As previously seen on Wit & Delight
Editor’s Note: As the days continue to heat up and we move along toward the heart of summer, we’re unearthing (do you get it??) this post penned by Monique Seitz-Davis in 2018. Below, you’ll find Monique’s top ten tips for gardening like a pro. We hope you find her words helpful and applicable to all your future planting endeavors. Have a good weekend folks.
In my humble opinion, one of life’s greatest rewards is eating a sun-warmed cherry tomato straight off the vine. Between the immediate-snack-satisfaction, snappy exterior, and subtly rich flavors, it’s hard to go wrong with such a gratifying experience—especially when you’re the mastermind behind its growth and splendor. That said, you can garden all you want with the best of intentions but sometimes things just simply go awry.
Before you even start planting or planning, you need to know what planting zone you’re located in. Planting zones (also known as regions) are largely determined by a geographical area’s climate ranges—so, a state such as Vermont will have an entirely different planting zone than Utah. Ultimately, planting zones are intended to help plants thrive and survive, and therefore ensure that gardeners have a bountiful harvest. To find out what zone you’re in, visit the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
Once you’ve identified your planting region, determine what type of gardening approach is best suited for your home or lifestyle. For example, those who live in a city apartment can apply for a community garden plot or try their hand at container gardening—or, for folks who own or rent a house, raised bed gardening is a great option for beginners and experienced green thumbs alike. Ultimately, gardening does not discriminate: all you need is a bit of soil, seeds (or plants), sunshine, water, and love.
Take it from someone who’s learned the hard way: lush, fertile soil is an extremely important part of a successful garden. So, if you’re intending to plant directly into existing soil, you must-must-must-must have your soil tested before breaking ground. Soil can contain any myriad of bad juju and awful toxins that you don’t want in your fruits or vegetables. To get your soil tested, reach out to a local university’s agricultural program or do a DIY test with an at-home kit. However, if you’re starting from scratch (be it in a container, raised bed, or freshly dug out space) you’ll want to have equal parts ⅓ vermiculite, ⅓ blended compost, and ⅓ peat moss.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten overly excited at a plant sale, bought stuff I don’t enjoy eating (re: kohlrabi), and then neglected said plant. I feel terrible having done such cruel things to my plant babies, but, I learned a valuable lesson from it: sow seeds and buy plants that you enjoy eating or will want to share with others once harvest time rolls around. This approach will help you maintain excitement and love for your garden because (if I’m being totally honest) sometimes gardens and the responsibilities that come along with them can be persnickety, annoying, and a hint inconvenient. I do recommend that all gardens have a pollinator-friendly plant in tow. Whether it’s milkweed, wildflowers, or sunflowers, the choice is yours—just make sure you plant something for the bees!
To help you stay on track with gardening to-do’s or harvest dates, grab yourself a calendar to write down gardening tasks. Or, better yet, make a repurposed one out of old paper bags—you won’t need a full year calendar for gardening purposes, so you can easily get away with making an amended, 5-month version if you want to.
The best time to water is in the early morning, before the sun is too strong, and in the late evening. Additionally, you’ll want to water at the base of the plant; do NOT water the leaves—leftover water can burn the leaves or induce moldy spore disease (neither of which you want). At the end of the day, the easiest way to love on your plants is to give them a little TLC with water and attention. Some plants will require more water than others so be sure to read about the watering instructions for each plant. It’s very easy to overwater plants—this can invite unwanted pests or cause root rot or mold, which in turn can kill your precious plant babies.
I often view weeds as misplaced plants, but as far as your garden is concerned, weeds can be harmful and impede the growth or success of your plants. Not only that but weeds can also encourage the prolonged visitation of pests and disease, so you’ll want to keep up on the general maintenance of your garden. I recommend weeding as often as you can to prevent little weeds from turning into bigger problems.
As much as you want those wee tomato seedlings to transform into fruit-yielding mega monsters overnight, you’ll need to be patient. Plant growth often takes time, so learn to enjoy the long (and sometimes drawn out) process of seasonality.
On your garden calendar, make note of when your plants’ fruit will be ready to harvest. It’s extremely easy to get excited and preemptively dig up potatoes or pick a tomato off the vine before it’s ripe, but save yourself the heartache of doing so. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a valuable resource and has a wealth of knowledge to help you figure out when a plant’s harvest date is.
Whether you’re planning a harvest dinner party or grazing on sun-warmed cherry tomatoes off the vine, be sure to enjoy and share the moments as they come. If you’re seeking inspiration for seasonal vegetarian dishes, one of my favorite books is The Political Palate: A Feminist Vegetarian Cookbook. Sadly, the first edition went out of print, but the second and third editions are still available.
If you end up using any of our garden tips, or have some of your own, please leave us a little comment love and let us know the insider info!
BY Monique Seitz-Davis - June 27, 2020
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Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.
These are great tips, but I might update the post with alternatives to peat moss. It’s not something we should be using these days — especially not filling 1/3 of raised beds with it.