Readers might remember that in March, I started my first ever vegetable garden. If you haven’t followed the story, here are a few reminders about why gardening is not only good for you, but for animals, too:
- Gardens help you to eat a more whole-foods plant-based diet. Often, people mistakenly believe that eating vegetarian or vegan is expensive, which isn’t necessarily the case. A garden can make fresh, organic produce readily available to you.
- Organic gardening doesn’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and chemical pesticides are frequently cited as a leading cause of pollinator population decline. If you love bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, starting an organic home garden is for you!
- Gardening can help you cut down on plastic waste in your life. This actually works two ways. First, you can consider all the packaging you save by growing the vegetable you’d otherwise buy from the store. Not only that, but a home garden is a great place to put compost, and if you buy and compost compostable products instead of single-use plastics, you can reduce plastic waste.
Now that it’s June, I thought I’d provide a quick update on how things are going and the most important lessons I’ve learned.
Of course, I haven’t had a huge harvest yet. I’ve eaten a few fresh strawberries from my strawberry planter and pulled a few radishes that are sitting in my refrigerator waiting to be eaten. I have a few peppers ready to be harvested soon, and my tomatoes are beginning to come in. Beans are stretching towards the sun, reaching the top of my six-foot trellis and beyond. Basil and cilantro are thriving.
I don’t expect a huge harvest this year; I treated it more as a learning experience. I want to share the lessons I learned with you so that you can garden more successfully than I did.
Here are the top lessons I want to share:
I have lived in apartments all my life and so I never had a garden or a compost pile. I live pretty close to my neighbors, so I didn’t want a traditional compost pile. They’re big, I was worried about the appearance and the smell, and I didn’t want to attract any animals that might be trapped or killed because they were considered pests. So I bought a compost tumbler, and it’s great for my situation.
It keeps the compost hidden so my neighbors are happy, and it gives me a place to get rid of kitchen scraps and paper junk mail. However, it is slow! I had to purchase compost to use in my garden this year because I didn’t plan ahead. If you’re thinking about starting a garden next year, think about composting now. It makes for a happy garden, and it keeps your organic waste and compostable products out of the landfill and, more importantly to our fishy friends, out of rivers, streams, and the ocean.
Of course, if you’re not worried about using your homemade compost in your garden, and if you live in Pittsburgh, you can see if a composting service like Worm Return is available. You may be able to get rid of that compostable waste without having to wait on your compost tumbler to break down all your coffee grounds and banana peels–it just depends if you want your garden itself to be the tool you use to fight plastic waste, or if you’re happy doing that separately and not reaping the benefits directly in your garden.
Plant Appropriate Produce
I knew that cabbage and broccoli were best suited for cooler weather, but I planted them in mid-April anyway. You might remember we had an unseasonable cold snap or two in April, and it had me thinking that these colder-weather plants might do okay–plus I just wanted to give them a try.
Well, they didn’t do okay. My broccoli went to seed right away, making it inedible, and my cabbage struggled along and wilted. If you want to grow these vegetables, plan accordingly and plant them when it’s appropriate. Otherwise, just lean into the seasonal veggies.
Keep your Project Manageable
One of my visions for my garden was to create a beautiful landscape of native plants to feed our lovely pollinator friends. But… that has become my plan for my garden 2.0.
I want native flowering shrubs, milkweed to provide homes for monarch butterflies, coneflowers to line my walkway and provide food for bees, and even structures like bee hotels to provide much-needed habitat for bees. As excited as I am for this goal, I work full time and am involved in a few volunteer organizations, on top of finishing up a master’s degree this year. It just wasn’t realistic for me to get all that done this Spring.
If you’re like me, sometimes doing what you consider to be a bad version of something seems almost worse than not doing it at all. However, making this an iterative process where I add layers season after season gives me something to look forward to.
I started with a vision of turning my tiny little patch of earth into a space that is safe for my wild neighbors; that provides wholesome, humane, healthy food; and that helps the environment and animals to live better lives than if I had a more traditional yard. As I learn more, each year, I can move closer to that goal.
I encourage you to do the same–have big aspirations, but keep your expectations for yourself manageable so that you make progress and don’t give up.
I hope to be harvesting ample amounts of produce by this Fall, but even if I’m not, I’ll repeat this experiment next year with the knowledge gained from this year–and the free compost I’ll finally have by then! I hope some of you will take the time to give gardening a try and, if you do, I hope you can see the impact it will have on the animals we all love.