Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day Encouragement

Today is a great day to start that vegetable garden you've been thinking about.

It's Earth Day, the official high-five for the planet that does a stellar job of keeping us alive. Around this magical date each year, my bunch picks out the plants that grow our summer groceries. We save money, we get fresh food, and it's good family fun. We may make that trip this weekend {stay tuned}, but for now I'm here to help you start.

We moved to the southwest corner of Arkansas for a better career and a slower lifestyle in fall 2009. I inherited a much bigger yard, away from people and closer to cows. Sometime after the big move, I caught a TV show featuring Michelle Obama in the White House garden. That was the day I ordered seed catalogs, sketched plans, and spent hours glued to the search bar and gardening forums. Since then I've learned countless lessons on how to make food in my yard. Today I am sharing a few steps to get any newbie going.

Step One: Have a plan before you grab a shovel. Pick a spot in your yard that gets full sun, away from tree roots. Know whether you want to do raised beds, rows, or containers. I started with two 4x8 raised bed frames and it was a great first garden. We dug out the grass, then filled in with compost and garden soil.

Step Two: Know what you want to grow. In my {non-expert} experience, the easiest crops in my early years were tomatoes, cucumbers, bush beans, summer squash, and okra. All of these can go in the garden now. I'll do summer planting in May, but if you live near me, you are ready to roll. Do check labels, packets, and Google to be educated on what grows when. Don't plant radishes tomorrow.

Step Three: Shop! The plants I buy at the local nursery are tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, eggplants, and any herbs I want to try. Everything else does better for me starting as seeds.

Step Four: Get those babies in the ground. To avoid transplant shock, let the plants you buy get sunlight a few hours a day for several days before planting. Again, read your labels for spacing and seed thinning. Personal experience: It's hard to get tomatoes out of a jungle. Companion planting is smart, too. Plant the buddies together.

Step Five: Worry. It's inevitable. You will dream about whether you planted your tomatoes right {PS: plant your tomatoes deep, with the bottom leaves underground}. You'll stare at the forecast and Lord help you if a thunderstorm rolls in. Horn worms, squash bugs, and that damn rabbit will keep you on edge. Maybe this is just me, though. Forget I said anything.

Congratulations! You've planted a vegetable garden. Now grab a glass of tea and enjoy your handiwork. Water daily for at least a week, but once the plants are established they don't need much. Standard is an inch a week and Mother Nature usually takes care of that around here. Watch for bugs and signs of disease and spray/fertilize if you wish. Pull up weeds and make sure the soil around the plants stays loose.

Then watch 'em grow, wait 'til they're ready, pick 'em, and eat 'em.

Google will fill in the rest of the details, but the moral of this post is if I can do this, anyone can. I guarantee the produce that comes out of your yard will be an improvement over the shriveled zucchini at the bottom of your cart. Do it, then thank me later. Happy Earth Day!

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