Greetings from the People’s Garden at Agape!
Social media is abuzz with all manner of suggestions about what to do while we’re social distancing during this pandemic. Two of the most popular ideas have been sourdough bread baking and starting your own garden. While baking a decent loaf of sourdough can be tricky for beginners, nothing is simpler or cheaper than starting your own vegetable plot. And, with supermarkets experiencing shortages and trips out necessitating the donning of masks, there is no better time to take vegetable producing into your own hands.
In normal times I would advise you to start with a soil test so that you know if you need to amend your soil. But these are not normal times, are they? Besides, it’s already May, and you want to start planting! So, buy a couple of packets of seeds and see how it goes. The worst thing that could happen is that you are out of a couple of dollars and you’ll have wasted some time outside. But being outside is good and there is nothing else to do! You can always start again next year, after a proper soil test.
Really, though, things will grow! If you’ve never planted anything from seed before, you’ll be amazed when you see those first seedlings sprouting from the ground. Of course, some seeds are easier to grow than others. If you wanted to start tomato seeds, you are two months too late. Those needed to be started indoors back in February. If you want tomatoes, you are going to have to buy plants. Other seeds that I would not recommend to plant now would be peas (they should have been planted outside in March; they like the cold) and lettuces (they can be difficult and you don’t want to be frustrated in your first gardening venture).
What should you plant then? Well, obviously, plant what you like and are going to want to eat! There is no sense in planting cucumbers if you hate cukes in all forms.
Overwhelmed with the choices? Radishes are good for new gardeners to start growing. They tend to like cooler weather, but since they grow so quickly, you can start them in May and be putting them in your salads by June. Or, you can pretend you’re in France and saute them with butter and garlic and serve them with fresh chives. Then, reseed a new crop in September for further experimentation.
Speaking of chives, herbs are another fun, easy group of plants for beginning gardeners. Basil and dill are probably two of the easiest to grow from seed. Just make sure that basil gets plenty of sun, and don’t let that dill go to seed or it will replant itself all over your new garden. Plant them now and you will have plenty of basil for pesto and dill for pickles by August.
If you are looking for something leafy and green (and red and white and yellow – so pretty!), I would recommend that you try Swiss chard. You’ve never heard of it? All the more reason to try it! While spinach and lettuce like cooler temperatures, chard will reliably grow throughout the summer and into the fall. And unlike collards and kale, you won’t have to worry about cabbage moths because chard is in the beet family. You can harvest the baby leaves for salads, or use the bigger leaves in numerous ways. Hint: Make cheesy polenta, spoon it on blanched chard leaves, roll the leaves up and cover them in marinara sauce, and bake. Italian-style stuffed cabbage!
Finally, if you like zucchini, go ahead and plant some zuke seeds, but if you want to try something a bit different, throw some butternut squash seeds in the ground in June. You will be harvesting big, beautiful, orange squash throughout the fall, well into October. And butternut squash is much less susceptible to squash bugs. Big bonus.
I hope this inspires a few neophytes to get out into their yards and dig their anxieties away. If you need more advice or have specific vegetable gardening questions, please contact Conelia Dixon at the People’s Garden at 937-726-9525. If you are lacking space at home, we also have raised beds for rent. So no excuses! Get out there in the sunshine and plant some seeds of hope!
The writer is a Master Gardener and a coordinator of the People’s Garden. Reach her at 937-726-9525.