By Jasmyn Alvarez, a Wedgewood Community Gardener
When it comes to gardening it’s hard to know where to start. Aside from helping my grandmother weed in her flower beds as a kid, I don’t have much experience. I signed up for a community garden plot at Wedgewood Urban Garden this June feeling a little nervous but ready to try. I’m so grateful for Community Garden Manager, Kia Brown, for her advice and tips for starting and maintaining a garden no matter what time of the year. There is nothing like the magic of watching a seed grow into a beautiful plant, then seeing its fruits on my plate!
In the community gardens you’ll find that you have a lot of choices and ways to focus on your goals - it could be to try something new or get outside. One of my goals is to improve my health by eating whole foods and being active. I wanted to use all of my community plot space to grow as many fruits and vegetables as possible, so Kia introduced me to a method called 'Square Foot Gardening.' The idea is that you break up your plot into square feet and plant as many of one type of plant as you can fit in order to maximize the space.
A GUIDE TO SQUARE FOOT GARDENING
The first step was figuring out what vegetables I wanted to plant. I thought about the types of vegetables that I love to eat to make sure that nothing grown would go to waste. Here’s what made the cut:
- Butternut squash
I started my garden plot in July so I needed to figure out what to grow during the heat of the summer and what would have to wait until the fall. Kia has a great guide - anything leafy grows and root vegetables grow when its cool (spring or fall) anything that flowers or produces fruit should grow in the summer. Herbs can be sprinkled in during any season as long as they have consistent water and nutrients. We divided everything up into those two categories.
Spring & Fall Crops
- Butternut squash
The next step is to figure out how long it takes the plants to go from a seed to being harvested which is also known as “days to maturity.” You can find this number on the seed packets or online. Its best if you know the specific variety of the plants you want because that can change the time it takes to grow. Since I started my plot in June I only planned the days to maturity for summer crops.
Summer Crops (Days to Maturity)
- Beans (50-60 days)
- Butternut squash (85 days)
- Cucumbers (55-65 days)
- Peppers (70-90 days)
- Tomatoes (65-70 days)
Next I looked at if I planted them on that day when would all of the crops be ready to harvest. For plants that take a long time to mature like squash, peppers and tomatoes it may be helpful to purchase plants that have already started to grow and transplant them into the garden. In general they should all be ready to harvest between the end of July through August. That is a lot of produce to be harvested in just a few weeks so the next step is to plan out successions. Meaning I can plant half of my crops in the beginning and plant the rest of it two-three weeks later. This way I can eat these amazing vegetables for months instead of weeks.
The final portion of planning the garden is figuring out how many plants fit into each square foot. For example, I can fit 4 green bean plants in one square foot, one tomato plant into 4 square feet. I wrote out exactly where I wanted to put each plant on a piece of paper.
The last step in starting the garden is the most fun - planting my seeds and transplants!
How’d It Grow?
There were some parts of my plan that had to be reworked once I started planting my crops but overall I have a great idea of what produce I’ll have in the next few weeks. I’ve enjoyed spending more time outdoors and even getting some exercise by taking care of my garden plot. What I’ve learned the most from growing a garden is that food is amazing. The time and energy that goes into growing food makes you appreciate the flavors and nutrients you get when you eat it. I’ve already started planning out all the ways I’m going to eat my food so that none of it goes to waste. Although the experience has been new, thanks to Kia, I now feel I have the tools and resources to successfully start a garden. I’ve had a lot of help from my “Garden Brothers & Sisters” too!
The Nashville Food Project is currently enrolling gardeners for the Wedgewood Urban Garden near the fairgrounds. For more information and to find out if you are eligible for a plot, please visit www.thenashvillefoodproject.org/signup.