I do not have a green thumb. I don’t live with a dog or cat, partly because my toddler is enough of a mess to take care of, but mostly because I wouldn’t be a very good pet owner. I’ve always thought I should try and keep plants alive before taking on the responsibility of a dog.
Despite my terrible sense of responsibility, I had a strong urge to learn how to garden, and when my family and I moved into a house with a yard last summer, I decided to risk taking (botanical) life into my hands. I was motivated by seeing friends and coworkers show off their bountiful produce (the size of one coworker’s zucchini was astounding).
I’m a little bit of a scifi nerd, and some post-apocalyptic stories seem more likely than others. And if the grocery stores are all empty, I want to at least know how to grow my own vegetables. Ideally, I’d have a few goats, chickens, bees, and alpacas as well, but I thought I’d start with a veggie garden.
Urban Gardening—Choosing the Plot
I am the epitome of a novice, so this gardening series is not meant to be tutorial, but more “try not to cringe at all Brian’s mistakes.” Perhaps you can learn a little from what I’ve screwed up.
Spring was arriving in Portland, and I was ready to get started. I’d done a little research into how to convert a grass lawn into a vegetable garden. There were different options, like covering the plot with newspaper, letting the darkness kill the grass for a month, and mulching in the newspaper. I had two problems with that option: I didn’t have any newspaper (who doesn’t read their news online? Sorry, print journalists), and I didn’t have a month’s worth of patience. I decided to go with the other option I’d read about – flipping the turf.
We moved to this house from an apartment, so the only tools we had for outdoor work were left behind by the last tenants. I had a sturdy, if dull, shovel, and that was enough for this task. Some people rent a back-hoe for this – I witnessed a neighbor actually tearing up his yard with one – but I’m not that gung-ho, or that full of money. Besides, gardening should be done as much by hand as possible, don’t you think? (I changed my mind later!)
As you can see, my brother and I dug a rectangle, about 8 by 10 square feet. No real planning went into the dimensions or the location. It just looked to be the right size, and maybe we got a little worn out. Flipping sod is not for city folk, with flabby city muscles.
My first mistake was choosing the plot location. I didn’t put hardly any thought into the most important element: where sunlight fell in my yard. What a rookie mistake. All I needed to do was spend one day occasionally eyeballing my yard, and marking the extent of sunlight and shadow. The plot I chose is about 40% shady (that’s my very scientific measurement). Shade is okay for some plants, like lettuce, so it wasn’t the worst mistake I could have made. But now I know what I would do differently next time.
In the next post I will tell you about how my laziness and impatience lead to my next mistake. It’s not all bad news – we have successfully harvested spinach, lettuce, and basil, so far, and there is a fat cucumber getting fatter everyday.
Do you garden? If so, what were your mistakes in the beginning?
(Come on… make me feel better!)