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Plan It, Grow It, Eat It!

Seeds of Joy: A Lifelong Love Affair with Gardening

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Gardening has been a passion of mine for over 40 years. My journey

began in my 20s when my husband and I moved from bustling Atlanta to the serene countryside. Our move was driven by a desire to live a self-supporting lifestyle, which naturally included gardening. Whether we were at Wildwood or Beltler Creek, a garden was always part of our lives.

A couple of years ago, we retired from Beltler Creek, and now I tend to a half-acre garden that I absolutely love. The beauty of gardening is that it’s a never-ending journey of growth and learning. Even after four decades, I find myself constantly expanding and experimenting with new techniques and crops.

Gardening is more than a hobby for me; it’s a way to connect with the earth and participate in the miracle of creation. One of the most exciting aspects of gardening is seeing how a tiny seed can grow into a bountiful plant. This experience has deepened my appreciation for the natural world and for the process of growing food.

Why Garden?

Before diving into the practical aspects of gardening, I encourage everyone to reflect on why they want to garden. For me, it’s a source of joy, a way to ensure we have fresh, healthy food, and a method to connect with nature. Take a moment to consider your motivations and share them with others. Understanding your reasons can help sustain your enthusiasm when challenges arise.

I remember asking my husband this question when we first started. He said he loved the idea of cultivating our own food, but what really drove him was the peace he found in the garden. He often compared it to his childhood memories of his grandmother's garden, where every plant seemed to whisper stories of the past. This shared passion became a cornerstone of our relationship, bonding us closer as we worked side by side.

Starting Your Garden: Practical Tips

Site Selection

Choosing the right location for your garden is crucial. Look for a sunny spot, as most vegetables require at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. If space is limited, like for my sister and her husband, consider container gardening which can be moved to catch the best sunlight.

I remember when we first bought our piece of property; it was just raw land with dense trees. My husband and I spent countless weekends clearing it. One hot summer day, as we were removing stumps, he turned to me and said, "This is hard work, but imagine the tomatoes we'll harvest here." His optimism kept us going, and eventually, that hard work paid off.

Water Source

A reliable water source is essential. During a two-month drought in Tennessee, our drip irrigation system saved our crops. Whether you use well water, city water, or a rainwater catchment system, ensure you have a way to water your garden efficiently.

I'll never forget the day our irrigation system was installed. It was a particularly dry summer, and I was worried about losing our crops. My husband, always the problem-solver, had rigged up a temporary system using old hoses and sprinklers. When we finally turned on the new system, watching the water gently nourish our plants felt like a small miracle. That year, despite the drought, we had one of our best harvests.

Soil and Drainage

Good soil and proper drainage are key. Avoid areas with standing water, and be mindful of the soil type—sandy, clay, or rocky soils each have their challenges. Also, be wary of pernicious weeds like Bermuda grass, which can be difficult to manage.

When we moved to Tennessee, we faced the challenge of rocky soil. I remember my husband hitting rock after rock while trying to till. It was discouraging, but we decided to bring in topsoil and compost. That first year, our efforts were rewarded with an abundance of vegetables, proving that perseverance pays off.

Choosing Your Gardening Style

There are various gardening methods, and it's important to find what works best for you. Here are some options:

Row Gardening

Traditional row gardening involves planting crops in long rows. This method often requires a tiller and is well-suited for large spaces.

When we lived in Alabama, we started with row gardening. I vividly remember the first time we saw our garden in full bloom. Rows of vibrant greens stretched out like a patchwork quilt. It was a sight that made all the hard work worthwhile.

Raised Beds

Raised beds can be easier to manage and offer better control over soil quality. You can use wooden sides or simply mound up the soil. Raised beds are great for small spaces and can be designed to suit your specific needs.

At Beltler Creek, we experimented with raised beds. One summer, we grew the most beautiful zucchinis I’ve ever seen. Our neighbors were so impressed that they started their own raised bed gardens the following year.

Container Gardening

For those with limited space, container gardening is a viable option. You can grow a wide variety of vegetables in pots, which can be placed in optimal sunlight and moved as needed.

My sister and her husband, who live in a small urban apartment, have perfected container gardening. They once gifted us a basket of tomatoes, peppers, and herbs grown on their balcony. It was inspiring to see how much they could produce in such a small space.

Planning Your Garden

Once you've chosen your gardening style, it's time to plan what you'll grow. Start with crops you enjoy eating and consider those that will save money on your food budget. Make a list of the plants you want to grow and research their specific needs, such as days to maturity, spacing requirements, and soil preferences.

I learned the importance of planning the hard way. One year, I planted zucchini and cucumbers too close together, leading to a tangled mess. That experience taught me the value of spacing and planning.

Creating a Planting Schedule

Plan your planting dates according to your local climate. University extension services often provide planting guides that are tailored to specific regions. Use these resources to determine the best times to plant each crop.

I'll never forget the spring when we decided to start our garden a bit early. A late frost came and damaged many of our young plants. It was a tough lesson, but it made me more diligent about following planting schedules.

The Importance of Layout

Drawing a garden layout helps visualize where each plant will go. Use graph paper or a computer program to create a detailed plan. Consider the mature size of each plant to avoid overcrowding and ensure adequate airflow and sunlight.

Succession Planting

Succession planting allows you to maximize your space by planting crops in succession. For example, after harvesting spring potatoes, you can plant bush beans in the same space for a second harvest before winter.

One year, I decided to try succession planting. After our early peas were harvested, I planted green beans in the same spot. It was such a success that now I plan for succession planting every season.

Encouraging Biodiversity

Planting a variety of crops can reduce pest problems and improve soil health. Intercropping and using companion planting techniques can enhance growth and yield. For instance, planting marigolds among your vegetables can deter pests and attract beneficial insects.

I remember a year when aphids were a major problem. I read about planting marigolds to repel them and decided to give it a try. Not only did the aphid problem decrease, but the marigolds added a burst of color to our garden.

Final Thoughts

Gardening is a journey of learning and adaptation. Whether you’re a beginner or have been gardening for years, there’s always something new to discover. Remember, gardening is not just about growing food; it’s about cultivating a deeper connection with the earth and enjoying the process of nurturing life.

One of my favorite gardening moments was when our grandson visited and helped harvest tomatoes. His eyes lit up as he picked each ripe tomato, and he declared, "This is the best day ever!" Moments like these remind me of the joy and fulfillment gardening brings.

As you embark on or continue your gardening journey, keep experimenting, keep learning, and most importantly, keep enjoying the process. Happy gardening!

Note: the audio file from the reference link was converted to text using Whisper model from OpenAI in conda environment with python 3.9. The final article was formatted using ChatGPT 4.o.

Register to our upcoming Growth Agriculture Conference on 20-23 September 2024 at Shalem Health Retreat. For more details click this link

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