Now is the Time to Learn To Grow
Like many Americans you, by now, may be seeing empty produce bins in your local grocery store. Your grocer may offer a narrower selection. You may have thought about planting a small garden, but you don’t know where to start. In this essay, I hope to help you sort that out with a few of my favorite resources and what works in my gardening experience. There are a few ways that one can grow food: containers, raised beds, or in-ground. Each has its benefits and disadvantages. Add drip irrigation to your container or raised bed garden and ensure adequate moisture to your home grown veggies whilst avoiding wasting of water on unplanted ground and on inadvertently nurturing weeds.
Very useful information on home grown food and gardening is available through the Land-Grant Universities (LGU) , such as Clemson University and Texas A & M. The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture partners with the LGU schools and with counties across the country through Co-op Research and Extension Services. These county offices are there to serve you locally – don’t hesitate to contact them with questions about home gardening, including soil testing. To find yours, type your county name and “cooperative extension service” into your search bar.
Container Grown Gardening
Containers can range from a plastic or clay pot to a 5-gallon pail from Lowe’s or Home Depot to a grow bag. Most container gardening uses a commercial or bagged potting mix. Some mixes contain a slow-release fertilizer which will need to be supplemented with a dry or liquid fertilizer during rapid growth. Vegetables grown in containers do not face the organisms that attack the roots of those grown in the ground. There is flexibility of location – place your containers anywhere; move them to a protected area if weather threatens. Container gardening can be more expensive than other methods; clay pots are not inexpensive, and the soil will have to be replaced with subsequent plantings. Container plants must be watered more frequently; the soil dries out quickly. As container plants are watered, the fertilizer nutrients in the soil will leech out, making it necessary to supplement feeding. For more information on container vegetable gardening, look here and here.
Raised Bed Gardening
Raised garden beds may be filled with a bulk garden mix purchased from a local landscape supplier or mulch dealer. One may also choose to make a mix using one-third each topsoil, peat moss, and compost. A favorite is mushroom compost because it is rich in nutrients. Raised beds may be built from any material, except creosote-treated railroad ties, which is strong enough to contain the soil from escaping. The soil depth should be ten to twelve inches. More is not better; most vegetables have a shallow root system. Clemson Cooperative Extension, Home & Garden Information Center offers advice here on raised beds. Raised beds require supplemental fertilizer during rapid growth. They also require frequent watering and monitoring for attacks from in-ground organisms and from insects, however weeding is a breeze!
In ground gardening requires soil of good quality, capable of growing food. This does not include DIRT – dirt is dead soil. Soil is like a miniature civilization, an eco-system made up of microbes, bacteria, fungi, algae, and many other interacting components. If you want to garden, but have only dirt, do not fret – DIRT can be changed to soil! Contact your County Cooperative Extension Service and test your dirt or soil. Follow their instructions to re-create living soil or to nurture unhealthy soil. If you choose in-ground gardening, you will need a sharp garden spade or a garden tiller to turn the soil. You will need a garden rake and a hoe for making beds and removing weeds. There WILL be weeds!
Using a simple drip irrigation system to water your container garden and/or your raised garden beds will save you tons of time and money spent on water, and on electricity if you have a well pump. Drip irrigation can be used in a small-plot in-ground garden, as well. For larger gardens, I found a system of in-line sprinklers much more effective at coverage, despite the additional cost of water. Clemson Extension does provide information on drip or trickle irrigation, if you choose to research that method.
Your drip irrigation system begins at your outdoor faucet with a 2-way splitter. Below the splitter, install a faucet connection kit. Next, attach the desired length of 1/2 inch drip irrigation tubing fitted with a 3/4 in. x 1/2 in. FHT x MHT Hose Adapter. The Rain Bird Landscape & Garden Drip Watering Kit comes with clear installation instructions. For larger container or raised bed projects, add the Drip System Expansion and Repair Kit, which also includes a detailed troubleshooting guide.
Begin with a plan! Plan your garden NOW! while it is cold, make your plan, order seeds, learn about local insect pests and use the links and resources in this article to learn to grow. Use your garden plan to make a shopping list for your drip irrigation system. One handy and FREE garden plan and journal is available from Arbico Organics. Print this out and use it to plan and journal your gardening experience, your sources, and costs. Save the garden plan to use when planning the next year’s garden.
With the information provided above and the links below, you can choose your favorite method to try home gardening: Container gardening, Raised Bed gardening, or In-ground gardening – or you can try all three! Good Luck and Happy Growing!!!
Favorite Gardening and Food Links:
Learn: Planning A Garden: https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/planning-a-garden/ (note: check your nearest A&M or Land-Grant University for similar plans for your area)
Learn: Garden Planning and Tips https://www.seedsavers.org/learn
Learn More: Clemson Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center https://hgic.clemson.edu/
Seeds – Heirloom https://www.seedsavers.org/department/vegetable-seeds
Vegetable Gardening in Containers: https://cdn-ext.agnet.tamu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/EHT-062-vegetable-gardening-in-containers.pdf
Farmer’s Markets: Local Harvest (search by state) https://www.localharvest.org/farmers-markets/list