RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Few things are more recession-friendly than free food, and most Americans can grow some right in their own backyards. With the Obamas planting a White House garden and the Department of Agriculture converting its headquarters’ front lawn into an organic garden, the idea seems to be catching on.
THE DETAILS: Even city and local officials are jumping on the bandwagon. This past week, the mayor of Baltimore, MD, announced plans to convert 2,000 square feet of formal gardens in front of City Hall into a vegetable garden that will provide a local charity with enough fresh produce to feed 700 to 800 people a day. Similar plans are in place in Flint, MI. And Maria Shriver, the first lady of California, will do the same on the front lawn of the California governor’s mansion, as will the first ladies of Maryland and Georgia.
WHAT IT MEANS: Whether it’s inspiration from the first family or just a need for high-quality, inexpensive produce in tough times, backyard gardening has become so popular that the National Gardening Association predicts a 40 percent jump in the number of people growing food in their backyards this year.
If you’re in the mood to create a bounty of produce this spring, but have never had garden soil under your fingernails before, here are a few basic tips for novice gardeners from Organic Gardening magazine:
• Get outfitted with the proper tools. It’s easy to get carried away when you start walking the aisles at the garden center. But you only need six basic tools, a few of which you may already have: a trowel, hand-weeding tool, hoe, fork, spade, and a pair of pruners.
• Water the soil before you seed. If you wait until after, you might swamp the seeds or wash them out of the soil.
• Read the seed packets. After you’ve chosen which vegetables to plant, read the packets closely to see how deeply and how far apart the seeds should be planted; as rule of thumb, bury a seed as deep as its diameter. Sprinkle the soil on top, pressing down gently to make sure the seed comes in contact with it. If you accidentally planted seeds too closely, pull out some of the sprouts after they come up so there’s room for the remaining plants to grow.
• Group your crops. Planting different kinds of vegetables together helps to reduce pests. Also, if you group the most water-intensive crops together, you can save water by dousing the thirstiest plants and sparing those that don’t need it. The book Great Garden Companions (Rodale, 1998) is a good resource for companion planting.
• Keep watering until you see signs of life. Add a light sprinkling whenever the topsoil gets dry, and keep doing that until the seeds sprout. After they do, use the “two-knuckle test”: Stick an index finger into the soil to a depth of two knuckles; if the soil still feels wet, no need to water. Also, make the most of your watering sessions (benefiting both the plants’ health and the world’s water supply) by watering in the morning or early evening, when the water’s less likely to evaporate.
Filed Under: ORGANIC GARDENING
Published on: April 9, 2009