Today is International Plant Appreciation Day! Use this day to flex your green thumb by starting a family garden at home! Not only will this garden yield delicious, healthy crops for you and your family, but it will also contribute to a healthy environment and allow you to cut down on waste. Keep reading to find out how to get started on your family garden!
Our society has taken a turn toward health consciousness, and rightfully so. With the rising popularity of veganism and gluten-free and paleo diets, people are becoming much more invested in their health and what they put into their bodies. What better way to monitor the food you eat than by growing it yourself? Starting a family garden can be a fun and educational way to bring the whole family together to work hard and eat healthy.
How to get started
Before you begin harvesting fruits and vegetables, there are some logistical and environmental factors to consider. Most crops require at least some sunlight, so you need to find an area of land that receives direct sunlight but can also be shaded, either by trees or artificial barriers. You will also need to add compost or fertilizer to your soil and till the ground by digging and stirring the soil to break it up. Tilling prevents the soil from becoming crusty and dry. This allows for air, water, sunlight and nutrients to penetrate the soil and reach the roots of your crops so they can grow steadily and strong.
Getting the kids involved
When your family consists of children of all different ages, sometimes it can be hard to find activities for everyone to enjoy. Luckily, starting a family garden is one thing you can all work on and benefit from together. Get some smaller tools for the youngsters, so they can help you till the soil and tend to the produce. You will want to keep their hands away from sharp garden sheers, but rakes, shovels, spray bottles and wheelbarrows are all perfectly safe tools that your child can use to help out. You may also want to section off parts of the garden for each child, so they can manage their own areas with whatever fruits, vegetables and plants they like to grow and eat. Snap peas, radishes, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and green beans are great for kids because they grow quickly and easily. Just wait for the look on your children’s faces when they take a bite out of their first harvested items from the family garden — pure bliss.
What to grow and when to grow it
When deciding what you and your family want to grow in your garden, it is important to pay close attention to when fruits and vegetables are in their peak season so you can ensure you are cultivating high-quality produce. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the best crops to grow in the spring are bell peppers, blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, grapefruit, papaya, peaches, potatoes and radishes. In the summer, take a stab at mangos, passion fruit and watermelon. Try growing avocados in the fall, and broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, squash and strawberries in the winter. If you are looking for crops with more versatility, you may want to include oranges, sweet corn and tomatoes in your garden. They are fruitful for the majority of the year, with the exception of the summer months. Add guava, mushrooms and peanuts to your garden for year-round prosperity.
How to read a plant tag
When you add new fruits, vegetables and plants to your garden, it is necessary to know how to decipher the information on the plant tag. Generally, the first item listed on a plant tag is the plant’s common name, followed by its scientific name underneath. Below the names you will find the maximum height and width the plant can grow up to, which is helpful when arranging your garden. This is usually expressed as a range of a few inches. Next is the zone number, which determines what region the plant grows best in. The U.S. Department of Agriculture designates these hardiness zones based on location temperatures. Alachua County falls in zones 9a and 8b. You can go to Garden.org/zipzone for more information regarding hardiness zones. Below the zone number, you will find information regarding how much sun exposure the plant needs. Sun exposure is sometimes written out and other times is listed as an icon — a full sun means at least six direct hours of sunlight per day, a partial sun/shade is equivalent to half of that amount and full shade translates to less than three hours of direct sunlight each day. The final listings on a plant tag indicate water needs and animal resistance. Water needs are indicated with one, two or three raindrops — one meaning soil should dry out before watering again, two meaning soil should be dry an inch beneath the surface and three meaning soil should remain damp at all times. If a plant tag has a rabbit or deer icon that is crossed out, animals will likely stay away from it.
How to keep the bugs at bay
Maintaining a fruitful garden can be difficult if bugs keep getting in the way of your plants’ natural growth. To keep the pests at bay, make sure that your plants are healthy and strong. This means regularly checking the leaves for damage and discoloration and removing any diseased or dead areas. It is also important to tackle weeds before they spiral out of control. Bugs like to settle in weeds, so eliminating them from your garden is a surefire way to limit the congregation of critters. For handling larger pests in an environmentally friendly way, try littering the soil with crushed eggshells to create a jagged foundation that will deter them from ransacking your garden. You can also spray a simple dish soap and water solution (1 part soap: 10 parts water) over your plants to detract critters from snacking on the fruits of your labor. Luckily, this just barely soapy water mixture will not harm your crops nor the people who eat them.
What to do with what you grow
Perhaps the most exciting part about cultivating a garden is being able to eat the food that you have grown. Gardening eliminates the guessing game about where your produce comes from because you are involved in every part of the farm-to-table process. If you have an excess of fruits and vegetables from your garden, you can gift your friends, family and neighbors with your juicy peaches and succulent tomatoes, or you can even sell them in a local farmers market.