Would-be gardeners and green thumbs alike are springing to action during COVID-19. Gardeners around the world are growing their own veggies, seeking fresh air, and enjoying a moment to connect with the planet via their garden. If you’ve never grown your own garden, it’s the perfect moment to start! We welcomed Joe Lamp’l, better known as “joegardener” from the hit PBS show Growing a Greener World, to share his best tips and tricks for starting a sustainable organic garden in whatever space you have.
About Our Guest, Joe Lamp’l
When Joe was 8 years old, he broke a branch from a bush in his backyard. He didn’t want to get in trouble, so he stuck it back into the ground at the base of the bush. To his surprise, the branch took hold and grew again!
His lifelong love of gardening grew from that branch, too. Joe continued gardening throughout his childhood. He went on to study horticulture in college and later became the host of DIY Network’s Fresh from the Garden.
The Connection Between Home Gardening & Sustainability
Joe loves to teach organic home gardening because of its inherent sustainability. Instead of getting your food at a grocery store thousands of miles away from where it was grown, you can grow food at home.
There’s no need to use pesticides derived from fossil fuels with home gardening, which means your fruits and vegetables will be healthier for you and safe for the planet. Having a garden is a catalyst for other eco-friendly habits like composting, too.
How to Start Your Own Home Garden
If you want to start your own garden, it can be easy to fall down the internet rabbit hole while researching planters, soil, the best options for your climate, how to compost, and everything else you might need to know to get started.
Joe, however, encourages you to not “wait until you think you know what to do to get started. The best way to learn about gardening is just to get your hands dirty. Just start doing it!”
Balconies vs. Backyards
Whether you are limited to a balcony or have lots of backyard space, there are plants you can grow at home. Joe recommends looking for plant varietals that match your space. A full-size tomato vine can get up to 10 feet in length, but if you want tomatoes on your balcony, a cherry container variety will work better.
Make sure to also understand the amount of sun versus shade that your potential garden area receives. Plants that require full sun will still grow in partially sunny areas, but they won’t thrive. Choose plants that match the sunlight your garden receives for a happier garden.
Containers vs. In the Ground
Plants in the ground won’t get water-logged as easily because the soil will drain any excess away. Container gardens, though, need great drainage so that plants don’t die from prolonged water exposure.
Make sure that each container you use has drainage holes. Also, use a soil that is light enough to allow air to flow through. There are special soils designed for container gardens, often with the words “container” or “potting” right on the package.
The great news is, with the proper drainage and potting soil, anything that grows in the ground can be grown in a container. Don’t let your space limit your gardening dreams!
The USDA has classified the United States into different zones, based on average minimum temperatures. Knowing what zone you live in can help you determine the kinds of plants that will grow best for you. It also helps you know when you can start planting each year. Zones with a lower number are colder later each year, and therefore gardeners in those zones plant later in the year than gardeners in higher-numbered zones.
Common First-Time Gardener Mistakes
1. Waiting to Get Started
Don’t wait to get your hands dirty! Gardening is a learn-through-experience project. When something doesn’t work, Joe says that is the best opportunity to learn more. You can research why a plant didn’t thrive and be a better gardener for it. He encourages people to just start.
2. Assuming You Need a Huge Space for a Garden
You can grow a garden in one small planter on your windowsill, if that’s the space you have. If you want to grow food at home, there’s a container that will work for you.
It’s tempting to plant lots of seeds very close together, but Joe recommends fighting this urge. Take baby steps with just a few plants at the proper spacing. You don’t want to end up with more plants than you anticipated, drainage and light problems, or even more pests—all common problems that result from over-planting.
You can always add to your garden, so build your confidence slowly and set realistic expectations.
Easy Plants to Start With
Joe recommends that beginner gardeners start out with plants that do not produce fruit. Sticking to leafy greens and herbs will give you a higher chance of success, as they sprout easily and are lower maintenance than fruit-producing plants. They generally require less light and grow faster, too.
Gardening in Times of COVID
Quarantine is the perfect time to start a garden. We all need access to fresh air, and connecting with soil is a positive way to do so while staying at home. COVID has also affected the supply chains we all rely on to receive the foods we enjoy. There’s never been a better time to learn how to grow your own food and get outside in a safe way.
Final Thoughts on Sustainable Gardening
“With gardening, there’s so many ways that you can demonstrate living sustainably and ethically by the choices that you make,” says Joe. He recommends supporting seed companies that sell only certified organic seed. In doing so, you are taking business away from larger seed companies that do not produce seeds in an environmentally sustainable or ethical fashion.
In addition, make sure to use organic soil and fertilizer. Joe loves Kellogg Garden Products because they are a smaller company that produces only organic, rather than a larger corporation with a small organic department.
Finally, remember that we are empowered now more than ever to take advantage of the space that we have and grow something delicious, fresh, and sustainable. There’s never been a better time to start a garden.