— Connie Carlson, Executive Director, Crow River Food Council
The COVID-19 epidemic is rapidly impacting all of us in ways that many of us probably didn’t expect. From toilet paper shortages to learning how to make a Zoom call, these times are requiring us to be flexible, resilient, inventive and patient. On behalf of the Crow River Food Council, we hope you are finding ways to take care of yourself and others that maintains both your physical and mental health.
One way that I’m caring for myself is planning out my 2020 garden. This is something I enjoy and look forward to doing every year. I ordered my seeds from my favorite companies, have drawn out my diagrams and planned where I’m going to put my plants. Perhaps in a fit of extreme optimism, I put in a row of carrots and peas with my quarantined teenager this week, just before it snowed.
I thought one way I could be of service to my community during this disruptive time is provide new gardeners with some ideas for how they can start their own garden this year. I’ve been hearing through the circles that there has been high demand for seeds and that Victory Gardens might be making a return. (If you don’t know about Victory Gardens, I encourage you to read about them here.)
So, I’ve made a short list of suggestions to think through if you are considering planting a garden this year. I encourage you to post questions, comments or suggestions and keep the conversation flowing!
- Keep It Simple: if this is your first year or first time growing something, keep it simple. Gardens do require regular weeding, watering, pest management and harvesting and if you haven’t managed one before, it’s easy for them to get away from you. Simple is wonderful.
- Do Some Homework: there are a few things to know about gardening that will help start you out on the right foot and the University of Minnesota Extension website is great place to get good information. These are the very first things you should know:
- Our Growing Zone: Wright County is in Zone 4. When you pick seeds or plants, be sure to select ones that are within our growing zone.
- Cool season vs. warm season: Some plants grow better when the soil is cool. These include peas, salad greens, carrots and beets. This list of plants can be sown directly from seed and are even frost tolerant. Some plants need the soil to be warmer, like cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and squash. Some of these plants can be started from seed in your garden (cucumbers and squash) and others will need to be started indoors or purchased as seedlings (tomatoes and peppers). Seed packets and labels have this information printed on them.
- Soil Nutrients: it’s always smart to test your soil before you plant your garden. Doing this will tell you if you need to amend your soil with additional nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) or potassium (K). You can learn about how to do a soil test here. Don’t worry about the soil test if you are going to grow in pots this year and will be using purchased potting soil.
- Make a plan: Some people start with pots or dig up a small patch of their lawn in a sunny spot.
- Sun: Vegetables need at least eight hours of sunlight, so before you dig up your lawn, watch the area to see what type of sunlight it gets.
- Water: Also, be sure to consider your water source and have a plan for how you are going to keep your garden adequately watered.
- Weeds: One of the best ways to keep down weed pressure is to mulch around your rows. I use grass clippings (I don’t spray my yard), but wood chips, newspaper, cardboard or straw works too.
- Expect to Make Some Mistakes: I grew up on a farm with a family garden and have had a garden every year for over 20 years but every year brings something new. Some years, my tomatoes are the pride of the neighborhood and other years I’m begging friends to share their extras. Sometimes my mistakes are carelessness, but most of the time when things don’t go right, weather or pests are to blame. That’s just the way it is with gardening. Be kind to yourself and keep your expectations realistic.
- Prepare to be Surprised: I enjoy working in the soil, watching for signs of life and listening to birds and wildlife as I garden. Every year I learn something new when I garden and every year my garden surprises me. I love using fresh herbs in my meals and watching my kids forage for a snack amongst the snap peas. Even after all this time, I’m still surprised and delighted by my garden. Good luck with your garden and enjoy the gifts it brings you every day.