Updated: Dec 26, 2019
How to have a garden and eat it too
We are heading into a Shnat Shmitta, which means here in Israel we give the land to rest once every 7 years. No planting or tilling the soil or harvesting to sell. But many people plant in buckets or bags so as not to disturb the land. But it's always good to be prepared for the next planting season. Starting a garden can be overwhelming for the first time just thinking of all it entails but really it's pretty easy. It's an inexact science and experience comes from just doing it. We have to water and the plants do the rest. I've tried to break down the whole process into simple steps, but once you start it all just comes naturally and you'll know what to do and when to do it. Besides that it's fun, gardening fulfills the desire to plant and grow your own vegetables for your health, budget and it's an excuse to play outside and get dirty. When I first started gardening I bought seeds online from an organic heirloom seed catalogue in the USA. Since then I've saved seeds from my own gardens so that I will always have for the next year. I am trying to start a Seed Savers group here in Israel so that we can all benefit from eachother's gardens. You can also save seeds from the vegetables you buy. They need to be separated from the vegetable, dried and stored safe from bugs and mice and mold. Some vegetables have their own seeds inside the vegetable, others need to produce flowers in order to get seeds, and still others like peas , beans, grains, nuts and seeds and potatoes are the seeds that need to be saved. Many vegetables that you buy can be cut and regrown by putting their pieces into water until they grow roots then planted in dirt. First of all there's 2 planting seasons: Summer garden: Planting most of the vegetables around Pesach and harvesting all of July and August. This is the time for the majority of the vegetables to be grown. These are some of the summer vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, corn, pumpkin, peppers, okra, carrots, peas, beans, melons, potatoes, celery,beets, basil, onions , zucchini, squash. Then there's the winter season. We plant around Rosh Hashanna. these plants include leaves, lettuces, broccoli, artichoke, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, asparagus. They can handle the cold weather and give us the protein and vitamins we need during the cold months . The first step in gardening is deciding where you will plant. Some people have land and they can plant a large garden. Others have no land so they choose to plant in boxes, bags, or buckets. Some plant on rooftops and still others join community gardens. Your space determines how many seeds to start and how much you will plant . If it's in the ground you need to clear a spot. The dirt needs to be soft and free from weeds. So a hoe works well to mix up the dirt in the area Weeds will always come up, we just have to be dilligent and pick them out. Many of them you can eat or put in smoothies and salads, but you have to know how to recognize them so you know which are good to eat and which to avoid. If it's in a bucket or bag , it should be filled most of the way with dirt and kept moist and free of weeds. If you have compost (see below), that should be mixed in with the dirt to give the plants all they need to be healthy. If the plants are healthy, bugs won't bother them and they can withstand disease etc. The second step is planting the seeds. Seeds are best planted in cups, styrofoam or paper, or plastic or plastic planting cups bought from the plant nursery. Some people use egg cartons to plant seeds, some use egg shell halves, some use toilet paper rolls with one end folded to close it from the bottom. Be creative! Some vegetable plants can be bought from the nursery, but starting from seed is the best. You get more variety and you know there was never pesticide used.Seeds are put 2 or 3 into each cup that has been filled at least half way with compost/dirt and has a hole in the bottom for drainage. They need to be watered many times a day (some say every hour) until they sprout . The dirt should never be allowed to dry out. It should always be moist to the touch. Keep them in a spot that's warm, but without direct sun so it doesn't dry out the dirt. You will see tiny leaves coming up within 2 weeks. They should have good indirect sunlight. It's a good idea to plant in secession rather than all at once. Plant a few plants of each kind , then 1 or 2 weeks later plant a few more, then again one more time. This makes your harvest last longer . The third step: Once the plant has become big and strong, it can be moved outside on a porch or window sill to be come accustomed to the outside weather. I have planted directly into the soil and it works too, but it is risky. Bugs attack the little sprouts and it is very affected by weather. So by taking the precaution of planting inside , just increases the chances that the plants will survive and be happy. If you are planting directly in the dirt, make the spaces between plants about a foot and a half or two feet apart so they won't be crowed when they get big . The hole should be deep enough to cover the dirt the plant is already sitting in. No roots should be sticking out. If you plant in a bucket or bag, each plant getis it's own. They should be watered at least 3 times a day, but out in the desert where I live I have to water almost every 2 or 3 hours during the day. You just have to make sure the dirt never dries out. It should always be moist. Once the plants are in the ground (or bucket or bag), mulching helps protect the plant and keep it happy. Layers of straw or shredded newspaper and compost bunched around each plant help keep the dirt moist and slow down weeds. You might see mushrooms growing in these conditions and that's a good sign. They grow when the soil is healthy and help by bringing lots of great things with them to help the plants. Mulch can be added layer over layer once a week or so. As the plants grow, some will want to climb so it's good to make sure they have something to climb on such as sticks formed into a tee-pee shape, or a string or frame. It gives the plants air which they need, leaves lots of space for the leaves to get the sunlight they need and makes sure the vegetables grow off the ground so bugs can't attack them. Plus it makes it easier to see and pick the fruit. That's it! Within two months you'll start to see fruit and when it's ready you pick it! The weeds have to be kept in check so they don't take space, water and nutrients from your plants. When it's time to pick, it's best to pick once a day , every morning. This way you have some ready every day and we get out there to pick what's ready before the birds and bugs have a chance to eat it first. I always bring a basket or some way to carry in the harvest . I also like to bring a notebook to keep a diary of what's ready and when, problems, mold , disease (if any), and anything I did or what needs to be done in the garden . It helps for the next season to look back and be ready the next time. I try to remember to bring a camera sometimes too, to record how things are progressing, or to take pictures of different vegetables or the kids helping and playing in the garden. Herbs: Herbs can be grown in the ground, in flower buckets or in wall gardens. We used old pallets and hung them on the wall outside near the house for easy access when I am cooking. We nailed flower boxes to the pallet one on top of the other all the way up with water drippers. We grow basil, oregano, thyme, parsely, cilantro, chives, mint and others so that we can pick a sprig at a time to use in cooking. Lavender, rosemary ,bay leaf ,lemongrass and others grow really big so I have them planted right in the ground near my house so I can get to them when I need them. You can organize your garden according to how you use the herbs. Some have a medicinal garden growing aloe vera, yarrow, comfry, camomile etc to be used for healing. You can have a kitchen garden with herbs used for cooking. A flower garden attracts bees and butterflies and excites the senses. All of these can be grown in the ground or in buckets, bags , or flower boxes on the ground or stacked vertically. Sprouts: In addition to vegetables, sprouts are very easy to grow indoors all year long. Alfalfa, buckwheat, wheat,radish, sunflower, broccoli sprouts, etc can be grown and added to salads, sandwiches, soups etc. The seeds need to be soaked for at least a few hours or as many as 8 hours depending on the seed, then placed in a glass jar. I like to turn it upside down with a cloth covering to let air pass through and moisture pass out. But some peole just put the seeds into a bowl with a mesh cover to keep bugs out. There are also sprouting trays that are sold in health food stores and other places used for just the purpose of sprouting.The very small seeds can be placed on a paper towel or damp cloth. They will sprout very quickly. Once they are the length you want , you put them in the refridgerator and they will last a few days. In the summer we even sprout them in the fridge to avoid molding. Compost: It's easy to make your own compost from kitchen scraps. Instead of throwing vegetable scraps into the garbage, put them in a separate bucket and once a day you empty it into a designated spot outside. Some people build wooden boxes, some make tumblers that can be turned, some just dig a hole in the ground and let the bugs and worms do the work. A compost pile will create it's own heat . It should be moist and warm. Bugs and worms eat and churn through the vegetables tuning it into a nutrient rich compost. Feasting from your garden: The great thing about a garden is how it will continue to feed us all year long. When in season , a garden gives and gives. So besides eating fresh vegetables everyday, we save the extra to be eaten the rest of the year. I blend and freeze tomatoes herbs, zucchini, pumpkin, etc be used later in salsa, soup, stews, tomato sauce, etc. Every vegetable can be frozen, dried or fermented (pickled). Herbs can be made into dips and frozen or dried as they are. We also dehydrate tomatoes, peppers, onions, zucchini, etc make great dehydrated treats or can be stored and added later into dishes. Many people cook and can in airtight sealed glass jars to be used all year. All of these ideas can be found on the internet. Organic Gardening Magazine has great ideas and recipies. There are many books, but my all time favorite book is "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral" by Barbara Kingsolver . It's part guide, part story and all inspiration. It motivates me every year to go out and just get started. .