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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reader's Question: Getting started

Hi everyone,
I have been reading you blog for a little while now and I am very interested in growing my families produce and using as much as we can from our own garden... But I have a few questions.
We live in an apartment/duplex in a suburb with a small gated front yard, I have a raised bed planter that is 12 x 2 feet and we have a grassy yard with other room and a bed with ivy and shrubs (provided by apt). I know I have room to do something more productive with.
Is is too late to start seeds this year, I live in southern CA? Also, how much cost is involved is 'starting from scratch'? Also, would it be possible to have like 2 chickens in my front yard, in a coop of course...
Would any of this be possible, I am a full time working mom, my kids are little (2 & newborn) Do my plans sound a little too over the top for how much time I am able to spend taking care of everything? I could do 30 mins. in the morning and I have the weekends off. Please let me know, I am anxious to get started. Thanks and sorry to ramble... I guess I am unsure where to start.

Dear Kayla,

How wonderful that you want to grow produce for your family! Such motivation is the main ingredient to growing a garden. It's entirely possible, with the space and time commitments that you described, to raise some great food. Plus, it's not too late in the season to start from scratch.

When starting a garden the biggest outlay of time will be in preparing a plot or two. You mentioned having a 12 x 2 raised bed. If it gets at least six hours of sunlight each day, then it's a great place to grow your veggies.

Evaluate what soil is already there. You know how a bag of potting soil looks dark and rich, and flows through your fingers? You want your garden soil to be as much like that as possible, and this is accomplished by digging in organic material like compost.

I've been able to find cubic-foot size bags of composted manure (don't worry, it's well aged!) for $1. Start by spreading a 3-inch layer of compost over your area, then digging into the soil about 6 inches.

Set aside a weekend to prepare your garden bed. A shovel should suffice, or maybe your landlord might know of a source for your to borrow a small tiller. Or consider using containers instead. The cost of purchasing soil to fill containers might offset your time investment in preparing the bed. Do what's best for you.

You can plant your garden that same weekend, or use your available half hour over the next several mornings to plant seeds or seedlings. After the garden is planted, 30 minutes daily should be just right for weeding, watering and -- hooray! -- harvesting.

I found a calendar for Southern California planting:


Based on this, cucumbers, beans and summer and winter squashes would be great for you to plant from seed. Check out dollar stores to find seeds; you can often get several packets this way for a buck. All of these plants are great for a beginner.

At this time in the season I'd recommend planting pepper and tomatoes as seedlings. There's a small nursery in my neighborhood that sells seedlings starting about 40 cents each (I love this place!). Look for a locally owned greenhouse in your area, and maybe you also could be so lucky.

My biggest advice to you as you start your gardening adventure, Kayla, is to start small! You'll get so much more satisfaction if you raise just one healthy, beautiful tomato plant than if a big garden plot goes to weed. You're raising children, too, and that counts for a lot.

Best of luck!


1 comment:

marisa said...

Great article Jennifer. I think that the key for someone who wants to start gardening is to just do it. It doesn't mater if it's one tomato plant or herb garden, get started and you will find it rewarding enough to do more and more.