. My plants are my friends and allies, and whether I’m pulling weeds, planting new seeds, transplanting seedlings that I’ve grown, or simply sitting in my chair enjoying the company of my garden, I feel cared for and seen by Mother Nature. Maybe it sounds woo-woo, but it's true-woo. There is research that connects gardening to improved mental health. Check it out on our mutual friend, Google (Morgan, you smart ass).
2. Connection to the Earth and Ancestors. Us modern-day humans are hyper-connected to our devices, and we hear all the time that though we are perhaps more connected than ever, we are also lonelier than ever. Gardening, for me, is one way to pry myself away from my devices and fully focus and engage with other natural beings. I don’t shame myself on the occasion that I do bring my phone to the garden – have to get pics, duh – but I do try to be mindful of my intention for my garden to be a tech-free zone. This is the reason why I’ve never used a gardening app. I’m sure they are uber-helpful, and people who use them love them, but I don’t want to open that particular door for fear that I won’t be able to close it, thereby compromising my tech-free-zone-motto.
I feel a visceral connection to not only my, but all of our ancestors, when I garden. I have the privilege of gardening on the ancestral lands of the Kaw and Osage, and I am not blind to the fact that this land was used by those indigenous people to sustain their bodies and ways of life. As a white woman, I have to acknowledge the violent history of my ancestors and the native peoples of these lands – otherwise I am ignoring a critical piece of the story, and just being downright ignorant to boot. That said, I also feel connected to my (European) ancestors when I garden. Though on different lands, they, too, lived off the bounty of their labor and the gifts that nature provides. Connecting to ancestors matters to me because it reminds me that I am so small, not only in a sense of the sheer capacity of the Earth and all life that lives upon it, but also in a historical sense. There is more to know that I could ever dream of knowing, and that gives me a kind of peace.
3. Learning. When the pandemic began in early 2020, my husband Kory and I found ourselves employed but at a standstill. Although I had already been a gardener for a couple of years, we did what many people across the globe did – we took to the garden. We built a fence together, with plans published by our good friends Hannah Aften and Jake Lasorsa, to keep out the chickens and dogs. We increased the footprint of the garden, and planned to dig in – literally – during the upcoming and unknown year that was 2020. What I didn’t anticipate is how much I would learn, not only from my garden, but in my garden as well. I listened to innumerable podcasts while gardening on topics such as racial injustice, the history of race and racism in the United States, lots of Brene Brown, and more. I cultivated a list of several favorite podcasts, which I’m happy to share with you if you’re interested.
I’ve learned so much from the garden as well. It makes my chest ache with nostalgia actually, to think about how much my little plot of earth has taught me about nature, food, life, and myself over the past four years. I think I dare to say that my garden has been my greatest teacher, ever. I’ve learned the names and habits of dozens of plants – vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers – I’ve learned about the phases of the moon and their effect on my plants, I’ve learned that dirt contains phytoncides, which are compounds in the soil that are released and which we smell, thereby triggering a response in our bodies that is directly linked to improved happiness and health. Putting hands in the soil is sometimes referred to as ‘natural Prozac’, the effect is that strong.
4. Providing my family with healthy produce. What I grow in my garden, I have observed and tended from seed to fruit. There are no questions regarding what it’s been exposed to chemically, what kind of labor it took to get it to me (just lots of sweaty Morgan-labor!!!) and whether or not people are being exploited to feed me, or what its carbon footprint is. I buy seeds that are harvested and sold organically and locally by small enterprises, or I use seeds that I’ve collected from my own plants. It’s one of the few ways I can rest assured that the food I’m eating and feeding my family is ethical to people and land, herbicide- and pesticide-free, and nutrient-dense.
There are, of course, many, many more reasons to garden than those just listed. I've got too many reasons to fit into one blog post. Gardening is such a blessing in that way.
So, let us make haste! Here are some quick tips for new gardeners getting started this year.
Easy first-time plants for the beginner gardener:
*Note, although it's amazing to see something grow that you've started from seed, there's major benefit to buying plant starts (little baby plants!) if you are brand-new to gardening. There's still so much to learn from tending baby plants and watching them grow, and it can be a lot more rewarding for the beginner gardener because you have a higher likelihood of success. But, by no means am I telling you to not start from seed if that's what's calling to you! Just a consideration.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds | www.rareseeds.com
Potting soil (indoor/container gardens/raised beds):
My favorite brand is Fox Farm's Happy Frog potting soil | foxfarm.com/product/happy-frog-potting-soil
I buy my compost in bulk locally at Vinland Valley Nursery in Baldwin City, Kansas. Find a nursery near you and see if they offer bulk compost as a purchasing option. You'll save money and reduce plastic waste.
Garden fence plans:
By my friend Jake Lasorsa, published by Mother Earth News | www.motherearthnews.com/diy/build-a-garden-fence-on-a-budget-zm0z2002znad
Inspiration and guidance:
I'm curious, what are your reasons for gardening or wanting to garden? What questions do you have about what was shared in this post? Tell me what you have growing or what you dream of growing! I love nerding out on all things gardening, and will respond to each comment left here!