Did you pick up a new hobby last year? At the start of the pandemic, many of us dived into bread-baking, knitting, music-making, or any number of social-distance friendly hobbies. Mine was panic-gardening. I say panic-gardening because I started by haphazardly pulling out a small patch of lawn and throwing down whatever random seeds and plant starts my local nursery had leftover to see what would take. Needless to say, you won’t find my method of gardening in any recommended books or blogs on this subject…
In the end, the small harvest of lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes that I got was still enough to hook me on gardening. This year, I’m hoping to return to my garden patch with a lot more forethought and planning. I’m currently writing this blog as our city is blanketed by snow, so though it might seem early to be thinking about Spring, it’s actually the perfect time to get started on plants with a longer “days to maturity” period—like onions.
As I started reading up on this subject, I realized quickly that to start gardening as a novice is to be met with a million decisions: Should you start seeds indoors or sow directly? When should you plant seeds? What plants are best suited to our cloudy and wet springs? How important is your soil’s pH level? The world of gardening books is vast and initially overwhelming but here are a few books that have helped me make more sense of the basics:
The New Gardener’s Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Grow A Beautiful and Bountiful Garden by Daryl Beyers is an all-purpose guide to growing that serves as a refresher for basic plant science, like the parts of the plants, types of roots, etc… It also walks you through steps of plant care that beginners might overlook, like how to prune your crop or collect seeds for next year. But gardening isn’t just about maximizing your yields or growing the biggest pumpkin you can.
Your Well-Being Garden is a great read that explores all the ways that gardening can be beneficial for us, beyond what we can reap to eat. It recommends plants that block out noise pollution or ones to attract birds that provide a calming background song. This meditation on gardening as a practice really illuminated why so many of us were drawn to create gardens for the first time during a stressful pandemic.
If you’re more in the mood to jump straight into specific information, I’d recommend Beginner Gardening Step by Step which is a cute, colorful, and extremely skimmable guide. It offers lots of information on landscaping plants in addition to veggies, and is organized to give new gardeners easy-to-follow steps for establishing a garden. Likewise, there’s Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which reads as if a pithy friend were interpreting the instructions on the back of a seed packet for you.
One issue I ran into last year was that often the vegetable or crop I wanted to grow just…wasn’t suited to our PNW climate, or the type of soil in my garden. For others who might share my problem, there’s Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix, which gives you a “if you like X, try planting Y” formula for selecting plants. Another great title to have nearby as you start ordering seeds or planning nursery trips is Japanese Style Companion Planting by Toshio Kijima. This book is the ultimate garden matchmaker, giving you tried-and-true pairings of compatible vegetables to place next to each other for higher yields and healthier plants.
Finally, if you find that your garden rewards your effort and research with more food than you can eat, the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods has some wonderful resources for how you can share your abundance on their P-Patch page. You might also consider joining Seattle’s Giving Garden Network.
Good luck to us all, and happy planting!
~Posted by Michelle T.