Posted by: briellethefirst | August 7, 2010

Getting Started


Summer is a great time to plan a garden in the greater Phoenix area. Once it hits 100 plants fade and so do we. Wait till it cools off to the 90’s some time in September before you dig in…until then you can plan. Keep in mind that our average winter temperatures are why people vacation here and while it may seem cold to us it’s still possible to have a very happy garden as long as you protect it if there is a frost warning. Other parts of the country have a different time line…taking time out during the winter and growing through the spring and summer. Play it by ear and do what works for you. Time to grab the sun tea, sit down at the kitchen table and plan your next garden…or your 1st.

Get the sun tea

Get the sun tea

Don’t worry about not knowing enough to make a garden. Sometimes it helps not to know, just do, so when you get to the end you find out what rules you broke and got away with. There’s loads of people who followed the rules, all the best advice from the experts, spent a ton of money, time and energy only to end up with what may or may not look (and taste) good but decide it’s just not worth it. Just start, try your best based on what seems right. The nice thing about gardens is there’s always next season.

So how do you get started at gardening and self-sufficiency in general? It’s easy to say ‘start small’. Good luck on that. Our preconceived ideas will be the first to get in the way of that, so let’s start with dreams and wishes. Get a paper and list all your favourite fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers. Now write comments about what kind of recipes you use them in, how often you use them, if you don’t use something often why not… You’ll find that some things are special because they’re expensive, so those might be something to start your wish/dream garden around. Now think about the regular things you like. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to come home, unwind in the garden and come inside with dinner without the hassle of having to go to the store? Or even just taking a bucket and salt shaker into the garden and just leisurely grazing through the garden…a tomato here, a radish there, now a carrot. Growing your own means you have the freshest  produce available, but it also means you get to pick the special varieties for flavour, colour, texture and whatever else is important to you. Commercial varieties have to be sturdy enough to travel and be bumped around until you buy them. Not only can you pick the freshest stuff out of your own garden, you can pick the best varieties based on your tastes and climate.

Messy but productive

Messy but productive

Now look around at your yard. What Kind of space so you have to work with? Even if you have a 40 acre ranchette your usable garden space may be limited and if you’ve never gardened or haven’t in a while you really don’t want to overextend yourself. For those who are really ground-challenged or timid gardeners you can grow a few things in pots. No money for nice flowerpots and tubs or barrels? Get creative. Use found and recycled materials like milk cartons, cans, old baskets or boxes and even old sinks or tubs. Once you start looking around you’ll probably find all kinds of things you can press into service. If you’re creative you can decorate them with paint, sticks, rope or whatever to better match your decor. Starting in pots has its advantages. For one thing it’s mobile. You can start any time, inside or out, and if it gets frosty outside just bring them in. You can also get a feel for the time it takes for different plants to mature and the space they will eventually take in a ‘real’ garden. Good stuff to know. A disadvantage is that they need more frequent watering because of their restricted root space.

For in-the-ground gardening choose a sunny place near the outside door closest to your kitchen, usually the back door. Now look around for a sunny spot near the back door, maybe along the back wall or beside the porch. DON’T DIG YET!!! Just think about it. Measure it, draw up a scale sketch with the porch/door/house and divide your dream gardenette into 1 foot squares.   This way you’ll be able to figure out how much you can really grow in your first spot. Make it narrow enough to reach across or step over if it’s against a wall or bordering the porch. Don’t worry, this is where you get to make your first mistakes before you spend any money/time/energy. If you’re artistically inclined, draw a picture of the area to help imagine your future personal eco-system or even draw on a picture of the space. A tip on size/dimension: make the bed about 3 feet wide. 2 feet may seem too narrow to put much in, unless you just want a line of herbs, but you can fit a surprising amount in. Anything over 3 feet is hard for most people to reach to the back. A free-standing bed that had access from both sides can be up to 5 or even 6 feet wide, as long as you can reach to the middle from either side.

OK. You’ll probably jump the gun, dig a spot and plant more of some things and less of others than you should, and some will languish or die while others will take over the garden. Fine,  you learn. Plant the dead ones again at a different time of year or in a different spot till you figure out what they need. The disappointments can sting, but it stings less if you spend less with salvaged containers, seeds and organic techniques. The successes are thrilling and you’ll be boring your family and friends with them before you know it.

Fresh from the garden in April!

Fresh from the garden in April!

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