Hello Everyone! It is Spring and it is the perfect time to get that garden started. If you’ve never grown anything before, or you are a beginner, you’ll find this article inspiring as I’ll tell you how I went from being a natural born killer, to growing the giant beanstalk, and the secret to a green thumb. I’ve worked with thousands of people over the years and I’ve found the biggest block to getting started is what I call “black thumb syndrome”. A lot of us just don’t have any experience growing things and we are pretty sure everything will die. Or, many people have tried getting started a few times, had some failures, and gave up not realizing there are some very simple principles to being a super gardener. I understand completely because that is my story. Seriously, when I first started out on the journey to become self-reliant I had very little experience in gardening or farming. I was great in the business world – I could run meetings, organize events, and handle office politics – but grow food? No. Every houseplant I ever had died of something or other and my yard only seemed to survive because it had been there forever anyway.
But I knew I had to learn how to grow food. I saw problems on the horizon and I felt the very real possibility that growing my own food might be the only way I could get to eat. Watching my two kids play, I knew I had to be able to provide for them if the unthinkable ever happened. So I plunged in, and the first place I started was the instructions on the seed packets. They said “plant and come back in 90 days”. So I planted, and I watered, and I watched, and I prayed. And everything just died. You ever had that experience? I tried again a few more times getting more and more discouraged.
One time all my broccoli died after a light frost. I couldn’t understand why. Broccoli is a cool weather plant and is supposed to be able to handle freezes. Why did mine die with just a light frost?
Fortunately there were some experienced gardeners in my neighborhood. I kept looking at their robust, healthy, vibrant plants, and my pathetic little struggling vegetables. Why were their plants so healthy and mine so sickly? I kept going back and forth and asking questions. Surprisingly, even those experienced gardeners couldn’t really tell me why they were so successful.
Being able to grow my own food was too important a skill, and I couldn’t give up. So I kept visiting more successful gardeners and farmers, reading, researching, and trying experiments until I finally understood this very simple principle. The biggest difference was in the soil. My neighbor with the best garden was planting in beds made with two feet deep of richly composted horse manure. While my soil was essentially plain sand with little organic matter
and almost no nutrients Once I understood this simple principle I began to see it everywhere. The most common mistake that beginners make is they don’t realize how important good soil is. Almost all of the common vegetables we like to eat require rich, fertile soil to grow well. Plants need nutrients to be strong and healthy. They need the nutrients to be able to handle temperature extremes, wind, and variations in water.
Once I got really good soil going in my garden my plants thrived. The really awesome thing is that the plants pass those nutrients on to you when you eat them. And as you eat more and more nutrient dense food, you will become stronger and healthier too. You will be better able to handle extremes in temperature, wind, thirst and hunger. You’ll also be able to toss out a lot of those nutritional supplements as you will no longer
need them. It all begins with the soil. I can attest to this. For most of my life I was ‘cold sensitive’ and would start grabbing for a sweater when the temps dropped into the low 70’s. After several years of eating deeply nutritious home-grown food, I happily run around barefoot in 40 degree weather.
Having great soil is the #1 key to a green thumb.
The early settlers of our country knew the value of good soil and our earliest towns were founded in areas because they had rich soil. But that was at least a century ago, and since then, those areas with great growing soils have been paved over with shopping malls, buildings and subdivisions. It is not likely many of you have access to good soil naturally.
So how do you get great soil? If you can afford it, and you want to get the best possible start, go to a reputable local nursery and buy some rich organic soil and have it delivered to your site. And, I am also really big on doing things sustainably and for free. Going out and buying soil is not really sustainable. Plus as time goes by, you’ll need to keep adding to your soil to replenish it, and you don’t want to have to keep buying things. So what to do? The key to good soil is compost. And good compost fixes any kind of problem soil you have; be it rocky, sandy, clay, or none. Making compost is easy and is usually made from stuff you typically throw away; junk mail, lawn clipping, leaves, coffee grinds, and vegetable scraps. Making compost is a really simple process where nature does most of the work. Don’t worry about the details too much for now. Just designate a small corner of your yard or garden area and start piling up those scraps. If you live in an apartment I suggest you start with a worm bin under the counter. When done properly, it only smells like rich earth.
Fertility, compost, and soil building is so important to your health, and the health of your garden and livestock that I will come back to this topic many times in future. Here is a quick demonstration of what fertility can do for you. Below is a photo of two trees of the same species; both have the same soil and both get the same water and sun. Yet the one on the right is clearly more healthy with its abundant dark green leaves.
Why the difference? Well, I happened to have a small flock of geese who loved to sit in the afternoons in the shade of the tree on the right. Geese are a bit messy (to put it nicely) and while they rested there, they would of course, add a little fertility to the spot each day. The extra fertility those geese gave the tree on the right made a huge difference as you can see.
An ancient wisdom that you’ll come to appreciate more and more is encapsulated in the saying – “all true wealth comes from the ground”. In my next article, I’ll go through three simple steps to getting started – and I’ll help you avoid another one of the biggest mistakes I see new gardeners make.
Until then, stake out an area for a small garden bed, clear out the weeds, and get the best possible soil you can! And by all means, start a compost pile.
Marjory Wildcraft is an Expedition Leader and Bioneer Blogger with The [Grow] Network, which is an online community that recognizes the wisdom of “homegrown food on every table.” Marjory has been featured as an expert on sustainable living by National Geographic, she is a speaker at Mother Earth News fairs, and is a returning guest on Coast to Coast AM. She is an author of several books, but is best known for her “Grow Your Own Groceries” video series, which is used by more than 300,000 homesteaders, survivalists, universities, and missionary organizations around the world.