Gardeners aren’t born with green thumbs; they earn them, one stain and callus at a time.
But every backyard farmer started somewhere.
The ranks of beginning vegetable gardeners continue to swell along with interest in food safety, healthy eating and that household perennial – saving money.
Master gardeners have been deluged with questions by newbies on veggies.
Vegetables really brought people in the last few years, said Sacramento (Calif.) County master gardener Gail Pothour. It’s always a popular topic, but now it’s very popular. It could be an economic thing; people can save money. Or they may be more concerned about what they’re eating.
Most of all, the beginners want to know: How do I make vegetables grow?
Start with patience. The first warm springlike weather tempts gardeners to jump the calendar and start planting tomatoes.
Wait, Pothour said. Don’t plant too early. Make sure the soil is warm. If you put things in too early, they don’t grow and you just get discouraged.
That makes a planting schedule or chart a must, she added. People really don’t know when to plant.
For beginners, she suggested vegetables with large seeds such as beans or squash. They’re easier to handle. They sprout quickly and make a lot.
Vegetable gardening has found new converts among recent college grads and young families in their 20s and 30s. They grew up on supermarket produce but want to try their hands at tomatoes and squash. They need to know the basics without feeling like dirt dummies.
That’s exactly what I was trying to do – a real back-to-basics book, but not talk down to people, said Katie Elzer-Peters, author of Beginner’s Illustrated Guide to Gardening: Techniques to Help You Get Started (Cool Springs Press). A lot of folks don’t grow up mowing lawns – my dad didn’t let us.
Elzer-Peters, 32, turned to her friends, who also served as the book’s models.
They were my target audience, she said. They didn’t know anything about gardening, but they asked questions as we went. That spurred more ideas.
Gardening can be an intimidating hobby, she noted. There’s so much to learn, from deciphering the back of a seed packet and reading a fertilizer label to fighting pests.
A lot of folks are casually interested in plants or gardening, but don’t do it a lot, said Elzer-Peters, a North Carolina-based horticulturist who has done extensive work at botanical gardens. They buy plants at Home Depot or the grocery store because they think they’re pretty. Those plants might live, might die, but they still don’t know the basics.
For newbie veggie gardeners, Elzer-Peters concentrated on technique, from seed to harvest. Her methods apply to both edibles and ornamentals. In planning new gardens, she makes room for flowers. They help attract bees – important for crop pollination.
Urban backyards may not have much space – or sun – for a vegetable garden. Community gardens fill that void.
They also help new gardeners learn through their spirit of community.
What to plant?
No. 1: Grow what you like to eat, said Bill Maynard, Sacramento’s community garden guru. After a few seasons, you can try different varieties. But start with something easy: zucchini, tomatoes, radishes and lettuce. Plant what’s in season; that’s key. No tomatoes in winter or Brussels sprouts in summer. Get a plant schedule and use it.
And don’t forget to water, Maynard added, especially when you’re starting seeds.
While doing all that, keep track of everything, advises Claudia Alstrom of Rancho Cordova, Calif., a volunteer at the Cordova Senior Activities Center’s Green Thumb Garden Club. With 14 raised beds, the garden provides fresh produce for the center’s lunch program one day a week as well as vegetables for members.
A journal helps you remember what worked and what didn’t work, Alstrom said. Write down what you plant, when you planted it, where you bought it. You’ll want to know that stuff next year when you plant another garden.