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Gardening 101 with PICA: Everything You Need to Get Started

Written by Brian Banh

Edited by Ailee Arias

Many of us are confined to our homes as COVID-19 persists globally, and many of us are looking for things to do. So what better way to utilize this time to learn how to garden (if time and space permits of course)! For the absolute beginner, gardening may seem as easy as sprinkling seeds onto soil and BOOM, you have a plant springing up in no time. I wish it was as easy as that. There are several steps and factors to account for in order to have a successful garden. Below I’ve synthesized various beginner gardening tips from experts and from my own experience to help you get started. 1.) Location, Location, Location Before brainstorming about all the things you want to grow in your garden, take a step back and consider the location and climate you’re in. Does your location have enough sun or too much sun? Most fruits and vegetables need at least 5-6 hours of direct sunlight to be well-nourished. Make sure to see how much sunlight your potential plot of land receives throughout the day. A helpful tool to figure this out is by using a sun calculator like Suncalc or Google Pro Earth. These tools locate the sun’s position on a particular day, time, and location to show you how much sunlight hits a certain area. Specifically for Google Pro Earth, it provides a 3D model of the sun’s placement in conjunction to objects (ie. buildings, houses) so a person can visualize the shadows that may appear throughout the day. Attached below are tutorials to use these tools: Suncalc: Google Pro Earth: Is your location near water? Make sure that there’s easy access to a water source. It’ll save your energy if you have a hose on sight ready to water your plants! Also consider how much water your potential plants will need. Do they need to be watered everyday? Twice a day? And how will the watering schedule differ from plant to plant? You could mull over these questions now, but you could also think more on this once you’re ready to establish your crops. Have you learned your frost dates? Planting too early or too late in a season can erase all your hard work in the garden. Look over the average last spring frost date so you don’t plant in your garden prematurely and have your sprouting plants destroyed by the cold. Also, look over the average first fall frost date so you know when to harvest and/or move plants indoors. It would be sad to see all your hard work damaged by the cold right before harvesting! You can find your location’s average frost dates here.

Do you know your hardiness zone? Knowing your hardiness zone is a beneficial tool for gardeners to check which plant will thrive most and which plants won’t in a certain location. You can check your hardiness zone here before deciding what crop you want to plant. Is your garden accessible? Although not necessary, it is a good idea to have your garden visible or in close proximity. Remember the proverb, “Out of sight, out of mind” when you decide where to place your garden. 2.) Plan Your Garden Beds Now that you’ve considered all these different factors, it’s time to plan the beds! How Much Space Do You Have? Space will vary from person to person. Some will have a whole backyard while others will have an apartment balcony to work with. For those working in limited spaces, consider using grow-bags or self-watering containers to start your garden. Herbs are great plants to consider in these limitations. For those with sizable space for their garden, do you want to plant directly onto the ground or create raised beds? Either way, if you want to start with a standard size bed, plan a bed that is 4 feet wide and 8-12 feet long. The overall goal here is to minimize walkway and maximize growing space to build an efficient garden. In regards to soil depth, it will vary from bed to bed, but the standard minimum is a 6 inch depth for general plants. 3.) Testing and Building Soil How is your soil quality? Good quality garden soil can be categorized by its fertility (essential nutrients and pH level) and texture (soil particle size and soil cohesiveness). Soil pH is essential to know because pH directly contributes to the amount of nutrients plants can take up. Test your soil quality to see if it is acidic, alkaline, or neutral. Most garden crops prefer soil with a pH of 7. As for texture, good quality soil texture allows for an easy transfer of water and air into the plant. If you want to amend the soil texture and its quality, the best way to do so is to input organic material like compost, manure, peat moss, grass clippings, cover crops, etc. Organic material will affect texture by aerating and loosening the soil to promote moisture and air uptake. Organic material like compost also encourages microbial activity and enriches the nutrients within the soil! Synthetic fertilizers are an option to input nutrients into the soil as well, but be cautious. Although they are cheap and have quick results, they do little to amend the soil. Rather, in conjunction with feeding and anchoring the crops, they degrade soil quality and destroy microbial activity underground. Using organic matter will nourish both the plant and the soil, and will be better for the health of your garden in the long run. 4.) Invest in good basic tools ! This quote says it all: “The right tools will make working in a garden a pleasure instead of a chore.” Some good tools to start off with include: Garden hoe: used to shape soil, rid weeds, harvest crops

Scuffle hoe: great for skimming surface soil to get rid of weeds quick

Dirt rake: used to dig through dirt, unearths underlying debris onto the soil surface (ie. scattered roots and weeds), and evens out soil surface

Garden spade: used to reshape beds and dig deeper planting holes

D Hand shovel: used for digging, lifting, and moving bulk materials like soil from one place to another

Trowel: used for digging, applying, and smoothing soil for small plants and seeds

Pruning shears: used to snip and trim unwanted parts of a plant

5.) Start Planting! After factoring in everything from above, it’s time to get planting! Here’s a helpful growing guide created by the USDA for an array of common vegetables and their ideal times to plant (for both seeds and transplants). There are some general rules of thumb to get you started:

  • Plant seeds 3x as deep as the diameter of the seed

  • Transplants should be planted in the soil at the depth they were in the pot

  • Transplants are easy to damage so make sure they slowly acclimate to your outside garden and soil

Also, there are various crops you can plant together that benefit one another while increasing crop yields. This is known as companion planting, and it is a fun way to learn which crops go well together and which do not. 6.) Nurture Your Garden Sustaining the vitality of your garden means investing an ample amount of time into it. Consider the time and energy you have planned to extend into your new garden. My best advice to you is to start with a small plot and work your way up from there. As Laurie Neverman states, “A small, well-intended garden can produce as much or more than a large, poorly tended garden” (Neverman, 2020). 7.) Enjoy the Fruits (and Vegetables) of Your Labor! After putting all that time, energy, and love into your garden, give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy the work that you’ve done with a meal straight from your garden. :) So gardening basics isn’t so simple after all, and taking in all this information can be overwhelming. My last piece of advice to you is have fun and learn as you go. Don’t let all this information deter you from starting. When I first started gardening, I felt overloaded by all the different factors to consider mentioned above, but no one is expected to be perfect starting off. The trials and errors that come with gardening are what makes it fun, and growing your first successful crop will be an amazing feeling. Happy gardening, and thank you for reading!

Check out the PICA Team's Blog for more posts!

Bibliography Neverman, L. (2020). HOW TO START A GARDEN – 10 STEPS TO GARDENING FOR BEGINNERS. Common Sense Home. _Decide_What_Youd_Like_to_Grow_in_Your_Home_Garden.

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