People are really excited about growing their own food. When we practice urban farming or gardening, we celebrate ancient wisdom of nourishing our bodies, our communities, and our land. There’s a reason there’s been a huge increase in home and community gardens, it makes us feel great!
Even with our shortage of green spaces here in NYC, gardeners and farmers grow extraordinary amounts of food. Farming Concrete reports, ‘In 2010, 110 community gardeners weighed their harvests…we estimate that…87,700 lbs of fresh produce was grown on just 1.7 acres, worth more than $200,000.’ Don't let a pesky thing like not having your own yard get in your way. Where there's a will, there's a way.
There are tons of easy mistakes for novices to make AFTER the ground thaws and the growing season starts. There are also big mistakes you can make BEFORE you ever plant a seed. Like anything in life, a good plan will get you about 80% of the way to your goal. If you want a bountiful garden this summer, do your research now, and enjoy the garden ride knowing you’ve reduced your risks of total crop failure and emotional let down. Gardening is high stakes experimentation: it takes 4 months to go from seed to tomato, so you want to make sure you start out right.
There is so much free information available online for new gardeners or growers that it’s incredibly easy to get lost in the information and not know when something is important until you have lost your entire crop of tomatoes. I want everyone who spends their time gardening to reap the full benefits of the garden experience, so I’m sharing my list of most common mistakes that people make TODAY and until the ground thaws.
- ‘It’s winter, I’ll think about it later’ – If you’re plan is to go to the garden store in April and ask a bunch of questions, plant what you can find, and hopefully eat some herbs and veggies, your success or failure will depend on your innate knowledge of biological processes and the store’s ability to guess your needs. You might even feel wildly successful because you were able to eat some homegrown deliciousness, but what you won’t know is how much MORE efficient and bountiful your harvest could have been if you had done some research and created a plan. It’s February, and farmers have already created their crop plans, ordered their seeds, and probably planted their leeks and onions. You still have lots of time to plan if you start now. (NOTE: dates for your growing zone may vary.)
- ‘There’s nothing magical about soil’ – If you intend on eating your vegetables, you should be deeply interested in what your plants are ‘eating’. All growing mediums are not created equally. Have you gotten a soil test to know what you’ll be consuming? If you don’t have access to soil, how do you feel about the nutrient differences between container gardening, rooftop farming (which is essentially a giant container), hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics? Sure, you might be conserving water with hydroponics, but is your nutrient source sustainable? Does that answer factor into your decision making process or not? At some point, the nutrients that your plants take up are coming from the earth, so this is an opportunity to define what you want your relationship to be with our planet. If you want to dive into the magic of soil, I recommend the book ‘Teaming with Microbes’ as a wonderful underground journey.
- ‘I’ll figure out what to do in the garden when I get there’ – Spending time pulling weeds because you don’t know what else you’re supposed to be doing in the garden is not the best use of your energy (unless you love pulling weeds). Defining your gardening style for your favorite crops allows you to move through your garden with confidence and ease. And let’s be real. The sunniest, most gorgeous days are the days that you want to go to the beach or hiking, and those are the same days that are going to kill all your hard work in the garden. If you have a full and busy life and it is not your intention to spend all your free time tending your garden, then you need to know exactly how to spend time nurturing your plants in a way that suits your lifestyle. And about those weeds…if you plan well.
- ‘I’ll harvest whenever I’m hungry’ – Edibles will surprise you with their abundance if you pay attention to their manicuring needs. Pre-season is the time to plan if you are planting cut and come again crops and what your pruning technique will be for your precious fruiting vines. You’ll end up with a harvest schedule that will maximize your yield, help you plan special meals, and make tons of space for more plants.
- ‘I forgot what I did last year’ – If you plan to grow food each year, get a journal. Science experiments require observation if you ever want to replicate or change the outcome. Don’t rely on your memory. You will inevitably forget if you planted that broccoli July 31st or August 7th, and that one week could be the difference between eating broccoli in the fall and just getting some broccoli leaves (which are still delicious, but anti-climatic).
Your relationship to your garden starts before you plant any seeds or seedlings. Address these 5 issues and you will be well on your way to a bountiful harvest. Make your commitment now and you will already be enjoying time spent in your garden this season.