Gardens can grow in all shapes, sizes, compositions and methods of containment. From a tiny windowsill herb garden to a 50-by-30-foot plot that yielded enough food for two families, I've had one almost every year.
There's something so satisfying about working the earth and watching something I planted grow and provide sustenance. This year I face a common dilemma: how to have my own fresh produce with limited time and space for gardening.
Some things to consider when launching into gardening are where, how and what you want to grow. For those lacking in real estate of their own and not wanting to go the potted-garden route, growing in a dedicated space like a community garden can be ideal. Pierce County offers ample opportunity for growing in shared garden space at growlocaltacoma.com. How it works: sign up for a space, plant what you want, be responsible for your area. Advantages are direct sunlight, time away from home and access to water. I, however, am a victim of Out of Sight, Out of Mind, and will forget my garden patch exists - a major disadvantage. Another consideration is that planning ahead is required; a special trip must be made to the garden patch to pick vegetables for dinner, rather than walking to the back yard and seeing what's ripe and strikes your fancy for a meal.
For those seeking a simpler, easy-access experience, plants started in containers inside can easily be moved outside once the weather warms up. "Tomatoes can't go outside till after May 1," says Gabe Valbert, one of the owners of Proctor District nursery GardenSphere. "Early Girls are the fastest tomato; they mature in about 68 days. Peas are easy and are ready in 50 to 60 days." The real winner, according to Valbert, is the radish. Started from seeds, this tasty little devil is ready to eat in just 30 to 40 days. Runner-up is just about anything in the greens family, says Valbert. "Spinach, lettuce varieties and all of that is ready in 45 to 60 days." Greens can be trimmed and enjoyed earlier if desired. Herbs can be grown year-round, though produce best in months that have more sunlight or if they are kept in brightly lit indoor rooms.
Combining different plants in the same container can maximize space even more. For really limited space, seek out plant varieties that are intentionally smaller. Containers also require less weeding. Having herb plants in the kitchen, like chives, basil, oregano, cilantro, dill and mint, can boost your perceived cooking skills through the roof. These plants will also thrive in the right outdoor soil.
Tacoma resident Brad Winkel grows his garden entirely in large pots. His apartment patio is home to five or six large potted tomato plants. Lots of sunshine is the key. "I once grew melons, but tomatoes seem to do best. I'm thinking of trying bell peppers this year though." If you are ambitious, don't let size be a limitation, get creative with your space. Check out space-saving, hanging upside-down planters, too.
You don't have to be born with a green thumb to get this grow-your-own stuff right. GardenSphere offers classes at Tacoma's EnviroHouse on what plants can be grown where, how to make your soil into a super grower, how to trim plants to boost yield and more. Gain more know-how at the third annual Community Gardening Summit Saturday, April 28, at McCarver Elementary (2111 S. J St., Tacoma). The Summit consists of four hours of workshops and hands-on gardening technique for beginners and is appropriate for both kids and adults. This means you, too, will soon be able to boast, "Oh yes, I grew all of that," as you gesture at a bowl of ultra-fresh mixed green salad tossed with herbs that came from your very own garden. Take a class, attend the Summit and if you plant by month end, this can be your reality by the Fourth of July.