By Janaki Krishna, Utah Recycling Alliance
Freedom gardens were encouraged in the U.S. during World War I to free up the supply chain resources needed for the war effort. During World War II, home gardening was encouraged as Victory Gardens. Given the general desire to eat healthier and know where your food is coming from and exacerbated by the global pandemic keeping people closer to home, home vegetable gardens are expected to be on the rise this year. No matter how little you wish to harvest or how minimal your experience is, our Utah climate makes home gardening a breeze. Now is the time to get planning and get planting. Most gardening experts say you are generally out of the frost zone in the valley after Mother’s Day. On the benches in Salt Lake you might be a few weeks behind. You can find a guide to best time per crop per your specific area on the National Gardening Association website.
If you want to get started with an easy step by step guide to gardening, Square Foot Gardening (SFG) is a technique developed and popularized by an engineer by trade, Mel Bartholomew. Mel instructs on raised bed gardening. So you are not stymied by your soil (too sandy or too dense- clay), instead he offers a recipe on the right mix of ingredients for a successful soil. Although I grew up hating to garden, as it seemed a forced chore, our household embraced the SFG technique once we settled in Salt Lake. In his book, Mel steps you through the process, how to build the beds, the ingredients for the mix of soil you should use (and amend with yearly), what seeds or plants to plant when and how many per square foot of your grid. It’s no nonsense and does not require much space- it could even be translated into containers. There are also lots of websites out there riffing on the basis of square foot gardening, some of them specifically for Utah.
Another great resource is Utah State University (USU) Extension. In 1914, the U.S. Department of Agriculture partnered with a nationwide network of universities to create a system of “extension” services. The goal of these services was to provide farmers across the country with advice from local experts regarding all-things agriculture and farming. As Utah’s agricultural university, there is a wealth of information on the USU Extension website with info on the best varieties of crops and how to start, maintain, feed and water crops. They also have invaluable advice on pests and weeds. Additionally, there are classes offered and a master gardening program for the experts-to-be out there. There is also a Facebook group of experts through USU assisting gardeners, Utah Gardening Experts.
Wasatch Community Gardens is another great local resource worth checking out. WCG, per their website, “is building and nurturing community connections through gardening and healthy food; our mission is to empower people to grow and eat healthy, organic, local food.” Aside from great workshops and webinars on various gardening topics, they also run a number of community-based programs, like community gardens, youth programs, and an On The Job Training Program which provides employment, job training, and mentoring for women living in poverty, while simultaneously revitalizing an underutilized urban area.
If you are really eager to do more than gardening, but not quite ready to become a full farmer, the Green Urban Lunchbox runs a program most years to help get you started, the small farm initiative. This program is an urban farmer training program that teaches people how to farm in urban spaces using sustainable growing practices and make money doing so.
However, if gardening isn’t for you, but you are interested in local vegetables and fruits, consider a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. CSA is a partnership of mutual commitment between a farm and a community of supporters which provides a direct link between the production and consumption of food. CSA Utah offers a directory to find a CSA that is right for you. Your membership helps support the local farmers, and in return you get a farm box on a regular basis. This is also a great way to try out fruits and vegetables you have never eaten or cooked before.
Whatever manner you might choose to dabble in agriculture, I hope you find the gratification of being outside and enjoying the fruits of your hard work. For me that is the first tomato around July 4th.