Here’s the second part of my Q&A…
So what do you grow? Honestly, a little bit of everything. In a typical year, I grow beets, lettuce, swiss chard, radishes, beans, peas, zucchini, winter squash, kale, tomatoes, peppers, shallots, and garlic, as well as an assortment of herbs. (All in 150 square feet!) I plant a few flowers, but I generally try to fill my plot with vegetables, since it’s such a small space. I’ve tried growing brussels sprouts to limited success (we really don’t have the optimal climate here), as well as eggplant and cabbage (which had major pest issues), and decided the space would best used for growing something else. Cucumbers are also frustrating. I always have problems with cucumber beetles, and the plants eventually get a wilt disease and die. But I’m reading up on disease-resistant varieties, and planning on starting my cucurbits under row covers this year.
What’s your favorite thing to grow and to eat? That’s tough… I like anything that I grew myself! But I’m a big fan of kale. And I have a definite obsession with winter squash, even though it takes up a ton of space, and always seems to have pest and disease issues.
Any tips for beginners? I remember the first year I had a garden plot – I worked the soil, planted seeds, and then I was a nervous wreck until they started to germinate! But seeds are really good at growing. That’s what they do. And I’m often amazed at how well my garden does in spite of me. If you’re just getting started, don’t be afraid to jump into gardening. Read a lot, and maybe find an experienced mentor for advice. It also helps to spend a lot of time in your garden observing. Keep an eye on how your plants look, and whether you have any insects on your plants. In time you’ll learn whether they are pests or beneficial bugs. There is no need to overcomplicate things. And although you can analyze the chemistry of your soil and spend $$$ on gardening tools and implements, you can have a very successful garden with only a few tools and a limited budget. Finally, don’t be afraid of failure. Major seed companies often have several crop failures in any given year. Even Thomas Jefferson experienced many failures in his vegetable garden at Monticello.
Any advice for gardening in small spaces? Planning, planning, planning! I manage to grow more in my plot than many in the community garden, just because I plan things out carefully. I sketch the layout of my plot before I ever put seeds in the ground, and sometimes go through a couple of iterations until I decided on something I like. In addition to try to maximize my space, I also try to follow succession planting in time. When my spring-planted lettuce starts to bolt, and if I’m not saving seed from it, I will tear it up and plant something else.
Where do you get your seeds/plants from? I buy most of my transplants from Tait Farms, a CSA/greenhouse/Christmas tree farm/basset hound breeder just outside of State College. I get my seeds from a variety of sources. I order quite a few seeds from Johnny’s, a co-op out of Maine that has many varieties that are adapted to the climate of the Northeast, and from Seed Saver’s Exchange, a nonprofit out of Decorah, Iowa. Seed Savers was established in 1975 to help gardeners preserve and share open-pollinated and heirloom seed varieties. In addition to the Seed Saver’s catalog, which anyone can order from, they also offer a membership to the seed exchange. Each year, members receive a yearbook of 10,000+ heirloom seeds offered directly by members around the world. I joined SSE last fall, and I’m hoping to start saving more of my own seeds from year to year. This year I’m also planning on placing an order from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, which has many interesting varieties I haven’t seen anywhere else.