After a long, brutal winter here in the Northeast, spring is finally here — at least according to the calendar. We should start seeing budding branches and blooming flowers in the coming weeks, so now is time to start planning this year’s garden.
Gardening expert Jessie Banhazl sat down with BDCWire at the headquarters of her urban gardening company, Green City Growers (GCG), in Somerville to share some pro tips. So you don’t live in a big house, have a sprawling yard, or even much more than a small patch of dirt? Not to worry. GCG specializes in transforming unused urban space into gardens. Banhazl, who co-wrote a book called “The Urban Bounty,” listed essentials for garden growth and summarized the basic steps of how to get started.
|Look to the light|
“It’s not all or nothing,” Banhazl said. “It’s just about knowing crops that are suitable for your space.”
If there’s not sufficient light for fruiting plants, its possible to grow garden of greens, herbs and root veggies in an area that gets at least four hours daily of direct light. Seed catalogues and online seed retailers will list the specific light needs of the plant. A good option for those who don’t have a suitably lighted outdoor space is to grow a small herb garden indoors in a sunny window.
|Find the perfect pot|
Raised beds are a bit more of an investment and more complex to put together, but for those interested in this method, GCG will do full installation for clients and they offer courses on how to make DIY raised beds. Those who are feeling crafty and have a handle on basic construction should check out the budget-friendly method of building a raised bed out of an old discarded pallet. But using portable containers is a cheaper and easier method, and you may be able to use recycled materials you already have.
The size of the container will depend on the plants, Banhazl said. Lettuce, radishes, baby carrots and herbs need 6-8 inches of depth, while Kale, collards, chard, and fruiting plants need 10-12 inches minimum of depth.
“A good rule of thumb is that the taller the plant, the more soil depth it needs, because it needs more space for the root system. And with root vegetables, the length of the root vegetable is the depth of the soil that it needs.”
Banhazl says you can grow vegetables in any container as long as it has drainage holes and has never contained toxic material, like detergent or paint. Banhazl’s favorite repurposed container choices include kiddie pools and milk crates lined with landscaping fabric. An added bonus is that containers are portable, so if you move to a new apartment, you can bring your garden with you.
|Don’t go for just any soil|
Smaller container gardens can be filled with a few bags of soil from a garden supplier, but for raised beds you will probably need a truck or to order a soil delivery to your garden.
“It’s important to [use] organic [soil], because the non-organic stuff has basically killed-off all of the micronutrients in the soil,” Banhazl said. “Quality soil is actually living, and you want to make sure that variable is in place for growing. ”
|Should you go with seeds or plants?|
“Certain things you want to start from seed, [including plants] from the lettuce family, and root vegetables — because they just don’t transplant well,” Banhazl said. “Other than that, you really want to get it as a plant, because it’s a really short growing season in New England. So you don’t have a lot of time. The farms that these come from started growing in January or February, so they have a head start on the growing season.”
Banhazl recommends waiting to plant most spring crops outside until around April 15 in the Boston area, as this is when we should be in the clear as far as frost damage is concerned. Summer crops should go in the ground around Memorial Day.
In general, the seed packets and plant tags should give specific instructions for when to plant indoor or in-ground in this area. Each type of plant will also have a specific recommendation for how far the seeds should be spaced apart from one another. Growing too many seeds in too small an area is another common mistake that new gardeners need to watch out for. The “square foot” gardening method is recommended for containers and raised beds, because there is less room to plant in rows.
“You can pack more seeds in per square foot than you can if you’re planting in a row,” Banhazl explained.
|Keep that baby hydrated|
“Depending on the season and size of your container, your garden will have different watering needs,” Banhazl said. “I think the highest level of failure we’ve seen comes from lack of watering. It’s extremely difficult to keep up with small containers, especially if its on a roof. The bigger a container, the more soil there is and the more water it retains, so the less you’ll have to water it.”
For outdoor gardens, Banhazl suggests watering 2-3 times per week in the spring and at least every other day if not every day in the summer time.
“You’re gonna want to soak your garden, that’s another important point. And then it should grow,” Banhazl said. “Plants are pretty resilient. As long as they have the depth that they need, the light that they need and water, they’re pretty much guaranteed to grow.”