Much like the rest of the world, 2020 changed how I spent my free time. Days that used to be filled with park playdates, museums, and being surrounded by others turned into long days at home. I was desperate for an at-home hobby that would fulfill my desire of being outdoors while also finding something I could do with my kids. Then I figured I'd go back to my roots and pick up gardening again. I am originally from North Carolina, so growing up surrounded by farmers and having a mom with the world's greenest thumb meant I already knew a thing or two about starting a garden.
However, attempting such a hearty task in such a vastly different climate than I was used to meant I had to toss out a lot of what I knew and start anew. It began with a simple conversation about wanting a garden, and then suddenly, I had an entire mini orchard filled with PA winter hardy trees and four garden beds filled to the brim with seasonal veggies and a constant rotation of fresh fruits and veggies for us to pick. How I started. Like many home-based gardeners, I started with a lot of research. I had no clue what zone I was in, and from there, no clue what I could even grow in an area that frosts well into May (May 15th, to be exact).
How to Start a Garden:
- Find your Zone its a quick google search of your postal code to find. Allegheny County falls under the Zones 6a and 6b. This means cold hearty vegetables like Kale will be a garden staple for your early spring and early fall gardens when temperatures tend to drop at night.
- Pick out what you want to plant. Do you hate carrots but love strawberries, grow that! There are no fundamental rules for planning what you want to plant in your garden. Just think about what your and your family eat or staples your community might need, and grow from there.
- PLAN PLAN AND PLAN SOME MORE. We like to follow a grid system for our garden beds. First, we built beds that would fit our space while facing South. In Pittsburgh, the sun can be a bit finicky so having a South facing garden means your plants get the most sun time. Then we like to take a measuring tape and mark off a foot all along every side of the garden bed, so when it comes time to planting you can put the correct amount of seeds or seedlings into the 1x1 ft square.
- Planting. You do NOT have to try and create your seedling farm as I did; home depot, lowes, your favorite local shop all have ready-to-grow seedlings to make your beginning to garden journey as pain-free as possible. Remember, this is supposed to be fun, not a chore! Many seedlings can be bought online or again at your local hardware store, and the seeds can be planted directly into your bed, skipping the seedling transplant altogether. This will mean you might not have ready to eat plants until later since Pittsburgh does have a late frost date, and you need to wait until after then to plant.
- Have fun! You've done the planning, planting, watering, and general plant care; now it's time to watch your garden thrive. Each plant will need its own unique care instructions, so be mindful that what you plant is something you're ready to care for. Like our tomatoes, for example, we make our own homemade compost, and those babies get the most love and compost fertilizer. We even use chicken feces to fertilize them; sorry, gardening can get stinky. Our beans needed a trellis, our strawberries and herbs get their own tower too.
Enjoy the nighttime peace of watering; please remember your bug spray, though, the early morning wake-ups to check on your plants before the sun comes up fully, and watching your toddler who you thought was super picky grabbing peppers and tomatoes fresh from the garden and eating them all up before you get a chance even to try them! Every year is different, and your knowledge will grow as well as your confidence. Soon you'll be ready to share your harvest with your neighbors, or you'll get into pickling and canning, but I'll tell you about that next time!