Growing our own food is the fastest-growing type of gardening in America, especially with people in their 20s and 30s, and for so many good reasons – saving money, concern for food safety, helping the environment (no food miles!), and the psychic and spiritual rewards of connecting with the soil and with what we put in our bodies. So whether you’re in the new generation or simply a new veg-gardener of any age, welcome aboard! As a noncook and life-long ornamental gardener myself, I didn’t grow my first vegetable until just three years ago, well into my 50s. I’ve found it so rewarding – the growing and the cooking – that this year I’ll be expanding my little farming operation into a nearby community garden. I’m so excited!
Most vegetables require full sun, meaning eight hours of sun every day. Consider sunny spots like roof-tops, decks and driveways where you could grow some edibles in pots. With as few as four
hours, you can still grow greens (like spinach, lettuce and arugula) in succession throughout the season. With six hours of sun you could grow carrots, radishes, beets, and kale.
If there’s nowhere on your property with enough sun, maybe there’s a plot at a nearby community garden, and here’s a great resource for finding them. With the increasing interest in growing food, there are now land-sharing services popping up where individual homeowners team up with willing gardeners to produce food in their yards and share the proceeds. Sharing Yards D.C. helps put these partners together and if you know of one in Baltimore or Annapolis, let us know!
Wherever you garden, make sure you have easy access to water. Vegetable plants demand ample water and hauling water long distances to thirsty plants in the heat of summer isn’t fun.
It’s always a good idea to test the soil that food will be growing in, especially if something else has been growing there (or possibly worse, nothing growing there). The University of Maryland offers lots of tips about soil-testing.
If your new vegetable garden is now covered with sod, there are several ways to remove it. When I removed my lawn I used a flat-edged shovel, slicing the sod into one-foot-square segments, then getting down to turf level and slicing under the chunks of sod with my trowel. Then I shook off the excess soil and tossed the sod pieces into the compost pile. Combined with dead leaves, sod makes fabulous compost! Another option is to rent a sod-cutter, but I understand that results with sod-cutters are mixed.
The easier option is to simply smother your sod instead. Lay cardboard or several layers of newspaper over the intended garden plot, being sure to overlap the edges so there are no gaps for weeds to grow through. Spray the newspaper with water to keep it in place as you work, then top the paper with a four inch layer of compost. That’s it! You can plant directly into the compost while you wait for the grass to die and decompose, further enriching your soil.
Choosing What to Grow
As a newbie veg-gardener, everyone told me to grow what I enjoy eating and that’s very good advice. (In the second and third years I found myself experimenting with growing plants I didn’t normally eat, like leeks.) Another smart consideration is which vegetables are most expensive to buy, and which are easiest to grow – good starter vegetables in our region are tomatoes, beans, greens, squash and zucchini.
If you’ve accomplished all of the above, there’s one other task you can accomplish this early in the season – starting vegetable seeds indoors (in February you can start broccoli, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, parsley, onions and leeks). It takes space and lighting systems and a good bit of fussing and isn’t for everyone, but the rewards are obvious – being able to trying a much larger variety of plants than are available as small plants (“starts”). Thankfully the University of Maryland has compiled some terrific instruction on the seed-starting indoors, including videos. Seeds are so cheap, why not try a few in a sunny windowsill and if you enjoy it, take it to the next level next year?