“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” That’s what Thomas Jefferson thought about gardening — and he served as President and Secretary of State, wrote the Declaration of Independence, made the Louisiana Purchase, launched the Lewis and Clark expedition and founded UVA. But the endorsement of an overachieving Founding Father is far down the list of real reasons to take up this challenge. Growing your own food is as healthy as it gets in terms of diet and exercise. There’s also a rare satisfaction that comes from eating what you nurtured from seed, and a confidence-boosting sense of self-sufficiency that any doomsday prepper or naturalist can relate to. Here’s a few suggestions on what you’ll need to get started on your first of many hardware store and plant nursery runs to come.
Dovetail Cedar Raised Garden Kit
Raised garden beds hold several advantages over a basic row garden. Improved soil quality (because you dictate the mixture of specialized dirt and mulch used inside) and superior drainage are the two biggest benefits. They’re also capable of growing more produce per square foot because the loose soil promotes water and air movement. This makes it possible to plant raised beds more densely, which in turn limits opportunities for weeds to take hold. Finally, being higher up makes it easier to block out pests and lets the raised earth warm more quickly than the ground, meaning the beds can be planted earlier in the season. This kit is strong, looks great and requires no tools to assemble. It can also be easily connected with other kits as your gardening aspirations grow, or stacked for plants with deeper roots.
Miracle Gro Nature’s Care Organic Garden Soil
Mixing garden soil in with your existing dirt is the easiest way to improve your overall soil health, setting a strong foundation for the growth to come. The Nature’s Care line from Miracle Gro is enriched with organic matter and excels at retaining water along with important nutrients. It’s also certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), meaning it’s been rigorously evaluated to comply with organic standards. You’ll need three inches of it for every six inches of native dirt you plan on using.
Growing from seed requires patience and experience that beginners often lack. Using pre-grown vegetables is an easier way to wade into the world of gardening or even make the most of a growing season if you’re starting late in the game. Bonnie vegetables arrive in a biodegradable pot with an established root system that’s hardened off for easier transplanting. Options include basics like tomatoes and bell peppers, to more exotic offerings like ghost chilis.
Bahco Ergo Bypass Pruner PX-M2
This brand is less familiar to those stateside, but the European hand tool company’s history stretches back to Sweden in the 1880s with the invention of plumbing and the adjustable wrench. Today, the company is known for making professional-grade equipment that many commercial landscapers swear by. These pruners boast a special angled head for reducing wrist and arm strain while still packing enough cutting force to trim branches up to 3/4 of an inch thick.
Water Right High Flow “Big Guy” Garden Hose
There’s no shortage of hoses on the market that’ll serve most homeowners well. Water Right gets a nod from sites like the SweetHome for several reasons despite its relatively high price. It’s manufactured completely in the US. from FDA- and NSF-grade polyether-based polyurethane that’s 100 percent free from toxic chemicals. It’s also designed to resist kinking and fairly lightweight for its size.
The Importance of Soil Testing
Soil testing is a critical first step for any would-be grower that provides a clear course of action for how much fertilizer and/or lime should be added to your garden. These tests examine the amount of key elements related to organic growth and plant health as well as other factors that determine land fertility, including soil pH. While many private companies offer soil testing through commercial kits, taking advantage of one of the nation’s more than 100 land-grant colleges and universities’ extension programs is your best bet. For a small fee, your local university lab can examine your mailed sample and provide guidance on the optimal level of nutrients needed, saving you money while also limiting the negative impacts that over-fertilization can have on our water supply.
Hori Hori Tool
Sometimes the simplest designs are the most effective. The Japanese Hori Hori, which translates to “dig dig” in English, is the Swiss Army knife of the gardening world with a concave blade that works for transplanting, removing weeds and chopping through stubborn roots. Depth markings on the blade face make it ideal for placing seeds and bulbs at the appropriate level underground too.
Jackson Steel Tray Contractor Wheelbarrow
Multi-wheeled carts are easier on the back in some respects, but the ability to turn and maneuver in tight spaces still make the traditional wheel barrow a better option for most. While metal wheelbarrows are liable to rust without proper storage, they’re capable of handling more weight compared to plastic alternatives and won’t warp. Jackson is respected in both the agriculture and construction community for making diehard wheelbarrows capable of handling the toughest jobs, so your starter garden should be a piece of cake.
ATLAS Assembly Grip Gloves
Experts like the SweetHome‘s Meg Muckenhoupt praise ATLAS brand gloves for their balance of protection and dexterity. They’re also fairly cheap and available in a wide range of sizes and colors.
Seeds of Change
If you’re intent on starting from scratch, it’s worth knowing a bit about the politics of seed production. Labels like “Heirloom” can be vague on their own. Buying non-GMO is critical since genetically modified seeds are often sterile. Open pollination is another factor to look for since seeds of this type allow gardeners to play a hand in the natural selection process. Specifically, after growing an initial crop and surveying the variance of plants produced, growers can save the seeds of the individual plants whose traits they prefer and know that those beneficial traits will be passed down to subsequent plant generations. Seeds of Change is held in high regard by many in the gardening community and offers a wide selection of heirlooms, open-pollinated and even quality hybrid seeds that are all organically grown.
Bogs Urban Farmer Workboot
Save the shoes you actually enjoy wearing in public from the devastation of an afternoon in the dirt and wear something built for the task. These rubber utility slip-on boots are lightweight, waterproof and still breathe thanks to a special moisture-wicking lining. A rigid steel shank also protects against accidental shovel strikes, while DuraFresh antimicrobial odor protection insole makes it okay to bring these inside.