Note: Lorna Carlisle, who recently joined the Beacon’s new Content Committee, agreed to help us find, and write, articles about gardening, farm stands, and helpful suggestions. She lives in Salisbury, and has been running a farm stand since 2005, at the North of Concord Farm (located across from the Barn Store on Route 4). She has been gardening in New Hampshire since childhood
I believe in growing in the soil (not hydroponics) and working with Nature sustainably. I’m happy to give gardening advice if people want to come to the farm (77 Old Turnpike Road) or email: email@example.com.
Many people are looking at gardening as a way to help with inflation and the high cost of foods. It is a great way to save money. It’s also good to be outside in Nature, so hopefully you’ll put down those phones and enjoy the world around you. Another benefit is eating real food. Too many have grown accustomed to running into the grocery store and purchasing a ready-to-eat meal. The more processed your food is, the more costly — both in terms of money and health. Growing your own food can be fun but also challenging. Some vegetables can be relatively easy to grow — like radishes, lettuce, and beans. Even tomatoes seem easy until later in the season when they start to have a melt-down from disease. Pests know when the table is set. You can be admiring your plants one day and the next morning come out to an almost empty spot. Deer love the salad bar. Insects of all kinds can wreak havoc. I joke about “religious” arugula. It’s holey.
Bugs chew holes, suck the life out of your plants, and spread disease. I’m not trying to discourage you, but realize gardening is a skill like wine — it improves with age. Many of us in New Hampshire grew up needing a garden. We had chickens, pigs, and a family cow in addition to growing most of our food supply for winter. We canned and froze many items. A well-stocked pantry cost a lot less than running to the store (which in those days was quite a trip!). The first requirement for gardening is patience. When you stick that tiny seed in the soil, it can take days or weeks to emerge, depending on the weather and soil temperature. Radishes push through very quickly but carrots can take much longer. Some items such as broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants make more sense to either grow your own transplants or purchase at a local supplier. Think about what you pay per pound for a tomato at the store. A fresh-picked tomato from your backyard tastes way better than one that has traveled hundreds of miles and was picked under ripe to survive the journey.
We can also choose varieties that have the best flavor. Commercial growers generally select varieties that hold up well for transport, not necessarily ones that have the best taste. There are ways to improve your success at gardening. Make sure your soil is warm and ready for planting. Most seeds don’t like temperatures below 60 degrees. There are some exceptions such as peas. Radishes, spinach, lettuce, and arugula can sprout in early spring. Don’t overwork your soil. A freshly-tilled garden looks great but you are breaking up the important Soil Food Web that is essential for good growth. Fungi, bacteria, insects, toads and other things are aerating the soil, processing dead leaves and other materials into nutrition that plants can absorb, making connections with plant roots to allow the uptake of those nutrients.
Personally, I do not like commercial fertilizers. They only feed the plant and not the soil. Spraying to eliminate pests can also do more harm than good. It can kill the pest as well as beneficials such as honey bees or monarch butterfly caterpillars. Read the label thoroughly on any spray and follow the instructions closely. Even “organic” sprays can harm more than the intended target. Given all that, we can still grow a substantial amount of food in relatively small spaces. A small spot of land in a sunny location. A raised bed. Even a few plants in pots can be a start. Our gardening season used to be Memorial Day weekend for planting, and the last harvest followed a predictable Labor Day frost. Not anymore. Our frosts have delayed until October. There are also products to extend on either side of the growing season. Cold frames. Hoops and row covers over raised beds. Even a sunny, south-facing slope can add a degree or two of protection.
Go easy on yourself. Be patient. Start small. Most importantly, remind yourself that this is a learning process. Remember that even failures are a reminder of what not to do the next time. Now grab your seeds, drop the phone, and get outside to garden!