Whether the masses are discovering the therapeutic benefits, became alarmed when grocery store shelves were being emptied by panicked buyers or simply because the boredom born from lockdowns has finally taken its toll, gardening has enjoyed a massive resurgence and is quickly becoming a popular hobby for many who have never attempted it before.
Brittany Demezier is the Dubuque County food systems program coordinator for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who also earned an undergraduate degree in ag education from University of Wisconsin-Platteville and a Master of Science degree in sustainable food systems from Green Mountain College in Vermont. She has some tips, tricks and answers to frequently asked questions related to gardening.
Question: What are some plants you suggest first-time gardeners start out with?
Answer: It is always best to plant something that you and your family will enjoy and want to eat — this makes the gardening experience even more fun. However, there are some crops that are easier to grow and less disease-prone than others. Radish, spinach and salad greens are great to get started with because you will get produce from them right away in the growing season and not have to wait. Tomatoes and peppers are very popular but are prone to disease and also need constant care and monitoring as they grow.
Question: What sort of learning curves are there with gardening, and how can you overcome them?
Answer: Weather is different every year, and that always presents unique challenges for gardeners. Pests and diseases can vary, too, and can be challenging for gardeners if you don’t know the warning signs and how to correct certain problems early. For larger crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, it is important to know how to prune and train these plants to produce the most amount of fruit and not be prone to diseases.
Question: Where should people look for local gardening resources or advice?
Answer: ISU Extension and Outreach. We have several publications that are aimed at helping new and veteran gardeners grow their best crops. We also have a person on staff to answer questions related to lawns and gardens and is happy to take your questions. We also have a series of crop-specific growing programs for those just getting started.
Question: What sort of tools or infrastructure do you need to start a garden?
Answer: Space or, for container gardening, pots big enough to host a healthy root system. Most likely you will need a way to till up your space. You will also need some basic tools like a rake, hoe, hand trowel, pruners, hose or watering can, and some seeds or transplants. It is also important to consider where you will put plant material that is removed from the garden. This helps in disease control and helps your garden stay healthy.
Question: How should you select your gardening site?
Answer: Good balance of sun and shade. Watch for things like runoff from rooftops or eave spouts. Having a history of what was located in that spot before is also helpful. Was it a corn/soybean field? Were chemicals applied to it? Was it a treated lawn? These can be important questions to ask as you get started. You may also want to test your soil to give insight on how to best manage your garden.
Question: What are some benefits to gardening aside from the produce?
Answer: It is a great reason to get outside and be active. Growing your own food can also provide a great sense of accomplishment and be part of a healthy lifestyle.
Question: Is there a seed shortage? Where is a good place to go for seeds?
Answer: Not exactly. Seed suppliers are seeing unprecedented demand for seeds this year. You may see that some seeds are out of stock or unavailable at this time, but keep checking back. For the most part, seeds are there but are not able to get packaged and out to home gardeners due to reduced staffing coupled with shipping delays. These challenges, coupled with increased demand, have put a strain on seed suppliers. Some companies are out of their most popular varieties but have others that are suitable replacements. Whatever the case may be for your favorite seed supplier, be patient, be flexible and willing to try something new this season.