Dig. Plant. Repeat.

By Gretchen Goswitz – April 1, 2015
Photography by Brian Fitzsimmons

In the March issue, we put our gardening gloves on and gave our green thumbs a workout by building a raised garden bed. It only took an hour to assemble and now we’re ready to plan out our spring garden. There are so many amazing fruits, vegetables, and herbs you can grow in the spring—it’s enough to inspire those on the fence about getting their hands dirty to start digging. 

As Austin becomes more urban (cue single tear), more and more people are deprived of a backyard in which to build a raised garden bed. Not wanting anyone to miss out on the joys of gardening, I will discuss a few suitable small-space planting options to help you and your seedlings have a fruitful (pun intended) spring season.

 

Soil

Once you’ve built your raised garden bed (follow instructions in March issue or on our website), find some newspaper or cardboard to use as a liner. Use this to cover the bottom of the bed to prevent weeds from growing and taking over your garden.

This is where it starts getting fun. Fill your bed with soil. Woohoo! Oh, just me? Then, add compost to break up the clay particles and add micronutrients back into the soil. Now it’s a party! The ideal ratio: two inches of compost to mix with the top six inches of soil. Easily combine the two by using a turning fork. Just stick the fork in the mixture and—you guessed it—make a turning motion.

 

Plants 

Now we’re ready to talk plants. Are you going to buy transplants or grow everything from seeds? Maybe you want your garden to contain both. Regardless, verify that everything you’re planting is in season. Luckily we (and when I say we I mean gardening goddess and SFC Teaching Garden Coordinator, Ellen Orabone) have taken out some of the thinking for you by creating a list of spring vegetables suited to survive in the Texas climate. 

Plants are a lot like people in that we all fall somewhere on the socialization spectrum. Some of us enjoy being surrounded by others and some of us would be much happier left in the comfort of our own company. An often-overlooked factor when planning out a garden is companion placement. Believe it or not, you can’t just plant your veggies all willy-nilly and expect them to thrive. Certain vegetables and herbs can’t be too close to each other or else they’ll start fighting for the same nutrients. First lesson: Place your onions next to your strawberries. They will share nutrients and the combined plant smells will confuse and deter pests.

Here's a handy chart to take the guesswork out of arranging your garden:

 

 

Transplants

Decide if you are going to start from seeds or transplants. Whichever way you choose, anticipate eventually moving the plants to a larger pot or container so their roots can continue to grow. No matter what stage of growth your fruits, veggies, or herbs are at, keep them in a container that allows drainage.

Eventually your seedlings or transplants will outgrow their homes and need to be moved to bigger and better garden beds. First things first: don’t forget to detangle. Gently pop or pull the transplant out of its container, shake off the dirt, and lightly pull the roots apart. No need to fret if some of them break. Just make sure not all of them break or detach from the plant. This detangling process lets your transplant know it’s a big boy (or girl) and the time has come for it to get growing in a real garden bed. 

If I were to compare raising plants to parenting (as I have mentioned in the past), then this is the part where you send them off to college hoping that they will come out on the other side as contributing members of society. 

When you place transplants in the ground, don’t make the mistake of pressing down on the soil. Rather than playing patty-cake with the soil (we're in garden college now, remember!? Too old for patty cake! Okay, this analogy is going off course…) make fluffy, loose, yet supportive piles around the base of the transplants. Compacting the soil around your plant will make it more difficult for your veggies to grow. Plenty of vegetables will transplant well, but I strongly suggest starting all of your root crops—in fact, anything that grows quickly—from seed. 

 

Small Space Gardening 

I remember when, back in elementary school, I first learned about the lifecycle of a plant through a demonstration on remedial gardening. Using milk cartons and egg trays, we planted lima beans. In a short amount of time—and with very little attention—new beans sprouted. My point: gardening in your home can still be that simple.

Whether you’re working with a balcony off your apartment or trying your hand at indoor gardening, sunlight consideration is a must. If the space you decide to start your garden in doesn’t get at least three hours of solid sunlight per day (preferably facing south), your plants (and you) are likely to be discouraged and disappointed. 

 

Herbs 

Herbs are a fantastic option if you’re having trouble deciding what to plant because they’re so versatile. They can grow indoors in low light or thrive outdoors in your garden bed. Most herbs require very little work to get started, and you’ll find that as they grow, so does their sensually-pleasing aroma. 

Early April is the perfect time to start planting your summer herbs. Here’s a rundown of our favorites:

Cilantro — Incredibly resilient and can grow with as little as two hours of light each day. One of the few herbs that would be fine to plant from seeds.
Basil — Trim often to keep plants bushy. Prefers protected sun, well-drained soils, and raised beds. However, a pot planter is best for this herb. Harvest when flowering begins.
Parsley — Plant in early spring in full sun. Germinates very slowly, so your best bet is to buy it as a transplant.
Rosemary — Similar to cacti and other succulents, this hardy herb can be grown simply by taking one sprig or branch from an existing plant and sticking it in the ground. 
Lavender — The soothing aroma and visual appeal of this herb will have you dreaming of pillow sachets in no time. Plant the Provence lavender varietal as a transplant in full sun. 

*Note: Most herbs will grow tall and it may be difficult to know when they’ll stop growing. Lavender excluded, keep an eye out for any flowering on your herbs (also known as “bolting”). This is your plant’s way of telling you its lifecycle is coming to an end. Trim flowers as you see them bloom. 

 

Plants that don’t mind minimal sun  (as little as 2 hours; as much as 8 hours)

Lettuce
Spinach
Arugula
Radicchio
Cabbage
Kale
Chives

Plants that need more sun (as little as 4 hours; as much as 8 hours) 

Potatoes
Beets
Carrots
Turnips

Plants that should NOT be planted in low light

Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Peppers
Squash
Eggplants

*Note: Similar to herbs, fruits and vegetables will also signify the end of their lifecycle by bolting. Many plants will produce gorgeous flowers but then die very soon after. This usually happens as a result of changing weather conditions (for example: broccoli prefers to grow in cooler weather, so as soon as the sun comes out and starts warming the soil it's growing in, it'll start to grow flowers instead of florets). There are, however, some cases where flowering is a good sign (such as tomatoes and beans).


Thanks again to the Sustainable Food Center for partnering with Austin Fit Magazine! If you are interested in learning more about gardening, the SFC offers many classes to provide you with an affordable and hands-on experience. Coming up:

Deep Roots: Composting – Microbial Magic
Saturday, April 25 (10:00 am – 12:30 pm)

Get Growing: Water Conservation in the Garden
Wednesday, May 13 (6:00 pm – 7:30 pm)

Get Growing: Surviving Summer in the Garden
Wednesday, June 3 (6:00 pm – 7:30 pm)

 
 

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