If you’ve ever eaten produce coming straight from the garden or farm, you know how delicious it tastes. And what’s more, you know where it came and more about how it was produced.
Today, much of our store-bought produce is lackluster. Besides being sprayed and coated with all kinds of chemicals, they are picked early (unripe), and shipped across the country. In fact, in the United States, fresh produce travels an average of 1,500 miles from the farm to your table. This causes our food to lose much of its nutrient value.
To get that fresh out-of-the garden taste, why not learn to grow fresh vegetables in your own back yard? You could eat them fresh, preserve them for later, or give them away to your neighbors and friends. And because your produce will be fresh-picked, it will be loaded with nutrient and great taste.
In addition to these benefits, the experience of working with nature and understanding how things grow can be a calming and peaceful experience. Also, gardening can be good exercise as well. It gets you out of the house, moving, and breathing fresh air.
To help you get started, we interviewed 3 families with about 90 years of collective gardening experience. Let’s meet them.
Greg and Bonnie Gallea
Have gardened for about 47 years. Greg started helping in his families raspberry patch when he was only seven. They love fresh tomatoes and hot peppers.
Garden size: When he was young, Greg had a 2-acre hobby farm with a fruit stand. However, today their garden has shrunk due to time constraints. Today, their garden is about 20’X40’ with 4 fruit trees.
Reasons for gardening: I love to watch things grow. There is nothing better tasting than fresh fruits and vegetables.
Linda and Scott Learned
Have been gardening for 27 years and never get tired of fresh tomatoes and salsa.
Garden size: Not counting flowerbeds or our fruit orchard, we have 3 garden plots: 20’X25’, 30’X30’, and 50’X30’. A few years I told myself I would only grow as big a garden as I felt I could take care of.
Reasons for gardening: The garden is a place where I can relax from the hectic schedules of life. I can think and reflect on life’s joys and challenges. It’s fun to work with God through this avenue of nature.
This is my mom. She has been gardening off and on for about 20 years, but has gotten more serious over the last 5 years. She loves tomatoes for canning spaghetti sauce and salsa.
Garden size: 15’X20’. It gets bigger every year, but they still don’t think it is big enough.
Reasons for gardening: People are so dependent on purchasing food. Many don’t know how to cook, let alone garden. I want to learn how to grow and can my own food so when trouble comes, I won’t be clueless.
Here’s some advice from our gardeners on how to get started:
How to start:
When gardening, it is best to start small. Linda’s advice: “One of the biggest mistakes is when a beginner starts with too large of a garden. Start small and tend it well as you go. A small, well-tended garden will be much more rewarding than a large weedy one.”
As you gain more experience, you can easily expand your plot from year to year. Easy plants to start with are tomatoes, cucumbers and green beans.
If you don’t have much space, you can always consider planting in pots. Tomatoes and peppers do well in pots and can decorate your balcony or patio. You could also consider having a little herb garden in your kitchen window.
Prepare the soil:
Greg says, “Manure and peat are important to add to the soil. We fertilize with a water-soluble type of fertilizer that absorbs through the leaves of the plants and into the roots in the soil.”
Linda and Kim have recently started using a different method of soil preparation. The method is pretty simple. The first year, you cover your garden with a heavy blanket of mulch and then plant. Each year after that, you may add some more mulch on top, but you do not till the soil or fertilize. As the mulch breaks down over time, it will act as fertilizer. The mulch also helps retains moisture in the soil and makes weeding much easier. If you are interested in learning more about this method, check out this film.
Kim says, “Look for seed packets that are organic, or buy heirloom seeds on the internet. Besides producing a better quality fruit, you can replant the seeds you harvest. This will save you the money of buying new seeds every year. Most conventional seeds have ‘terminator genes,’ which cause the second-generation seeds to be sterile. This forces you to buy new ones every year.
To deal with pests, get in the garden every day. This way, Linda says, you can spot potential problems before they get out of hand. Spray only if you need to, and be aware that there are organic methods of pest control that work well.
If you run into a big problem with pests and disease, Greg recommends talking with someone at your local garden center. They are happy to help you and are experts when it comes to these things. Kim also recommends putting chicken wire around your garden to keep out animals like dogs, cats, and rabbits.
Biggest mistake they have made:
Greg: Not rotating plants. Each type of plant depletes the soil of different nutrients and rotating will allow the soil to rejuvenate. It also helps alleviate diseases such as blight.
Linda: Some of my houseplants were infested with white flies. I put the plants outside and the flies spread everywhere. Fortunately our Minnesota winter killed them off.
Kim: The biggest mistake I made was planting some herbs in the garden area. They can be very invasive and take over the whole garden. Herbs should be planted in a separate garden plot.
Linda says, “Become good friends with someone who gardens. They can give you many wonderful tips for a successful garden.”
So, give gardening a try. You’ll be glad you did. Remember, you may start off small, but as you learn and expand your garden, you’ll soon be up to your knees in fresh produce. P.s. If you’re interested in canning any of that fresh produce check out our article on canning.
Or check out these gardening resources for further information:
 Hill, Holly. “Food Miles: Background and Marketing”. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, 2008.