By Mary Ellen Bianco
|Denise Peterson who is a master gardener, bought this Meyer Lemon tree from ValuMarket. Photo by Melissa Donald|
The smell of freshly picked basil and the taste of a fresh tomato off the vine can be motivation to grow plants at home. We asked local expert Mary Ann Dallenbach, owner of St. Matthews Feed & Seed, for advice on ways to make gardening more accessible. Mary Ann says, “Grow what you like and start small. Pick three things — it’s supposed to be fun.”
Container gardening doesn’t require a lot of space or effort. “There are tons of things to grow inside or on a balcony or patio such as lettuces, onions, carrots, and microgreens,” Mary Ann says. Microgreens are germinated seeds that have developed tiny roots and edible first leaves. “Lime, lemon, kumquat, and avocado trees can be grown in a container,” Mary Ann says. “Also herbs such as basil, chives, and cilantro, which like cool nights and warm days. Mint is woodier and hardy.”
Mary Ann advises starting with a good, clean pot. Aphids can be carried in from a dirty pot. “Always use potting mix, which has the ability to expand, such as ferti-lome,” Mary Ann says. “It’s light and airy. Healthy soil equals healthy plants.” Next comes the choice of seeds. Mary Ann uses non-genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds. The GMO process makes plants more resistant to rain, drought, pests and diseases, but it is controversial since it’s done in a laboratory.
Adequate fertilizer and controlling pests is vital. “What you do to fertilize after the plant starts growing is important,” Mary Ann says. “If you want to grow organic plants for your fruits and vegetables, then you should use organic fertilizers.” Some suggestions are Espoma indoor plant food or Monty’s Plant Food, which is locally manufactured. Pests such as aphids can appear due to over or under watering. “You can control pests, and you need to do it immediately,” Mary Ann says. She suggests mixing one part rubbing alcohol to 8-9 parts water. It can either be sprayed on the infected plant, wiped on the affected leaves with a paper towel, or dipped on a Q-tip. Adequate light for any type of plant is always important.
Bend No More
Raised beds on stilts is another gardening option, keeping you from having to stoop over. “You can build by the square foot, and the instructions read like a recipe,” Mary Ann says. “I’ve used logs that a friend gave me to build them, then I add soil and frost protection hoops or fabric.” Adding compost is a key ingredient in organic gardening. It’s made from organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer. “Purchase those that don’t make you sick,” Mary Ann says. “Good ones won’t smell. Black Kow manure is all-natural and organic.” Other types are from spent mushrooms or lobster body compost.
Baby Your Plants
Greenhouses are available, ranging from portable sizes to walk-in types. “They must have some sort of heat — keep them outside on the sunny side of your yard,” Mary Ann says. “The light may supply enough heat.” It can be difficult to keep a greenhouse free of bugs. “Pests thrive in a moist environment,” Mary Ann says. “Carnivorous plants such as the Venus Flytrap or the pitcher plant control them.”
You can start your garden with minimal tools. “It’s pretty simple — you can even use spoons or your hands,” Mary Ann says. “Start with a clean pot, potting mix, seed, fertilizer, pest control, and provide adequate light.” She also suggests reading gardening books, doing online research, or taking classes at garden centers to build on your knowledge and skills. No excuses. Get your green thumb on!