There may be few pursuits more gratifying than growing your own food. It’s a task that’s endlessly interesting and opens wide the gates that hold you captive to ordinary grocery store fare. More special, perhaps, is the way meandering through a seed catalogue in deepest winter can lead to a summer garden full of incomparably delicious produce.
If you’ve never grown vegetables, or herbs or fruits, for that matter, you may be reluctant to take on a challenge that feels this ambitious and new. But growing produce doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Your pace can be slow and measured, and the learning and doing can be fun. There are many plants you can grow in large pots or containers filled with soil: lettuce, green beans, carrots, tomatoes, berries, herbs and more. And if you later decide to expand beyond pots, a small garden plot might be enough. No matter the size of your planting space, produce requires six hours of sunlight and protection from deer, rabbits, woodchucks and the like. These animals don’t know how to share.
I can assure you of this: if you have never done it, you cannot fully imagine the deep pleasure you will feel harvesting your first tomato or tugging your first carrot out of the soil—like spinning flax into gold, that turning of seed into food.
If you want to take gardening one step further, you can make compost to enrich the soil. It requires little daily effort because compost happens whether you do anything or not. All you need are leaves and grass, with food scraps added if you like. As for equipment, a pitchfork for turning the pile is the most I ever use. Composting bins, in my experience, are not as effective as a looser approach: a pile on grass or soil. The basic method is simple. Gather leaves into a rectangular-shaped pile. Then add a layer of grass clippings, and another layer of leaves. It helps to sprinkle lime over the leaf layers. And you can work in food scraps as you have them or build them in as a separate layer.
And what about weeds, the albatross of any gardener? An hour a week of active weeding is usually enough to keep them under control in even a large backyard garden. A weed mat positioned under pathway mulch can help.
Keeping a garden or, more specifically, growing your own food, is one of life’s enduring satisfactions. Watching seeds turn into sprouts that flourish in sunlight and rain, and then harvesting mature produce when it is at-the-moment ripe and at its peak nutritionally is empowering and never stops feeling like magic. Even better, growing your own means you will always have a gift derived from your own curiosity and hard work to share around your table.
Resources for seeds and tools:
Copyright Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul