Early spring is my favorite time of year for so many reasons. Just when the winter blues have tried to suffocate me, I notice the buds swelling on tree limbs, colors of wildflowers bursting through the snow like a saving grace, fighting to end the dreary winter grays. Songbirds begin chirping in the break of dawn and the peepers sing their symphony of praise at the setting of the sun. This year spring’s arrival seems bittersweet. Our new era of sheltering in place gives me the opportunity to listen to nature a little more closely, not having to rush about with the hurriedness of school, work, and sports schedules. All winter I fantasize about the beauty my seed catalogs will bring and now I begin to cultivate a plan.
As I’m prepping my beds for gardening, spring re-energizes my soul in ways it hasn’t done before. It has made me even more grateful for the fact that living on a small farm allows me to prepare for changes in our new normal brought on by coronavirus.
As I consider my garden beds and lay out the architectural plan of herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers, I plan on growing a little more food this year. I will plant a little more for my neighbors in need. I hear about food shelters becoming busier than ever and greater numbers of people worried about how to feed their families, especially in the next few months. If there’s anything I can do, I know I can plant a few more seeds of hope, a few more seeds of nourishing food to share with those in need.
If the women before me were able to grow Victory Gardens in times of war, I can grow Healing Gardens in times of pandemic, and when there is a need in my family or community. Gardens are intrinsically appealing and beneficial to life. They nourish our bodies and souls.
So, why not grow a Healing Garden or any garden for goodness sake?
Vegetable gardening is a possibility for anyone with a desire to dig in the dirt. It doesn’t matter if you have a vast amount of acreage, an apartment balcony, or even a sunny window. You can grow food in the ground, in raised beds, or in containers in or around your home. Obviously, the larger the plot, the greater the bounty, but the result is the same when you enjoy that ever-enduring bite of self-reliance. If you’re interested in growing a garden, here are some easy ways to begin.
Soil, sun, and seeds are the essential arsenal you’ll need to get started on your Healing Garden.
If you’re creating an outdoor garden, choose a well-drained area that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day. You can ready the soil by tilling and turning to loosen it. You will want to pull the grass and weeds out of the turned soil, or you could use one of my favorite tricks with old newspapers or cardboard. Don’t ask me why, but it has been proven that if you use at least six layers of newspapers or one flattened cardboard box, it will smother the existing grass below, and you don’t have to till at all. You will need to top the newspaper with a few inches of topsoil or compost to be able to plant in it, but eventually, the paper will decompose and your seeds won’t compete with grass and weeds for nutrients.
When you’re considering the size of the plot or bed, be sure to make the box or rows no wider than you can reach across. You want to be able to reach every square inch without having to compress the soil. Weeds love to grow where soil is compressed. To amend topsoil, you can add compost, manure, and fertilizers.
If you’re growing vegetables or herbs in pots, you will want to fertilize at least once per month so that nutrients are continuously provided. I use an All-Purpose 5-5-5 organic fertilizer by Gardener’s Supply with fantastic results. Most garden centers will be able to recommend suggestions for whatever it is you’re looking for in terms of both amendments and fertilizers.
If you’re choosing an area inside your home, you’ll want a south-facing window or balcony to maximize the amount of sunlight. The best vegetables to grow in pots are tomatoes, beans, lettuce, spinach, peas, and radishes.
You can plant almost any herb in containers, however, if you’re combining herbs, you want to make sure they are compatible or have similar growing requirements. For example, rosemary likes it hot and dry, while parsley needs constant water. Having herbs in containers gives you the opportunity to reach for fresh taste when you’re cooking with ease and accessibility.
Deciding which vegetables to grow in your Healing Garden can be an overwhelming dilemma. If you choose a variety of food you truly enjoy eating, maybe then add something new to try. If you know you love fresh tomatoes in the summer, maybe grow some nasturtium or borage flowers with them. They’re great companions and will add some flair to your dishes.
If you would like to grow something to eat all season long, you can try lightening fast leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, and bok choy. They are very easy to grow, you can harvest each multiple times in a season, and they don’t take a lot of space.
Companion Planting is a strategy that ties together pest management, pollination, and space to increase productivity. This melding of plant and animal species working together is called polyculture where certain plants do well together, such as tomatoes grow well with basil and basil repels mosquitoes.
- Kale is a hearty vegetable, It takes a little longer to grow, but will continue to grow even after the first frost. It’s in the same family as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts and is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
- Corn grows well in Vermont, but it is wind-pollinated, so it should be planted in blocks, rather than in single rows. It can be planted from seed two weeks after the last spring frost date. Corn does require quite a bit of time (knee-high by fourth of July) but can be the trellis for something like pole beans. I also love growing sunflowers between the corn stalks or squash plants down below. Squash plants need space as they are vines that grow outward, but will cover the ground under corn and keep the weeds away.
- Other vine plants are cucumbers, peas, and string beans, which are all actually fruits. While cukes and peas will creep and crawl and attach themselves with tiny tendrils, they grow well on a fence or trellis. Some bean plants grow on vines and some grow in bunches or bushes right on the ground. All of these fruits are easy to grow and can produce quite a bit. These plants are great in the ground or in containers. Some of my favorite varieties are lemon cukes, sugar snap peas, and bush beans.
- Carrots do well with radishes dispersed between them as their timing offers help to each other. Radishes push through the soil well before carrots, loosening the soil for carrots to sprout right up, especially in clay.
I would be crazy not to mention planting flowers in your garden, whether they are to eat or display.
As an apiarist (beekeeper) my absolute favorite plants to grow are edible flowers. Distributing edible flowers throughout your veggies has so many positive results. Not only will you win accolades for your diverse and beautiful garden, but you will also impress your friends with colorful, delectable, and beautiful food. Some of my favorite flower combos are nasturtiums on a salad, calendula/marigold petals on a pizza, borage blossoms in a drink, zucchini blossoms with goat cheese, hibiscus petals in tea, lavender buds sprinkled over desserts, and violets dipped in fine sugar. Roses, dandelions, sage, chamomile, and chrysanthemums all offer a wide range of colors, tastes, and even health benefits. Your cuisine will be taken to the next level of wonder.
Once you’ve chosen your space, prepared the soil, and selected seeds, you can directly sow your seeds or seedlings in your Healing Garden following the directions on each package. Living in the northeast, we have a pretty short growing season, so be cognizant of the length of time each plant needs to grow.
Vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers can fill your healing garden and season with a newfound joy. Just open a packet of seeds and hope will follow. Do you garden? Please share any additional tips in the comments.
Guest Author: Kathy Deemer
Kathy moved to Vermont in 1994 from Kailua, Hawaii. She’s a mom of three amazing daughters who range in age from 9 to 31 years-old. She and her husband have recently combined homes with her parents in Shelburne, Vermont, which makes their home drama-free. After teaching early and elementary education, and working as a hearing aid specialist, she began her dream job as an organic farmer. As a Master Gardener, Master Composter, and Master Beekeeper, Kathy runs programs in the community teaching composting, horticultural therapy, and beekeeping. Being the sole proprietor of Bee Tender Farm, Kathy now lives her best life trying to maintain sanity by raising chickens, honeybees, and produce.