We recently had a chance to talk to the folks from Oregon Tilth about how to successfully to create your own home garden. Read on for the full interview…
1. Why should people consider growing their own food?
Growing your own food gives you a connection to place. It is a firsthand experience on how what we eat impacts soil, water, biodiversity and our communities. While it can certainly save you money, ensure you are eating the right foods and be the freshest food you can find, it also connects you to our larger food system and farmers. Growing food is an investment in natural resources. You’ll see the benefits of cover crops, making space for flowers and beneficial insects, rotating crops and more. Growing your own garden can also deepen our respect, admiration and connection with farmers and show why farmers choose organic in connection to place.
2. We’ve heard many people describe gardening as therapeutic, meditative, even blissful… What do you see as the emotional benefits of gardening and how does someone take that first step?
Gardening is well documented to be therapeutic and healing. Simply put, gardening connects you to something bigger than yourself. It demands your presence. It is a multi-sensory experience. And it can be overwhelming to dive into the gardening world. A good starting point is to visit a local community garden and talking to other gardeners or volunteering on a garden project. Find out what they’ve tried that works and just carefully observe their practices.
3. Considering two important criteria, what’s easiest to grow and what’s most popular to eat, what would you recommend as the top 5 edibles to plant?
Of course, just like in real estate this is all about location. But some of the easiest plants to grow are zucchini, green beans (snap or string), kale, lettuces and radishes. But you still need to give strong consideration to how most folks agree that nothing beats a tomato fresh off the vine or how the sweetness and excitement of a freshly pulled carrot cannot be overstated.
4. Gardening can sound intimidating to novices (soil testing and optimization, building raised planting boxes, constant weeding and watering, etc.). What are the minimum requirements for success?
Success requires healthy soil, access to water, and patience. Healthy soil takes time to build but is the foundation for healthy plants, pest resistance, water conservation and more. Continuously investing in your soil up front through compost, cover crops, and proper amending will pay off for many seasons to come. Most novice gardeners underestimate the importance of proper garden bed preparation and the importance of regular deep watering. In the big scheme of things you need to be patient with it all because you only have a couple of chances each year. You try once, take notes and learn for next time.
5. What advice would you give to the home gardener who has tried and failed to yield a bountiful garden?
It happens to everyone. The most successful gardeners and farmers all experience major failures. For new gardeners, the pitfall is trying to do too much their first season. Buying healthy transplants at your local farmers market ensures you are starting with well-adapted varieties that have been started extra early in a greenhouse so that you’ll get plenty of harvests. Making sure you have easy to access water is crucial to ensure that your plants get the water they need – many new gardeners don’t water enough. Your soil should feel like a damp sponge when squeezed – no mud squishing out and not overly crumbly.
6. What are your thoughts on the minimum essential tools for home gardening?
A hand trowel, digging fork (not pitchfork), soil rake and a hoe.
7. It’s now June, is it too late to get a garden started for this year?
No! Many crops can and should be grown as successions to ensure the crispest and freshest harvests over a longer period of time. Things like lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, cilantro, and beans are all great to sow multiple times to prolong harvest. In June, you can still squeeze in short-season tomatoes and peppers, basil, squash, cucumbers, and all the previously mentioned items. Many people call late-July/August the second spring since it is a good time to plant cool weather crops for fall harvest. Things like lettuce, mesclun mix, kale, broccoli, and more.
8. Please tell us more about Oregon Tilth – what’s your mission, how did the organization get started, where is it going now?
Oregon Tilth is a leading certifier, educator and advocate for organic agriculture and products since 1974. Our mission to make our food system and agriculture biologically sound and socially equitable requires us to find practical ways to tackle big challenges. When Oregon Tilth started out, our conversations with friends and partners looked to sustainable agriculture as an answer to some of the most critical environmental and social problems within our food system. Nearly four decades later, we continue to collaborate with partners across several sectors to respond to a wide range of challenges more effectively. Today, we look for opportunities to bring everyone to the table – government agencies, farmers, nonprofits, businesses and citizens – to find the best solutions to meet these challenges face on. And through our membership, our certification program and other programs, we embrace sharing knowledge and model practices that help spur discovery and accelerate innovation in organic practices.
Learn more about Oregon Tilth…
You can learn more about Oregon Tilth on their website at tilth.org, where you’ll find information about organics, certifications, and their mission.