Shortly after I moved into my house in early spring 2014, I plowed up the front and side lawns with a rototiller and subsequently utilized the entirety of the lot to establish a miniature-scale organic farm featuring a variety of fruit trees, vegetable plants, edible flowers, herbs, and vines.
This has been the largest and most difficult do-it-yourself project I’ve ever undertaken. It’s also been the most successful and personally rewarding. Have you heard the phrase, “Grow Food, Not Lawns?” Well, this is where that applies.
I’ve learned significantly more about gardening than I thought was possible over the last two years. I’ve literally run out of lot space, and I’m beginning to think headspace, too, with all this newly acquired information.
Mind you, I live within the city limits, and I am what is considered an “urban gardener”. You can be one, too, on any scale, small or large! Even if you live in an apartment, patio or rooftop, gardening is easy and has the potential for success.
Here’s some neat tips and tricks I have learned through my own gardening experiences that are great for a spring garden, but also applicable year-round: I thought I would share some of that knowledge with you in this post in the event you were considering planting a spring garden this year.
While it would be a boost to my ego for you to just blindly follow my instructions, I will explain why these gardening tips and tricks work.
A Quick Note on Clearing Land: When I originally cleared the front yard, I used a Rototiller, rented from a local equipment supply company. The tiller was gas-powered, but handling it is no joke. I am in good shape, but this was a challenge. If I did not have quadzilla legs and my dad splitting the labor with me, I may not have made it!
Recommended: Unless you have Babe the Blue Ox on your payroll, you will want to:
1.) Eat your Wheaties and
2.) Have another Person helping you
TIP #1: SAVE YOUR EGGSHELLS
If your household consumes eggs, make sure to save the shells to crush up for working into the soil. Eggshells contain calcium and as they decompose, naturally fertilize your plants. By placing crushed eggshells into the planting hole first, you can prevent blossom rot from happening to your crops, as it is caused by a lack of calcium in the soil.
Another cool service crushed eggshells can offer is an organic slug and snail deterrent. You can avoid having your plants damaged by soft-bodied pests like these if you line coarsely ground eggshells around the base of your plant. I know, it sounds gruesome, but before they can even crawl up the base of your plant, the sharp edges of the eggshells will *take care* of your pest problem, if you know what I mean.
The point being: This is a pesticide and chemical free solution.
And if you are just not that into outdoor gardening, save your eggshells anyway. When cleaned properly, they can provide an excellent filler to soil for your indoor potted like ferns, spider plants, and even INDOOR FIGS!, which, if you are pressed for space, can grow potted inside your house with enough room and sunlight.
TIP #2: SAVE YOUR USED COFFEE GROUNDS
Do you drink coffee or know someone who does? Fantastic! Those coffee grounds that would normally go into the trash can be saved in a Ziploc bag or other container and then worked into your soil or sprinkled around the plants in your garden.
Why should you do this? Coffee grounds are slightly acidic and contain nitrogen. Nitrogen aids in plant growth. This will help any plant, but the ones that really thrive on Nitrogen are: tomatoes, blueberries, evergreens and Roses. I think my Zinnias do too.
I have begun drinking coffee, and my mom is an established coffee drinker. 🙂 She saves up her coffee grounds for me, storing them in her freezer until I am ready to use them. I directly benefit from her resistance to join the K-Cup bandwagon. 🙂
You can also use coffee grounds for mulch or toss them in your compost bin.
Speaking of compost bins…
TIP #3: COMPOST!
Probably half of what you are putting in your trash can or down your garbage disposal is going to waste, literally. If you don’t already, start composting immediately! Why should you do this? Because broken-down compost improves the quality of your soil by adding nutrients and other good stuff to have happy and productive plants, like my Fig trees!
For success, your composting needs to be an equal mix of green compost and brown compost.
What do I mean by this? Brown compost includes dry leaves, wood chips, straw/pine needles, newspaper, sawdust and corn stalks. Green compost includes coffee grounds, food scraps, grass clippings and manure.
My own compost bin is currently unbalanced because it contains too much green material (food scraps), so I’m going to balance it out with a good layer of brown material.
If you want a good source for additional composting information and a step-by-step guide, you can check out this page on eartheasy.com. Start composting and the results will speak for themselves.
TIP #4: MULCH TO DETER WEED PROPAGATION
Weed growth is inevitable, especially in an organic garden, but you don’t want to make it easy for them, do you? Get mulching, people!
Why should you do this? Mulching around your (desired) plants helps “suffocate” weeds and prevents them from soaking up sunlight.
For mulching in my garden, I use blackout ground cover, mulch and pine needles. It has really helped with keeping the weeds at bay AND the mulch helps regulate the soil temperature to keep my plants comfortable. I try to keep the entire surrounding area mulched to deter weeds.
The point being: This is a pesticide and chemical free solution.
If you JUST can’t get enough mulching information, check out this page on mulchmasters.com.
TIP #5: RAIN BARREL WATER CONSERVATION
Get free water for your plants by investing in a Food-Grade Rain Barrel.
Food. Grade. A regular plastic garbage can, bucket, container, etc., is not a good idea for storing water long-term. The chemicals from the plastic will leach into the water with which you’ll be watering your plants. The same plants that will be growing the organic fruits and vegetables which you’ve worked so hard to keep chemical and pesticide free! It’s also important that it be covered so that you are not attracting mosquitoes or other insects with standing water.
TIP #6: REPLANT YOUR TABLE SCRAPS
There are so many plants that will regrow from scraps like green onions, celery, pineapple and romaine lettuce.
Currently, I am successfully growing six separate fruit bearing pineapple plants which were once table scraps. I didn’t do anything special, other than keep the pineapple tops in water until I could plant it into some good quality soil where it would be exposed to sunlight and rain.
Another re-planting option is to sprout seeds/pits from the food you consume. Like, avocados! My Florida avocado tree, now over 7-feet tall, was just a pit in spring of 2014.
It’s easy to see, you don’t have to be totally off the grid to glean success from these the tricks and tips in your own garden. I hope they are helpful and that, by following them, you feel inspired to start one of your own, on any scale!
Kristen Polito Bio:
Kristen M. Polito aims for brutal candor in regard to her own struggle with anorexia, bulimia, and bipolar disorder. Besides writing, she loves running, reading, organic gardening, and dogs. If she ever grows up, she wants to be a Stigma Fighter, an Eating Disorders Awareness Champion, and a Mental Health Advocate.