Time to Get Growing

| By Franny Tacy of Franny’s Farm |

It’s time to get growing! I bet you big money that as your plants grow, you will too. The benefits of gardening are scientifically proven. The awareness, responsibility, thought, love, and ongoing conversations help both you and your plants grow; so get your children, parents, and other family involved. Over many years of intensive gardening, I subscribe to keeping it simple and fun! I’ve tried every gardening style from acres of row crops to biodynamic, permaculture, and container gardening over the past several decades. On Franny’s Farm we implement many of these styles and systems on various scales and throughout our gardens. Now is the time to start your very own custom garden, using the style that suits you best. With fertile soil, light, water and dense planting, any garden can be highly productive and lots of fun.

L to R: Son Zach, Franny, Husband Jeff

L to R: Son Zach, Franny, Husband Jeff

You can grow food. There are no excuses such as shade or lack of time or experience either. Follow these few basic principles to achieve productivity from your very own high-yielding food garden even if you don’t work too hard.

#1 is to make permanent garden beds because the effectiveness is simply undisputed. The defined spaces develop into master pieces of living art as your garden grows. This includes pots and decorative containers that can be used in large or small outdoor garden plots, on a deck or even inside.

#2 is to generously apply compost. Compost will increase the nutrient and water-holding capacity of sandy soils and improve the structure of clay soils. Heavy doses of compost are the tried-and-true foundation of all organic gardening. We make our own compost at Franny’s Farm but it is easily purchased at any garden center. Please buy organic!

#3 is to plant high-density, mixed crops. Interspersing crops with different root depths, plant heights and growth rates means you can grow more in a defined space. We intersperse flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables in containers and a pollinator garden to achieve natural beauty, insect control and weed suppression. Take advantage of the entire surface area. The dreaded task of weeding can almost be eliminated by smart planting, and using mulch to cover soil and smother germinating weed seeds.

And finally, #4 is succession planting. By staggering planting and thus the harvests, you are maximizing the growing season. What this really means is cut and use those herbs to season meats and flavor dressings and vegetables. Cut the greens and eat them daily! These should be garden staples because they are easy and grow back. Your garden will always look good and there will always be something fresh to harvest if you continue to put things in the ground, prune, harvest, eat and plant more. It’s easier than it sounds.

What to plant? The easy answer is to start with whatever you like to eat.

If you want to start with the easiest plants to grow, start a kitchen herb garden. Herbs thrive under neglect. Some of the most favored crops grow well in cooler seasons and are shade tolerant. Consider lettuce, arugula, kale, mustard greens and culinary herbs if you have at least three to four hours of sun per day. These leaf crops do well as shade will protect the plants from the sun’s heat and prevent them from bolting as quickly. If you have at least four to five hours of sun per day, consider planting peas, beans and root vegetables such as beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes and turnips. These root crops will do fairly well in partially shady conditions although you’ll have to wait a bit longer for a harvest.

We often use bush and dwarf varieties as an edible, ornamental feature in containers. Salad greens and root crops are perfect for container gardening too. These cool season crops grow and produce best during spring and fall and can be moved into shade once the temperature heats up. Edible flowers such as pansies, nasturtium, geraniums, and dianthus are a few of my favorite tasty additions to any garden container and are planted throughout our pollinator and herb gardens. They add beauty, interest, texture, and taste to salads, drinks, and desserts. Plus, edible flowers stimulate good conversation during a meal. You are probably already eating flowers like broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes without even knowing it. If you have at least six hours of full sun per day, plant fruiting crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons, squash and eggplants. These also do very well as a single plant in a container with large leaves and trellising vines to cascade over the edges.

Do the literal and figurative gut check and remember to keep it fun while learning. Starting seeds is not easy and it requires different equipment and skills. There is much to be said for getting a jump start with nursery plants and especially for those long-growing, single plants like peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.

Although many crops like lettuce, spinach, broccoli and peas grow well during cool seasons, their seeds won’t germinate in the cold soils of April and May. So, the first runs are best if started indoors or purchased and transplanted outside. Later runs can and should be started directly outdoors. I completely subscribe to buying local and organic! Asheville has some of the best locally owned and operated garden stores where you can choose from a huge variety of heirloom and organic seeds and plant starts. These folks are knowledgeable, helpful and experienced.

You are almost ready to start your your first urban garden, or extend and/or diversify your existing garden! Following the four principles can help you grow a more productive garden that’s also more efficient to manage. We constantly and consistently implement the techniques of two gardening authors and their systems of intensive vegetable gardening. Bartholomew and Jeavons have been highly influential for over 30 years. I like Bartholomew’s simple, low maintenance method of square-foot gardening. It’s a foolproof system using raised beds and it works well in urban spaces where digging into the ground is not an option or garden design is a focus. Anyone can implement this method but consider its reliance on materials. We have recycled all sorts of construction materials such as corrugated metal to build eye-catching garden beds.

Jeavons’ bio-intensive gardening system is based on growing food sustainably by developing fertile soil in permanent beds. It can initially be back breaking with its call to double dig the bed to a depth of two feet. We utilized this system in a very clay part of our garden developing 25 foot garden rows and we will continue to harvest seasonally and for years to come. There are many online resources to get more information, but remember to keep it simple and fun. Start with the above resources and use a ‘color wheel’ to help plan your garden, combining edible plants, vegetables, fruits, and flowers.

This is the year to get gardening. It is likely the most rewarding activity you and your family will do. All of us at Franny’s Farm welcome and invite you to come visit us on site or online at www.frannysfarm.com, and via many “frannysfarm” social media channels. Come see, experience, or pick blueberries, enjoy many of the public events, stay the night camping or in an eco-cabin, and even volunteer in our gardens and on our farm.

We are an easy three turns and 20 minutes from downtown Asheville. Open Tuesday—Sunday, closed Mondays and during weddings/private events. Come see us, and Happy Planting! ~Franny

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker