As you may know from my Instagram (@prepandrally), I love gardening, especially with my girls! Sorry Mike.. You’re just not cut out for the hard work on the farm ? He does do a good job eating the fruits of our labor though!
I learned a lot since we started our own garden just from experience, and also from my dad who is a pro-gardener with an abundant garden back in St. Louis. There is a whole lot to know and since so many people write in asking me questions about gardening, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned with you. So grab your shovel and lets get digging!
I used to buy small plants that I can easily and quickly plant at home and get fast results. A few hundred dollars later I realized how simple and inexpensive it is to grow from seed as long as you know what you’re doing and have some patience-which I don’t have much of! Some people start them inside and then transfer, but it all depends on when you are starting your seeds, and what your exact climate is. I don’t have patience to start indoors so I just go right into the ground. The results have been pretty good. However…
What I never realized is that the quality of your soil can make or break your garden. I always thought “take the seed, plant it, things grow, you eat, the end.” Easier said than done. I started off the summer with a not-so-successful garden. My dad was in town and let me know that my soil was horrendous. It was rocky, dense, and malnourished. It’s almost like pregnancy.. you need to put healthy foods into your body while you’re growing another human body for it to be healthy, and strong. So to your soil. This takes time and the quality of your soil gets better every year so be patient. I planted radishes at the start of the summer which are apparently the easiest and fastest plant to grow, but because my soil was poor, I didn’t get much of a radish.. I maybe got two total and they were small and unhappy looking. I also tried carrots but they were tiny and bitter as can be! The ground needs to constantly be worked and it should be light and airy-not packed and dense like mine was.
Bring on the composting-my latest obsession! So… we composted as a kid and I always thought it was nasty. It was basically a pile of garbage that stunk up our backyard. I just didn’t get it. Let’s just say I get it now! What composting means is taking any organic matter (egg shells, old fruit and vegetable peels, even meat and other natural foods) piling it or burying in the ground, letting it decompose to create heat, and then using that around your garden to nourish the soil. What composting does is invites worms to the garden party. Gross worms.. right? Well worms are the absolute best thing for the garden. Firstly they loosen the soil so oxygen can get to the plant roots and looser soil allows the plant roots to penetrate deeper into the dirt, and access more nutrients which in turn builds bigger and better plants.
Worms basically turn garbage into fertilizer. Pretty amazing, right? Who knew worms had a purpose? And get this.. The fertilizer worms provide, technically called castings and not-technically called worm poop, create an excellent source of nutrients for your plants! All you need to do to encourage worms into your garden is feed them organic munchies and clippings, don’t till too deep, and don’t use pesticides (which you shouldn’t anyway!) As a chef I go through TONS of produce, peels, etc. and having a use for them is the greatest thing ever. Plus it makes my garbage a whole lot lighter, and I know I am doing something beneficial for the environment. It’s really a win-win. Just be sure that if you do decide to compost, either place it all in some sort of bin or dig a really deep hole and cover it up completely or you will invite unwanted critters to your garden. Let’s just say you don’t want a mouse in your garden like I had- ah!
Ok now.. on to the plants!
Seeds come from which ever plant you want to grow and vary in size depending on the plant. Eggplant seeds for example are tiny, and sunflower seeds are bigger. When the seeds absorb the correct amount of moisture (too much can make them mold), they start to grow into sprouts. Sprouts are a whole other blog post-SO healthy for you and you can grow sprouts for nutrition from lentils, beans and lots more!
A lot of sprouts look the same until they start to grow into the more mature vegetables. The beets above are easy to spot as they are beautifully beet red in color! At this stage (week one) you need to water every day and lightly dampen the sprouts so that they don’t dry out. My dad also suggested placing a light layer of grass clippings over the seeds so keep from getting to hot and drying.
When it comes to herbs, I’ve had the most luck with mint (it spreads like wildfire and comes back year after year!), and basil. My chives actually from last year came back this summer which I was excited to see. I have never had luck with dill (I guess it’s very fragile) and rosemary grows in my garden but is never abundant.
In my family we especially love growing tomatoes. Andi pulls them right off the plant and devours them. There is nothing quite like a warm, sun ripened tomato plucked from the source, and the smell that lingers on your hand is just heaven. The smell of tomato plants always brings me back to my childhood where we would collect buckets of tomatoes every week. I love using my basil and tomatoes on sourdough pizza (have you noticed my latest homemade sourdough obsession? Completely worth the effort by the way!), or I use them in salads. We usually just eat them straight because homegrown produce is just that good!
Aside from tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, eggplants, squash, zucchini, and lettuce, we are also growing hot peppers in our garden which are doing beautifully and are ridiculously hot!
We just planted more radishes (trying it again especially since they are the fastest growing crop-maturing in about 30 days) and we also planted swiss chard for the first time. It’s a hardy crop so although it takes a while to grown, it can withstand cooler temperatures. Broccoli, spinach and garlic are also great to plant in September so if you’re looking to get a little more out of your garden this season, it’s not too late to plant more!
Ok.. Let’s talk placement in the garden!
I like to utilize all the vertical space in my garden for tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, and eggplants. These all grow tall so they’re best placed in the back of the garden since they will easily get sunlight there. I stake them and use twisty ties so they learn to grow up and have a little extra support. Put your shorter plants closer to the front of the garden to obtain maximum sunlight. My cucumbers and green beans are always against a gate. Last year I even used a chair so that the plants have something to climb up on. Squash and zucchini take up the most square footage in the garden so when you’re mapping out placement of your garden, be sure to keep that in mind and leave enough space for them to grow! Oh and don’t pull off the squash blossoms like I stupidly did. My dad went into all this detail and even drew a diagram for me explaining male and female flowers and how you know which blossoms will become zucchinis and which will not. I’m still not completely sure what the heck he was talking about so just to be safe, don’t pull them. Usually the blossoms become the vegetable!
A question I get ALL the time is how I keep bunnies and squirrels from eating my produce. If anyone has a really good solution, please let me know because we struggle with it as well! I have taken some action though to minimize the critter munchies. Firstly, I built a fence around my garden. I was pretty cheap so it’s not the greatest fence but definitely helps a bit. We also have a stuffed animal cat that sits in our garden and every few days we turn it to act as a scarecrow-that’s andi’s job. Mt neighbor swears by it and I think it does work! We tried growing strawberries but birds ate every single one. The local nursery I go to suggested getting a spinning flower to place near the plant which will get blown with the wind and scare away the birds. This definitely helped! Although they still were’t as big or exciting as I thought they would be. Definitely wouldn’t grown these again next year!
Animals eating the garden is always an issue and as a kid we use to set traps with peanut butter and catch the squirrels. We would then let them go miles away by my dad’s office. Way back in the day he would shoot them with a bibi gun!! Horrible right? I told you.. my dad is a serious gardener and my grandfather was pretty impressive too! As kids we would pick produce from the garden and instead of lemonade stands, we would sell produce on the street. This was before Farmer’s Markets became trendy. Such trend setters, right?
Gardening is so nostalgic to me and brings me back to my childhood. I can’t explain it.. It just makes me incredibly happy.
What I love is that I get to spend the time with my family, and my girls love it so much! There is something so incredibly calming about being outside watering the garden, or picking produce usually either with Andi or with Jolie in my arm. It’s quiet and serene. Nothing like it! Second- as a mom I want to know what exactly is going into the mouths of my family. Gardening allows me to do that plus the fact that my kids know where their food comes from makes me so happy! And lastly, it is insanely rewarding putting something minuscule into the ground, tending to it daily, and then enjoying it all summer long! It quite simply makes us happy every single day.. I never thought I would love doing all the things my dad preached growing up but turns out it’s what makes me the happiest!
If you were inspired to start your own garden next season, already enjoy gardening, or will just stick to the farmers’ market, we hope you enjoy it as much as we do!