By Allie Skalnik
There has never been a better time to get into gardening. With us all stuck at home, food is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity, and with the weather getting warmer by the day, it’s not too late to break out the ol’ trowel and put some seeds in the ground. You never know! Perhaps you’ll discover you have a passion for gardening.
It’s no wonder gardening is so popular. It’s relatively low-stakes and low-cost, since all you really need are some tupperware and seeds (no joke. I once grew cilantro in a yogurt container). And if you know what you’re doing, you can grow plants from food scraps or even learn how to harvest seeds from produce to use in years to come. There’s also something charmingly independent about gardening, and it’s stood the test of time. I take a disgusting amount of pride in being able to pat some seeds into the ground, do the absolute bare minimum in nurturing them, and then somehow come back with actual food that I can eat (if the squirrels don’t get to them first, of course). This has become even more appealing in the light of COVID-19, and it seems like others agree, seeing as lately the internet seems to be flooded with videos about gardening and raising chickens.
I’ve started gardening for the first time in a few years, so here are just a few of things I’ve learned so far.
Containers are amazing. Not only do they allow you to keep your plants mobile so you can account for shifting sunlight throughout the year, they allow you to try your hand at gardening with little-to-no commitment.
If you’re going to go my super cheap route of making containers out of tupperware, the most important thing is that you have drainage. I did this by taking a pint container of yogurt (empty) and poking holes in the bottom with an icepick. I wish I were joking. But it worked! From there, I filled the container with soil and planted some wonderful cilantro according to the instructions on the package.
Besides drainage, the other thing that really does matter with gardening is sunlight. When I can, I keep plants indoors in containers to avoid having to deal with critters and aphids and the like, so if you keep your plants inside, make sure they’re by an east or west-facing window. Follow the instructions on your seed package to determine whether your plant grows best in full, part sun, or shade.
Another option besides containers is to build raised beds. You’ve probably seen the raised beds in the Outdoor Classroom back at UHS, and there’s a reason why they’re so popularly used. The truth is that there’s only so much you can do with containers. At some point fifty different pots is just excessive, not to mention there are some plants that are just harder to grow inside. (Pumpkins? Squash? Yikes, that’s not gonna fit in a yogurt container) Building your own raised beds can be a really fun exercise if you want an excuse to play with a drill for a few hours (excellent tutorial here), but there are also kits and here’s an alternative tutorial that’s much less involved. Although, be warned, if you build the beds yourself, prepare to become that annoying person who texts pictures of it to everyone you know.
I mentioned it’s sometimes hard to grow plants (but especially produce) outside because of animals. The solution I’ve come up with is a chicken-wire cage. I used PVC instead of wood, but here’s a tutorial for making it yourself. I also modified this design to have a ‘door’ for watering (kit). It keeps animals out (but not, as I’ve found, aphids or tomato worms, so just check your produce carefully) without using the kind of pesticides or herbicides you’d rather not spray on things you ingest.
To fertilize or not to fertilize? If I’m using good potting soil or compost, I’ve never had to fertilize my plants. However, I understand it may be necessary in some circumstances. If you decide to fertilize and your plants are outdoors, consider if fertilizer could possibly run off into waterways.
There’s an expiration date on seeds, and I’ve recently found that, yes, they do actually mean something. I tried to plant some basil and cilantro recently from seeds dated to around 2013, and at first, I got really excited for a minute there, before I realized that what was growing were weeds. So if you find some seeds tucked away in a drawer from an Earth Day activity in middle school, I’d say, “Plant ‘em! You have absolutely nothing to lose.” Just don’t hold your breath.
Lastly, here’s a list of some awesome plants to start with, should you find yourself incredibly bored and in search of a hobby that takes no skill at all. (I tried to learn to draw the other day, and I’m still quite bitter about it.)
- Herbs! (Basil and cilantro are really easy to grow and also very useful in cooking. If you plant basil, please be careful not to grow too much. About three plants took over my entire planting bed one year, and it was utterly terrifying)
- Snow peas (This is one of my favorite things to grow because it’s really easy, they’re fascinating to watch as they climb, and they’re really fun to snack on)
- Tomatoes (The fun thing about tomatoes is that, unlike most plants, when you transplant a tomato plant, you can bury the stem up until the first leaves. The little hairs on the stem will become roots! Just watch out for tomato worms.)
- Marigolds (Not only are they pretty, they keep the bugs away!)
- Potatoes (While it may not be the first plant you think of, consider chopping old potatoes you aren’t going to eat into pieces with one eye each. Then just plop them in the ground. It’s really that easy)
Enjoy! And happy gardening! As always, stay healthy and safe!