Now that we are already halfway through May, the cold winter is finally over and we can start getting our hands deep into some delicious soil to sow the seeds that will feed ourselves, our friends and family through the summer months. Many of you savvy Bay Area shoppers out there are probably asking, “Why go through the trouble of planting a little garden if I can go to the Berkeley Bowl and Farmers’ Market to shop for my veggies?” Well, dear friends, allow me to explain.
As an avid shopper of both these locales, I can say with great confidence that after years of growing my own vegetables I can say with a great degree of certainty that nothing tastes better nor more rewarding than eating food that you planted as little plant babies. Furthermore, it’s impossible to eat something that is more nutritious or that has a smaller ecological footprint than produce picked from your own backyard. Even food from the farmer’s market is often picked the day before at best, which is fresh, but the food is still not nearly as alive as something that still has fresh dirt on it. Plants begin to deteriorate as soon as they are picked; it’s like pulling a fish out of water except that the water that plants swim in is soil.
So now that I’ve convinced you to plant your own homegrown vegetables, it’s time to pick out a suitable spot, till the earth and then put in some seeds or starts. The experienced gardener is already likely well versed in how to make a simple garden, but for those of you out there who are hesitant because you think it’s too hard, allow me to share some easy steps to ensuring that you’ll have some healthy veggies.
The first and most important rule when starting your first garden is to keep it simple! Pick three or four vegetables to grow and don’t get crazy trying to plant out a half acre. Just pick a suitable little area that gets sun and break up the soil well with a pick. After that I recommend putting a little bit of organic planting soil to rake in because oftentimes neighborhood plots can use a little extra juice since the soil doesn’t go down as deep as on a farm (most likely).
Once you have your beautifully tilled earth ready to go, I recommend going to a local nursery and picking a few starts instead of growing from seed. That way you are guaranteed to at least get something going. Starting from seed can be difficult at first and it takes a lot of time and extra care (it’s worth it but not everyone has the time or energy). If you are unsure of what to buy, the classics are always great: tomato, cucumber, squash and corn. These typically do well in California in the summer and most nurseries will have nice starts of these plants.
Finally, pick out where you want to plant everything. Get a feel for where the sun will be travelling every day so that you don’t shade out the lower lying plants like cucumber and squash. These should be the ones casting shade on the tomatoes because the tomatoes will get much taller and will reach the sun anyhow.
A big mistake when people are planting starts is that they don’t dig a big enough hole. There should be enough room so that the roots are completely covered with soil once you cover it back up. Afterwards you will want to firmly pat the dirt around your plants with the palms of your hands. It’s best to do this in the evening because it will be cooler and this will shock the plants less. Give each plant plenty of water the first couple of days and aim for the roots, you don’t want to just gently spray the tops as it doesn’t do anything but clean them.
If you are wondering what to do with these veggies you can come join one of our great chefs at Kitchen on Fire for one of our seasonal vegetarian classes or farmers’ market tours to learn how to make great dishes with the beautiful food that you will soon have hanging of your plants! (Next Farmers’ Market Tour: Saturday, June 2nd)