Our favorite summer pastimes won’t be happening this year: Why not learn to grow your own food? It’s a time-tested method for outdoor stress relief.

    May 24, 2020


ThPhoto by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

Covid-19 restrictions are lifting, gradually, around the country and the world. But that doesn’t mean the summer of 2020 is likely to look like last summer. Or any other summer.

Concerts seem to be on hiatus. Families can still go to Disney-world; they’ll just have to sign an expanded liability waiver before they can pass through the park gates.

Public pools and other public places aren’t looking good, at least not in the short-term. Chlorine probably kills the virus, but everyone sharing a locker room is problematic.

Events determined “super-spreaders”- identified through analyzing the current data about Covid-19 rates of infection- will be shelved in the foreseeable future.

While Americans live in this limbo of the stay at home orders lifted, but other guidelines about activities in place, this is a great time to try on a new hobby.

Gardening, long the territory of elite suburbanites and time-rich retirees is becoming cool again. The internet is filling with slick gardening layouts and even slicker influencers suddenly schticking it on social media.

Growing your own food is all the rage. “Grow food not lawns!” the new rallying cry.


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Photo by Anna Earl on Unsplash.

There might be something to that. Lawns are purely ornamental and take a significant amount of resources to maintain with very little return on your investment.

Growing your own food, on the other hand, can be both ornamental and highly practical. Farm to table is nice; home garden to family table is even better.

With a few simple tips, anyone can learn to grow delicious, organic vegetables by the armfuls.

Plan Before You Plant

Before you start digging, spend a little time deciding what to plant.

#1 Grow what you Love: Pick plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables you really love and you will love caring for them. Do a little research; find out which plants are closely related to your first choice to give yourself a second and third choice. Having options will help in your planning.

#2 Pick plants that grow well in your growing zone. You can easily find your growing zone online. Look around your neighborhood for some ideas of what grows well in your area. Use an app to help you identify plants you like.

#3 Determine where the plants are going to grow. Close to the house? In the shade? Full or partial sun?

Now that you have a basic plan, it is time to prepare.

Prepare Before You Plant

How you plant is as important to your success as what you plant.

#1 Prepare your planting site. This is very important. A little preparation will save precious time. And plants.

As great gardeners say, “Don’t plant your $300 fruit tree in any old hole in the ground.” Spend some time preparing the soil first and reap the full rewards of your investment.

#2 What is your soil PH? Soil is very important. Soil that is too alkaline will turn white flowers pink if you don’t add acidity. Some plants- like strawberries- need more acidic soil.

Learn what you can about your soil before you start planting.

Submitting a soil sample to the state is easy and inexpensive. PH soil test kits are also simple and affordable. You can even bring your soil sample to a local garden center for help.

#3 Soil drainage. Plants need oxygen to grow. When planting down 6–8 inches, use a tiller, pitchfork or shovel to poke around the base of the plant or tree. This adds air and loosens the soil so it can drain properly.

Drainage Test

Dig a hole 2ft deep and 1ft wide. Fill the hole with water and wait for it to drain completely. Fill the hole with water a second time.

If it drains out in less than 12-hours, it is well-drained soil. If it drains out in 12- 24 hours, only plant what can tolerate a heavy soil and clay environment. If the hole takes more than 24-hours to drain, only plant things that can tolerate occasional flooding. (Like Maples or Willows)

#4 Sweeten the soil. Add some gypsum to the soil “sweeten it up”. Gypsum is a good source of calcium and sulfur for plant nutrition. It improves acidic soils, treats aluminum toxicity, and improves water filtration. Gypsum also helps reduce runoff and erosion.

#5 Add compost. You can make your own or you can buy it in a bag. There are many different varieties of compost. Try cotton burr compost from Texas: It is affordable, useful, organic and sustainable.

Compost improves the soil structure, buffers the PH, increases the population of micro/macro organisms.

Peat Moss. This unique organic material aids in absorbency, prevents soil compaction, and is a sterile planting medium. It can help in increase the soil acidity PH for plants like blueberries and rhododendrons.

Sustainability note: Peat moss should be used mindfully and with discretion. Peat moss is harvested from formerly living sphagnum moss in bogs. Britain’s bogs are starting to be classified as preserved, in order to protect rare plants and animals that thrive in peatlands and to prevent the release of greenhouse gases.

With a little planning, and patience, anyone can learn to grow a beautiful garden. Even a small, thoughtfully planned container garden can soothe the nerves- and produce delicious fruits and vegetables for the whole family.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)