|Thanks to Biswarup Ganguly for the lovely image. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vegetables_0006.JPG|
Okay, so maybe they aren’t secrets to people who have lived outside the city or grown in-city gardens, but to me some of them were big surprises.
This year, I am starting gardening vegetables. Why? Because it is interesting, it’s healthier, and eventually, it might take a chunk out of my grocery bill. Plus, nothing can beat the taste of something freshly picked. When I was in Ireland many years ago, I stayed with a family that grew their own vegetables. From that alone, I know there are some things that are even edible when grown in a backyard garden, like cauliflower.
However, as a city girl, I had some major misconceptions about gardening. (For those of you who grew up on farms or have been gardening for years, feel free to giggle. Then do add your words of wisdom in the comments. I would love to hear more tidbits on the subject of vegetable and fruit growing.) For those of you like me who are not well-versed in the subject, here are a few of the fascinating things I’ve learned so far.
1) You do not plant everything at once. This may sound silly, but somehow, all my life, I had the impression that, in the spring, you planted everything all at once, watered, weeded, and then harvested at roughly the same times for all crops. No, no, no. Depending on the vegetable, it can take anywhere from six weeks to perhaps five months between planting and harvesting. For examples, peas tend to be pretty quick, but onions need a long time to grow.
Then you plant things at different times. Potatoes, onions, spinach, broccoli, and lettuce go in earlier. The first two take a while to grow, and the rest are not keen on summer heat. Later, as the earth warms, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and squash are much more viable. And that isn’t even getting started on fall crops.
2) Many crops are not grown from seed. Potatoes, for instance, are literally grown from potatoes. As long as there are eyes attached, they stand a good chance. They can even be chopped up into big chunks and will still grow! I suppose this shouldn’t be a big surprise. After all, we try to eat them before they start sprouting in our pantries, but I had never made the connection before.
Then, take garlic, which pretty much doesn’t produce seeds. You plant the cloves to get more garlic. And many herbs are grown from cuttings. New strawberry plants can literally be made by planting part of an existing plant until it sprouts, then cutting it free from the mother plant. Who would have ever thought that vegetables, herbs, and fruit acted like fantasy trolls that regrow missing limbs. Okay, some of you probably have, but it was news to me.
3) Soil is the most crucial factor in a plant’s success. Yes, sunlight, water, temperature, and surviving insects and diseases are also extremely important, but the soil plays a huge role. It must have enough of the right types of nutrients, be porous enough to hold water, but not too much, and contain pockets of air. If it’s a good soil match for the plant, the plant is much more likely to survive water fluctuations, variants in light and heat, and a healthy plant resists insects and disease so much better. Of course, not giving tomatoes enough light or giving spinach too much will possibly kill them, but in the grand scheme of things, I had not realized how crucial soil was.
4) The most expensive part of gardening is not the plants, at least so far. The most expensive part is the initial setup making sure the soil is good and the area is ready for planting. I do not have access naturally to good soil, so this is a big expense for me.
5) One of the coolest things I’ve learned so far is that you can actually grow potatoes in straw mulch, no soil necessary. Potatoes are so eager to sprout that, as long as the tubers are not exposed to light, they are highly tolerant. The big advantage to straw over soil is that you get cleaner potatoes.
Now, all of this is before I’ve actually eaten anything out of my garden, but it’s a start.
Any gardening tips or interesting or funny stories from anyone?