As shocking as this may sound, there are still people who don’t have a garden. I can hardly imagine going a year without a garden. Fresh salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, fresh picked from the garden. That’s my idea of culinary heaven. But sadly, there are people who will never have that pleasure. And that’s just wrong.
So if you’re one of those who hasn’t taken the plunge, keep reading. For every gardening problem, there’s a solution and I’m here today to help you find that solution.
Here are the top reasons I hear people give for not having a garden:
I’ve never gardened.
All my plants die.
Solution: Start small, start simple and plant smart.
That’s right. Don’t start your gardening career with a 40’X40′ garden designed to feed a family of six. Start small, choosing just a few things to plant and focusing on your favorite veggies. You can always enlarge your garden next year or once you’ve mastered your small garden. (See the last segment of this article for tips on how to enlarge your garden.)
Choose plants that are easy to grow, such as radishes, lettuce, Swiss chard, beets and beans. Of course every garden needs tomatoes and peppers, so buy these as plants from the garden center. Onions are another easy fool-proof crop if you buy onions starts (small little bulbs.) Herbs? Basil is always a winner and easy to start from seed. Or
better yet, buy herb plants from the nursery. Every garden should have basil, parsley and rosemary, right?
Plant the easy-to-grow seeds. And for the not-so-easy-to grow (but must-have) varieties, buy plants from the store. Stick to a simple list of veggies. This is a sure-fire formula for gardening success.
Pro tip: Don’t buy plants from a big-box store. It’s unlikely that the sales clerks will know much about gardening. Worse yet, the plants they sell were selected by someone in Texas, with no consideration for your area’s soil and climate. Instead of a big box store, buy your plants from a local nursery from people who know gardening and understand the challenges of your local soil and climate.
I have a bad back.
I am in a wheelchair (or other physical handicap.)
Solution: Raised beds
Raised beds are actually a great solution for just about any problem. You can raise your beds to wheelchair height or any comfortable height so that you never have to lean over or stoop to plant, weed or harvest. Now, since most plants only grow a foot or two into the ground, you probably won’t want to fill a 4′ high bed with dirt. Instead fill the bottom foot or two with an inexpensive filler: Styrofoam peanuts or blocks (like the kind that are in electronic appliance packaging), straw or compost.
Raised beds can be a very decorative addition to your home landscape and can actually increase your home’s value. Raised beds also give you a longer growing season. The soil in raised beds drains faster and warms earlier than the rest of the yard, so you can plant earlier. You can also easily cover your bed
to protect it from cold snaps, so you can extend your garden much later into the fall. If you place a weed barrier on the ground before putting the bed’s frame in, you will drastically reduce the need for weeding.
Another style of raised bed is the Straw Bale Garden. It uses pretty much the same principle as raised beds except there’s no construction–the straw bale IS the bed. Bonus: as the straw decomposes, it increases the soil’s fertility and friability.
The University of Vermont also has an excellent resource sheet to help those with handicaps to garden, giving tips on how to choose tools, build in accessibility and much more.
Pro Tip: Most municipal landfills have a composting program and will give compost away free (or almost free) every spring. Call your landfill now to see when the give away starts to ensure you can get enough to fill your raised garden beds.
I have a very small yard.
Solution: Square Foot Gardening or Vertical Gardening
Square Foot Gardening has become the most popular form of gardening. It works well with raised beds and works with pretty much every vegetable you could want to grow. What is SFG? It is intensive gardening, planting in a square grid pattern instead of the traditional garden rows. Since you aren’t confined to rows, your SFG can accomodatet 2-3 times as much as a traditional garden. Since plants are closer together, there is less weeding and you water less.
If you don’t even have room for a small garden, then you should try vertical gardening. Most plants (especially vining plants) only need a few square
inches to establish roots. If you train the vine vertically, you will get a great harvest in very little space. Non-vining plants, can be grown vertically in pallets or planting racks such as in this article.
Pro tip: Put your hose on a watering timer and set it for regular watering. That means you’ll almost never have to pay attention to your garden until it’s time to pick your food.
We’ll be traveling and I won’t have time to water or weed.
Solution: Self-watering grow-boxes
A quick search of the Internet will show you lots styles of self-watering grow boxes. But there are two stand out and are quite popular. One is made from a 55-gallon plastic drum. This is one of the best videos showing you how to make this. Just make slits staggered along the sides of the barrel. Then melt the plastic just enough so that you can bend the slits to form a sort of cup. Plant seeds or plants into each slit. With lots of good soil and steady water, these plants will take off. Soon you will have a tower of lush greenery.
principle: steady water supplied from a reservoir. Depending on the rainfall, climate and your plant’s needs, you can leave the grow box unattended for as long as 2-3 weeks. If you’re going to be gone longer than that, just have a neighbor stop by once or twice to top off the reservoir.
Pro-tip: Grow boxes are also good for summer-loving crops. Gourds and sweet potatoes are just two summer-loving crops that want more heat and more summer-growing days than we usually get up here in the north. But a black grow box will retain more heat during cool days. And if (when) cold weather strikes early, just move it onto the porch to ensure the plants finish maturing.
I don’t have a yard.
I live in an apartment.
Solution: Container gardening.
If a grow box is too big for your apartment balcony or postage stamp-sized yard, there are still hundred of ways you can grow with containers. Use simple, repurposed containers, commercial clay pots, hanging baskets or anything else that will hold a couple cups of potting soil. The University of Illinois has a great website with extensive information on how to garden in containers. This information booklet from Cornell University also has good information. Need more? This site has over 100 ideas on using containers for small-space gardening. Bonus: you can easily bring a pot of cherry tomatoes or herbs into the house to have fresh garden flavor all winter long. See what my gardening friends, the Rellaford’s, did living on the 3rd floor of an apartment building.
Pro-tip: Plants growing in containers do not have the same deep roots that garden plants do. Protect them from strong winds by setting up a screen or shelter of some sort whenever strong winds are in the forecast.
All I have right now is a lawn.
I don’t have time to dig up the sod and start a fresh garden bed.
Solution: Just about anything listed above–grow boxes, raised beds, a straw bale garden or container gardening–could be just the thing. Just put down a weed barrier or several pages of newspaper to kill the grass beneath.
OR you can grow in bags of top soil. These 40-pound bags are usually on sale during the gardening season for $2/bag or less. Just lay the bag on the ground where you want your permanent garden bed to be. Then use an exacto-knife to slit the top of the bag with a giant “X”, corner to corner. Then just plant your plants or seeds in the dirt. Not only does this make an instant garden bed for this year, but the bags will kill all the sod underneath and next year it will be a piece of cake to rototill the whole area.
Pro-tip: This is also a good way to expand your current garden bed. Just add a row of bags of topsoil around the border of your current garden to make it bigger for next year’s garden.
I think that about covers all the big reasons you might not be gardening. I hope you can find the right garden solution for your gardening problem. Come! It’s time to finally join the most popular pastime in the country. No more excuses!