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Grow Local Food on Your Own Patch

For the second year, Nature's Bin offers an affordable and informative Early Spring Gardening Series.

When she harvested the first radishes out of her recession garden, Missy Toms swelled with earthy, urban pride.

“Oh my gosh, I felt like I birthed a baby without all the pain,” said Toms, a mother of three, who planted a variety of vegetables and herbs for the first time last summer. “It was the greatest accomplishment. It was just like ‘Wow, I grew something and I’m going to feed people with it.’ It was very exciting.”

Toms, 40, decided last year that she wanted to landscape her Lakewood yard with only Ohio native flowers and to plant a garden to help feed her family of five.

She had the motivation but she needed to gain some knowledge so she turned to one of her favorite local resources for help: Nature’s Bin, which was offering a first-ever Early Spring Gardening Series. She enrolled in the then three-part series and learned practical tips such as selecting where and what to plant, soil testing and preparation, and how to maintain and harvest a garden.

“Our classes were taught by a husband-and-wife team who are farmers in Ohio and who supply Nature’s Bin with produce. They said it doesn’t matter how big the piece of land is as long as you get plenty of light and drainage,” said Toms, a volunteer with the community supported agriculture program through Lakewood Earth and Food Community (LEAF) and a member of Kauffman Park Friends. “Their number one message was the Chinese proverb that says ‘The best fertilizer is the farmer’s footsteps’ meaning that tending your garden is the most important thing you can do to make it grow.”

That’s exactly what she did. She tended her modest plot, a raised and boxed area alongside her driveway that used to house rose bushes. The rectangular area was an ideal location because it enjoyed direct sunlight for most of the day and ample drainage.

She planted most of her organic seeds in late April, including an herb garden with rosemary (which is still coming up in February – no kidding!), basil, thyme, parsley, and lots and lots of veggies such as carrots, broccoli, radishes, lettuces, squash, swiss chard, and beets. The only seedlings she bought were tomatoes and peppers.

“If you grow from seeds, the risk is so low because seeds are so cheap. I can safely say I invested no more than $55 in my garden,” Toms said. She also planted marigolds along the front border of her garden to ward off insects – a little trick she learned from her mom. “I would say that we had quite a bountiful feast from my little garden. I was very pleased with my yield for my first time out.”

Interested in becoming an urban gardener, too? I am. In fact, so inspired by Toms and her productive patch, I signed up for Nature’s Bin’s four-part beginner gardening series this year. It kicks off Tuesday, March 8. All classes will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Lakewood Congregational Church.

And it’s not too late to sign up, said Natalie Coppola, who coordinates the Nature’s Bin gardening program.

“Gardening is so broad and there is so much to learn. Everyone is at different levels,” said Coppola, who added that about 30 people have signed up for upcoming series as of Sunday. “The first three classes are designed for the beginner gardener and the fourth class will focus on growing your own organic herbs and vegetables.”

It’s $32 for the entire series or $10 a class. You can sign up in person at the store, register online, or sign up that night of the class.

Here’s the lineup for the series:

The first three classes are taught by Karl Knopp, who grew up on farm and started gardening in his teens. He now runs Ag Access, a wholesale distribution company that specializes in locally produced plants and supplies garden centers, farm markets and grocery stores in Cleveland, Akron and Columbus.

March 8: Getting Started with Plants: Assess your areas of interest in vegetable gardening and plan strategies or the plants you want to grow. Topics include plants appropriate for our climate & your garden; seasonality and timing for different crops; what plant tags and seed packets mean to you; starting seeds indoors vs. buying plants; planting seeds directly in the garden; and transplanting.

March 15: Getting Started with Soil Preparation: Evaluate and prepare your garden site. Topics include: site selection, physical and chemical properties of soil, soil preparation, soil improvement, tools and materials needed.

March 22: Planning and Maintaining Your Garden: Develop a planting plan for your garden and prepare for garden maintenance and harvest. Topics include: garden layout, cultivation, watering, pest control, harvest

March 29: Growing Herbs & Vegetable in Small Spaces: Mark Langan, co-owner of Mulberry Creek Herb Farm, shares his successes and failures of growing organically for more than 20 years. He will also cover a variety of organic gardening products, highlighting their benefits and uses. 

Mara Carney February 28, 2011 at 02:45 PM
We love our garden for the fresh herbs (our thyme is still thriving) & the produce, of course, but it is so great to see our kids eating pea pods, cucumbers, tomatoes, blackberries etc. right off the bushes all summer long. I have used my dried herbs all winter, as well as the garlic we harvested last summer. Gardens are a lot of work, but totally worth it.

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