female farmers in garden
Belinda's Blog,  Family,  Farm

Beginner Gardening Basics from Two Reformed Black Thumbs

Gardening has a way of being ridiculously intimidating to beginners.

I’m not sure when the word black thumb grew into its extreme power to shame one into never trying to grow anything, but we think it’s time that terminology gets composted. As two confessed- nay, proud!- former black thumbs, we want you to know that all you need to do to grow things is start growing things.

Yes, of course there are guide lines, resources, and small skills you’ll want to pick up along the way but that’s the thing- you will. It’s a natural learning curve, and not a very fast one, so any one can keep up with it. You get one chance each season to start a garden, and then in late Fall, that year’s trial is left behind until the next season. Hopefully you learned from it, and the following Spring you apply those lessons with a new hope and a few more tricks up your sleeve. In the simplest version of things, that’s all we do as farmers: we try to grow things. We plant things, make mistakes, over water, under water, forget to fertilize, question our soil content, learn more each season and with each added crop, and ask questions all the while. And you can too!

You might not grow a prize winning tomato your first year, and I ensure you, you WILL likely kill something, but that’s ok. There is no shame in that. I bet you’ll grow somethings, too. And along the way you’ll benefit from the fresh air, exercise, good eating and drinking, practical knowledge and indescribable relaxation, inspiration, and even FUN that a garden can provide. Seriously, gardens are not just for your grandma anymore, although I bet hers is GREAT.

In our Instagram Happy Hour Garden Chat we walked everyone through some basics, which we’ll revisit here for anyone who missed it. (and do tune in for the next one on Instagram, @simplegoodnesssisters!)

  1. the basics of how we grow our family kitchen gardens here at Simple Goodness Farm- Venise’s starts in the greenhouse and is planted in the field, while Belinda’s starts in a kitchen window and is planted in raised beds in a backyard.
  2. the top 5 plants we’ll always grow in our gardens
  3. the very basics of how to plant a seed

Venise’s garden at Simple Goodness Farm

Venise’s farm is where we grow the cocktail garden, which is mostly grown in a 1 acre field in rows, spaced according to the plant variety and covered in a heavy duty weed barrier black plastic. The plastic is pre-burned with holes for the plants to fit through, to kill weeds organically. (See photo below for a look at the plastic in the rows.) In addition to that space, she has a large raised bed garden where she grows her kitchen garden (the plants she grows to feed her family all year round.) The details of building those raised beds are in previous 5 tips for Raised Beds posts here. Both the raised beds and the open field have drip tape irrigation so water can be automatic and timed so she isn’t out there for hours a day watering. They’re also both in full sun.

Venise starts seeds in a fiberglass greenhouse she inherited when she bought the farm. It has a quick and dirty watering system rigged up, with a timer attachment and drip tape with 360 degree sprinkler heads added to drip tape, fed by a simple garden hose from a nearby spigot. She has a little garden shed for storage that she got for free off of Craigslist and upcycled with a new paint job, window and a weather vane, as well as a beautiful painted door local artist Julianne of by Something to Chalk About.

flower garden in the pacific northwest
garden shed planting list
decorative painted garden shed
interior of upcycled garden shed with storage and garden plans
female farmer working in greenhouse
example of DIY raised beds for garden
simple goodness sisters in the cocktail garden

Belinda’s garden in town:

Belinda has three 4 x 4 raised beds, 2 6 x 2.5′ beds, and a variety of pots for herbs in a side yard on a 1/3 acre lot in town. She also uses an automatic drip tape watering system with a timer. She has cedar chips lining the pathways to keep away weeds, and the paths are wide enough to accommodate a wheel barrow. The beds get sun from mid-morning-afternoon and get some shade from trees nearby. Belinda starts seeds using light from a very sunny bay window, on top of her dining room table.

Here are good resources on how to build raised beds (the most common mistakes are forgetting to use rot resistant wood, or to fill them with poor quality dirt- a mix of quality top soil and compost are recommended), and the basics on automatic watering systems (Belinda’s set up cost about $150.)

pots of herbs in a garden, woman watering
raised bed gardens for kids
My garden is not nearly as pretty, but it is a fun space for our family to grow things together
starting seeds in a windowsill, pictured are pole beans

Venise’s Top 5 to Grow: all about storage crops

  1. carrots- fun and easy to grow, kids love to help pull these up and they last for a long time in the ground or a root cellar*
  2. beets- so easy to grow in our area, love the big rows in the cocktail garden, and store well in a root cellar
  3. onions- used in so many dishes, store well in a root cellar, onions are easy to grow but require a lot of space to grow enough to really make a difference on your grocery bill
  4. tomatoes- for snacking, salads, and freezing for spaghetti sauce all year round
  5. spaghetti squash- super long storage potential in a root cellar, and really prolific growth

*If you don’t have a root cellar, an insulated building like a garage or shed can also work well to store root vegetables long term.

carrots, parsnips, and beets in a basket

Belinda’s Top 5 To Grow: Versatile Veggies

  1. kale/chard/Asian greens- these come up quickly, don’t take a ton of space in the garden, and are so healthy when added to soups, salads, eggs and stir frys (finely chopped, because I am a child like that and I like them to “disappear” into recipes.)
  2. tomatoes- there is no comparison to garden grown tomatoes! We grow and eat as many as we can and then freeze the rest for winter recipes
  3. chives- a perennial plant, so if you plant it once it will come back every Spring, they continue to give you good flavoring for salads and, my favorite, ramen, all summer and even into Fall in the PNW
  4. carrots- a garden grown carrot has a ton more flavor than those at stores, and they’re fun and easy to grow. My kids love to help pull these up!
  5. zucchini/squash- prolific growth, lots of produce results from just one plant and zucchini can store well into Fall in a garage and can be used in a wide variety of dishes, fresh or frozen.

Starting Seeds: we love this Seed Starting resource from local flower farmer, Floret. If it ain’t broke, no need to fix it, right? This is almost exactly how we start our seeds, except that in town Belinda uses heat mats on top of folded towels, on top of her dining room table, in front of 3 windows. She rotates the trays every few days so that the seeds are receiving even light on all sides. And she talks to them encouragingly, because hey, it can’t hurt!

dirty hands of female farmers

The "glass" behind the garden to glass cocktails, Belinda is the owner of the Happy Camper Cocktail Company, bartender, recipe developer, younger sister and karaoke lover.

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