By Katrina Godshalk
As winter’s chill leaves the air and the ground begins to warm, the urge to till the soil, sow seeds, and nurture new plant life is almost universal. The bounty of our island shows up in our farmers’ markets, local groceries and in the abundance of vegetable gardens we glimpse as we traverse the landscape.
There is nothing like the taste of vegetables grown from well nurtured soil where we live. The unique synergy of air, soil, water and sun a combination called terroir by the French found on Bainbridge gives our vegetables a special quality. But sometimes it can be completely overwhelming to consider starting your own vegetable garden where to start, how to start, do I have time?
There are many options, from pre-planted lettuce or herb bowls available at our grocers, to vegetable starts and seeds from our local nurseries. Here are seven pointers to get you started and on your way to the best vegetables ever.
1 Start small!
There is no need to overwhelm yourself with a big garden. A four-by-four-foot area or a few containers will give you enough room to create a garden. Think small and expand next year.
2 Position for sun.
Be mindful that vegetables are almost always sun lovers. Locate your garden area where the summer sun will shine on it for 6 to 8 hours per day.
3 Raised beds and fertile soil are a good investment.
A raised bed is a garden planting area that is above your soil level. Soil can simply be mounded up or enclosed by siding. Many of our island landscapers are happy to build and fill a raised bed. Raised soil warms up earlier in spring, allows for deeper root growth and good drainage, and is easier to work with, requiring much less bending. Garden beds can even be created as free standing units right at waist height. Good soil is perhaps your most important investment. It is the soil that nourishes the plants, so starting off with compost-enriched, healthy soil will help you to raise delicious, healthy vegetables.
Remember, soil systems are alive. One gram of healthy soil may contain up to 500 million microorganisms! And always use the least toxic approach possible because organic gardening sustains and improves soil, but more importantly, what we put on our soil eventually ends up in our water. Organic gardening supports all the creatures in our ecosystem.
4 Plant what grows well here.
Our maritime climate is especially conducive to early spring plantings of easy-to-grow kale, spinach, lettuce, peas and potatoes. Your favorite nursery can provide a good selection of spring starts or seeds.
5 Ask questions.
Perhaps the most important advice to remember is this gardeners almost always love to share advice and experiences. It’s a great way to meet the neighbors too. Our local nursery centers have experts that can greatly aid your project no question is too basic. There are also blogs, books and websites devoted to gardening in our climate.
6 Value small achievements.
Learn from your plants. Part of the joy of planting seeds or starts is about becoming a student again, where the plants are our teachers. The leaves of my first kale crop looked more like Swiss cheese than kale leaves, but I learned from that and I’m hopeful for a better crop next year. Success is measured by not only the crop, but also the process.
7 Recognize the many benefits of gardening.
Research is revealing what many gardeners already know—time spent gardening is a good, usually gentle workout that reduces stress, enhances creativity and brings a sense of peace or mindfulness. Just breathing the air around healthy soil and inhaling the beneficial bacteria can boost the immune system and improve mood. The best, freshest vegetables are the ones we grow at home. Give homegrown vegetables a place at your table this summer and enjoy the abundance of Bainbridge.