Given that this month’s JAKWellness12 theme is Earth it felt like the perfect time talk about how to plant a garden. Whether you have a yard big enough for raised beds and flowers or a tiny city apartment, there are always ways to plant a garden. Growing your own garden is not only incredibly rewarding but it has many benefits. When you grow your own fruits, vegetables and herbs you have complete control over what is used (meaning no pesticides and organic soil). Believe it or not, most organic vegetables at the grocery store have been treated with pesticides (this article explains). When growing at home you can skip that altogether and have healthier fruits and veggies (talk to the growers at your local farmer’s market, many do not use pesticides). Growing your own food also means minimizing your environmental impact. I’ve read that the average distance food travels before it’s consumed is 1,500 miles (that’s a lot of energy and fossil fuels). There are also many species that can benefit from your garden, like bees, butterflies and birds (more on why this is so important below). Not sold yet? Just give it a try. There are few things I find more therapeutic than gardening. It’s relaxing, rewarding, stress relieving and has quickly become one of my favorite hobbies. I’ve pulled together some of my tips below to get you started. Just a reminder, everyone has to start somewhere. I’m not an expert. I find things I like, ask around for advice, do research, sometimes things work out sometimes they don’t. You don’t have to be a pro to grow things, you just have to be willing to learn.

Jess Ann Kirby shares her tops from growing vegetables such as lettuce in potted plants

Growing in Pots

This is a great place to start, particularly if you don’t have a lot of space. This year we grew lettuce, tomatoes and herbs in pots and they’re actually the healthiest of everything we planted. The plants need enough space and soil to grow so you’ll want a fairly large container. Make sure to use organic soil and mix in some organic compost. We really like Coast of Maine which most local gardening supply stores sell but any organic compost is fine (get one that’s specifically for vegetables). We also have our own compost which we mixed into the soil as well. Even if you don’t have compost you can add crushed egg shells, banana peels and coffee grinds to the soil (particularly to your roses). Most vegetables like full sun, but things like lettuce and spinach can have partial shade. Make sure they get enough water, once a day in the morning is fine and the soil needs to be able to drain so the pot should have holes. Herbs like cilantro and basil do best in pots, make sure to pinch back basil which will keep it producing. For tomato plants you will need to use stakes or a cage so the plant has something for support as it gets bigger. Herbs like mint are considered invasive and can end up taking over an entire pot or garden so it’s best to plant mint separately or put the mint in a plastic container and cut out the bottom. This will prevent the roots from spreading out sideways and taking over other plants.

Raised Beds

Craig built two raised beds this year. He dug several inches into the ground and used wooden boards to make 4×8 foot beds. We lined the bottom with cardboard to help prevent weeds and then added soil. You need a lot of soil for larger beds so keep that in mind. Next year we will do a delivery of soil instead of buying individual bags. This is a helpful tool for figuring out how much soil you need for your raised bed. We planted a variety of things in the raised beds including tomatoes, beets, brussel sprouts, peppers, and cabbage. One thing to keep in mind is that critters will want to eat your veggies as much as you do. Use chicken wire or build a fence around your beds to keep animals out. Craig bought fencing from Home Depot to enclose the garden. You also want to feed your veggies when you first plant them and then every few weeks for the duration of their season. Outside of the raised beds we also planted some blueberry and raspberry bushes. You might have to fight with the birds a bit to keep them from eating your berries but some light netting around them can help if it’s an issue.

Jess Ann Kirby planted a garden in two raised beds in her back yard to grow her own produce and to lessen her environmental impact

Planting Flowers

The sky is the limit when it comes to planting flowers. I could spend WAY too much time talking about it, but I’ll stick to a few things. My first recommendation would be to look into native plants. Depending on where you live, there are certain plants that will be far easier to grow and maintain (they also help protect biodiversity).  For example we have milkweed and other flowers in the back corner of our garden to help bees and monarchs. Milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars feed on, so planting it in your garden will help monarchs and they are really beautiful when they flower (and VERY easy to maintain, you pretty much don’t have to do anything).

Jess Ann Kirby plants rose bushes in her back yard to aid bees and butterflies in her area

In coastal New England there are some popular flowers and flowering bushes you’ve probably seen that tend to do well including hydrangeas, rhododendrons, azaleas, and knockout roses. Of course there’s many more these are just a few that happen to be in our yard. All of these are perennials meaning they come back every year. Some require more maintenance than others but for the most part are pretty resilient and don’t need a lot of attention. When Craig built the fence around our garden I wanted to find something to plant around the perimeter and we stumbled upon David Austin Roses when shopping at a local nursery. I could not resist because they were some of the most beautiful roses I’d ever seen. We have Eden Climbers and a Carding Mill rose bush. On the opposite side of the fence we have some peonies. We also planted some dahlias right in the ground and they’re just starting to come up now. The nice thing about doing a variety is you’ll get blooms at different times throughout the spring, summer and fall. It’s important to pay attention to how much water, sun and pruning they need (some need more than others). Make sure as soon as the first frost comes in the fall to cover your rose roots with mulch and keep it there until spring.

Resources

Here are some websites I’ve found helpful for my garden. I’ve also learned a lot from just asking fellow gardeners. In general people love sharing their tips and advice so don’t be afraid to ask.