A Quick and Dirty Guide to Gardening

Why Should I Garden?

gardening
Mom always said, “Eat your vegetables!” I always replied, “Mom, I don’t want to, I hate flash-frozen foods!” Okay, so my dinner table conversations didn’t exactly play out like that, but they could have.

There are many reasons to have a garden. Some garden for time together with family members. Some garden because they love that satisfying feeling that comes from doing something yourself. Still others garden because they prefer the taste of fresh fruit and vegetables as opposed to store-bought. For me, I garden because of the joy that comes from working with the Earth.

Ever since I was a kid I have always been fascinated with the formula of gardening; you put seeds in the dirt, give them water, sun, soil, and a good deal of love, and those seeds will, in turn, thank you by turning into a vegetable, a flower, or a fruit. Think of gardening as nature’s way of saying, “Thanks for playing with me, here is your reward for your time.”

What Is the First Step?

Get yourself a nice hat. It gets hot outside in the sun, (Especially trying to garden in Las Vegas), and if you are a poor unfortunate soul like myself, and have been doomed to pasty skin, your face will thank you in twenty years because your hat protected it from skin cancer. You can find sun hats almost anywhere, and as long as it shades your face, it doesn’t matter too much what brand it is.

I Have My Hat, Now What?

gardening hat
Ask yourself the question, “What kind of gardening do I want to do?”. Do you want to have a garden blooming with roses, tulips, and sunflowers? Or, are you more interested in carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes? Or maybe you want both! Establishing what you want to grow is the first step in moving forward after your recently purchased hat.

This year, I decided to try my hand with a watermelon. After all, what better way to celebrate summer than with juicy homegrown fruit? Your local nursery will be essential in helping you start your new adventure with gardening. A trip to visit the “garden people” at the nursery is well worth your time, and the experts there are always willing to help.

They will let you know what kinds of vegetables, fruits, and flowers grow well in your area. If you prefer to purchase plants that have already started to grow at the nursery, you can take a walk up and down the aisles looking at the life already growing in the little plastic containers. All these plants need is to be gently transplanted into some soil at home where their roots can grow unrestricted.

Most seed packets will tell you what growing seasons are appropriate for your certain type of seed so you won’t plant it at the wrong time of year. Planting a seed and watching it grow from seedling to a mature plant is an exciting process, and you will feel great for being able to take care of something so rewarding.

Yummy Yummy Compost!

compost
It is funny to me that plants also need food, considering all of them end up as food in one way or another. I remember a chart in my middle school Life Science book highlighting the way the ecosystem works. I love to watch the “Circle of Life” (insert some person singing Lion King here.

I am sure there will be someone at home singing it as they read this article.), take place as my vegetables go from seeds to green shoots, to tiny vegetable babies to full-grown peppers, carrots, or tomatoes, and then to nutrients I need to function as a human being.

Plants need to be fed in order to feed other things, and the type of soil you plant them in is important. Again, your nursery helpers will be important in this step. I also like to make homemade compost which can be really easy and helpful to your garden. Compost breaks down the nutrients contained in other organic matter such as fruit peels, lawn clippings, and tree leaves, and turns them into fertilizer for your plants.

Adding some compost to your soil could help your garden grow more effectively. (Think of it as the protein for plants, in a way.) You can either grow the compost yourself, or you can pick some up while you are buying your plants at the nursery.

There are different ways to build your own compost pile. Many people will build some kind of box to house it in, others will just pile it into a corner of their yard and let the process happen there. I am currently experimenting with both and deciding which one I like better. The box is simple and cheap to make, and if you are an artist, you can even paint the outside to make it appealing.

There are three very important elements in creating compost; heat, sunlight, and water. The sunlight, of course, generates heat so the materials can decompose, and the water keeps it from becoming dusty and dry, thus rendering it unusable. Whichever way you decide to store your compost pile, just make sure you have those three ingredients.

Plant Those Babies in the Ground!

No plant can grow unless you put it in the ground. Techniques of doing this vary depending on how you are starting.

If you are starting with seeds, you need to ensure that you give the seeds enough distance between each other. Most vegetable seeds only need 4-6 inches in between, but you will find the specific distances on the back of your seed packets. (Boy, aren’t those packets helpful?)

Now, you don’t need to be out in the garden with a ruler (unless you want to), but just be generous with your estimate when spacing so they don’t start growing too close together.

When planting, make a little mound with the soil, nothing huge, and drop the seed in a little indentation you can make with your finger. This will give the seed space to send its roots down into the soil and not into the harder ground underneath. Cover the seed with soil, add a touch of water, a little kiss if you wish, and watch as nature takes over. (Keep watering, though. Kissing is optional.)

If you are starting with an already growing plant, carefully remove the plant from the plastic container. The best way to do this so you don’t rip the roots as you pull is to push up from the bottom on the outside of the plastic container as you GENTLY pull up on the soil being pushed out. DO NOT pull on the plant itself.

You will want to make another mound in the soil you are transplanting into, create a hole big enough to fit the soil the plant has already been growing in into the mound, place the plant into the hole, and then cover up the hole with soil. For this one, instead of kissing, you can do a little jig as you muse over a job well done.

You Are Going to Need a Friend

dog garden
Gardening is always more enjoyable when you are sharing the experience with someone. Since I was home alone today, I had no one other than my dog to accompany me in my joyous festivities. However, she makes a great companion as well, as long as she is not trying to eat the already growing strawberries. I guess I can sleep easy knowing that she is having a healthy diet.

With the world today so focused on entertainment, social media, technology, and online relationships, we sometimes forget the joy of interacting with other human beings (or dogs). Gardening is a great time to remove all distractions and focus on the person you are with.

Often, gardening will create a bond between those who are participating, and you can share in the happiness easier when you have someone else there with you experiencing the same thing.

A Few Last Words

My goal with this post is not to provide an all-encompassing portrait of how to garden. There is a beauty that can come only from experimenting with your own ideas, and a feeling of accomplishment when you watch ideas that you formulated grow into realities. Rather, I would hope to spark a desire for you to experience gardening for yourself. Have fun with the project!

Create a whacky compost bin, color-code your fruits, and vegetables, or handmake a little garden fence to keep hungry dogs out. *Quick side-story*. When I lived in Alaska, I would always laugh at how big the fences had to be around the gardens there. Instead of dogs, those gardeners had to defend their gardens against lettuce-munching moose.

I wouldn’t tell you completely how to garden, but I can tell you why you might want to. Time and time again, gardening has proven to be a relaxer for me. What do I mean by that, you ask? Some days I will come home from school or work with a mind totally exhausted. As soon as I begin to work in a garden and feel the soil between my fingers, smell the fantastic aroma of plants and flowers, or as I listen to the sonata being played by the bees, my mind unwinds.

No more stressing over tests or homework assignments; instead, I catch a glimpse of what it is like to simply enjoy existing and watch as other forms of life around me do the same. That feeling that comes when the world seems to work together as one is why I will continue to garden. So, go try it for yourself. See if there is anything to gardening and if it is something you will enjoy. Odds are, you will keep at it for years to come, experiencing the rewards that can only come from time spent cultivating the Earth.

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