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The 10 minute guide to gardening

June 20, 2013
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Access to Sunlight

First things first. You can’t grow anything if you don’t have enough light. Most food-producing plants need at least 8 hours of direct sunlight per day to thrive. Some plants will do well enough on 4-6 hours but > 8 is ideal. If you live in a concrete jungle then don’t give up just yet. We’ll get to containers and other solutions in just a moment.

What to Grow

Once you’re confident that you’ve met the minimums above then you can proceed to the next step. Choosing what to grow. There are all sorts of delicious vegetables and herbs that you can grow at home. The choices can be downright overwhelming so I’ll make this suggestion: Start with foods you love.

If you can find them at your local farmers market then there’s a good chance that they’ll work in your local growing conditions. I grow lots and lots of tomatoes, kale, and swiss chard (as opposed to mangos, my all-time fave, because Chicago has a less than tropical climate).

A few veggies and herbs that are super easy to start with are:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Beans
  • Summer squash (aka zucchini)
  • Hardy greens (kale, swiss chard)
  • Beets
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Lavender
  • Sage
  • Mint (keep it in a container!!!)

Where to Grow

Now that you know what to grow the question becomes “where do I grow it?” For those of you who have a backyard (or a frontyard) the answer is pretty simple, but rather than tilling up the flowers and planting in rows I suggest you consider these alternatives: square foot gardening or lasagna gardening.

If you live in a big city then you won’t need a jackhammer as you may have worried. All you need are some big containers. They come is all sorts of colors, shapes, and sizes but keep in mind that all the plants need is a place to grow their roots. I suggest making or buying a self-watering container — they make life so much easier! And as a general rule I tend to say that plants greater than 1 foot in height need at least 12 inches of container depth; plants less than 1 foot in height need at least 6 inches. Also, deeper containers tend to need less watering.

How to Water

Which brings us to our final step. Watering.

Pro tip: Tie watering to an existing daily habit. Most gardens whither due to neglect. It’s tough to form new habits so associate the act of watering with something you already do on a daily basis.

Always thoroughly water plants to promote deep hydration; shallow, more frequent watering is not as effective. Gardening takes a little bit of attention almost every day; being a weekend warrior is fine, but you’ll need to get into a few skirmishes throughout the week. And at the end of the summer you’ll reap the spoils.

It’s true that you probably should have started a month ago but it’s not too late to start now! Head over to Home Depot or your local farmers market this weekend and get some sprouted plants. Come September you’ll be glad you did.

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