14 April 2011

You can do it: grow a vegetable garden

We grew this stuff!

Last year, I grew a vegetable garden. Let me tell you about it, because if I can do it, you can, too.

We have an old, cracked concrete patio in our back yard that gets blasted by the sun every summer. (In Portland, that's saying something.) The patio is what was hiding under the old, cracked wooden deck we demolished a couple years ago. We've spent years trying to turn the space into a seating area -- huddling under patio umbrellas and scurrying into tiny bits of shade cast by a yard tree. But then I had a brainstorm...why not put all of that sun and heat to good use?

$100-worth of lumber and soil later, plus the building talents of my neighbor, Tim, and I had two 2x3 foot vegetable planter boxes perched on the edge of the patio.

Inspired by my other neighbor, Katrina (who grows vegies in planter boxes in the sidewalk strip in front of her house), and my daughter (who, in a former life, was a wood sprite), we grew all sorts of goodies. Tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, green onions, carrots, cilantro, lettuce, chili peppers, radishes.

We planted seeds. We planted starts. We planted stuff that never sprouted, stuff that died a week later, stuff that got eaten by slugs, and stuff that grew with hardly any help. We planted too little of some things (peas) and too much of others (green beans).

The boxes are small, but that's fine -- it's not like we intended to grow our own food supply. A few big, cheap pots would have worked just as well. My hope was that we'd have fun, the kids would learn something and maybe even eat a few vegetables. Mostly, have fun.

Boy, did we have fun. The vegetable garden kept us entertained all summer. Watching the seeds sprout and grow, watering, seeing the crops emerge. Observing the pollinators and the pests. And, of course, snacking on the literal fruits of our labor. My daughter was all over it, and even my "indoorsy" son was lured into the yard every day.

My daughter, the garden fairy

No other type of gardening is as personal or as gratifying. Try it this year. Even if you grow a single cherry tomato plant, or a pot of strawberries, or a stand of snap peas, you'll see what I mean. Don't be intimidated by the big books and the tales of urban farming...you don't need to become a master gardener. Plant what you like to eat. All you need to get started is to stick a seed or a plant into a pot, put it in the sun, and water it.

What you need:

  • A sunny spot
  • A pot, planter box, or bed full of soil
  • Seeds or baby plants called starts
  • A thin, readable how-to book.

Gardening books are sort of like parenting books -- they provide good info, but if you read too many of them you risk getting intimidated and overwhelmed. Better to read a little then stick your shovel into the dirt. Like parenting, there's no way to do it perfectly, but lots of ways to do it well enough.

(Don't even get me started on the gardening/parenting metaphors. There are too many to count.)

My favorite get-yourself-vegie-gardening books:

Amazon: Grow Great Grub  Amazon: Sugar Snaps and Strawberries

Both Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail and Sugar Snaps and Strawberries by Andrea Bellamy are filled with beautiful pictures, encouraging advice, and practical how-to...but not too much. The perfect place to start.

If you've been toying with the idea of growing a few vegies, consider this your friendly kick in the pants. You can do it!

Related: Best of Parent Hacks: Gardening with Kids

Your comments

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Square Foot Gardening is a great book too! We did it a few years ago and had a great time with it. Would do it again but have moved and now don't have enough sun in our yard. Totally try it, it's so much fun with kids!

I've read some great books about gardening with kids, specificaly "Roots Shoots & Boots" by Sharon Lovejoy and "Sunflower Houses" by the same author. They offer some great ideas for making garden playhouses and other fun theme gardens that kids could really enjoy

Asha! I'm going to try to "grow a single cherry tomato plant" this summer! I have the tiny little starter, just need to get some soil. I love the photo in this post! I miss you and I hope all is well.

The "Vegetable Gardening for Dummies" book is also pretty great, but not entirely helpful for container-ing. I've grown several kinds of plants on my own, and many when I was a child at home, and for any beginners out there, I have got to recommend tomatoes and cucumbers. (The cukes are a first for me this year and they literally sprouted so fast and so easy I can't even believe it.)

I second roots and shoots, it has lots fun easy ideas for gardening with kids!

I envy the people who can grow fresh garden produce like vegetables and fruits. It is an organic and healthy way of life.

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