BY JOSHUA ARP
“Plant seed after the last frost” read the instructions on many seed packets. This year, early May marked the last frost, at least at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. So it’s no wonder some people have been distracted by thoughts of wet earth and little green seedlings.
Home gardening seems to be having a moment these days, spurred by weeks of exile in our homes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Worries about food security also may inspire novices to pick up a trowel and plant some veggies.
My advice: Don’t rototill half your backyard to plant a garden, at least not this year. Don’t go buy boards, get a delivery of topsoil and build raised beds, not now. The best gardeners and the best gardens emerge over time.
In other words, prove yourself at level one before taking on level two, much less level five. If you fail at raised-bed gardening, you will have to move that soil twice. First, you will move it to its unsuccessful, raised-bed location. Then, once it’s an overgrown, weedy mess, you will have to move it somewhere else on your property. You will have to dispose of the boards. You will have to replant the lawn at both locations. And in the end, you will curse your failed gardening impulse.
So plant something small, something that will congratulate your success and ask you to come back for more. Plant something you will enjoy eating. For many, container gardening is a great introduction to the hobby.
There are plenty of plastic containers you can buy that promise to grow more bountiful, bigger tomatoes upside down, without soil or with automatic watering. If you buy these things and get those jack-o-lantern-sized tomatoes, I’ll be happy if you share your crop with me, but I don’t think plastic makes a gardener.
Tomatoes, even for experts, are a temperamental, hit-or-miss crop. So for your first crop, plant kale. Yeah, yeah, who wants to eat a garnish? But if you put the kale leaves in a pan, spray with some oil, sprinkle with some salt, and crisp in the oven, you will easily eat the whole thing by yourself — and say good-bye to your anemia. Next week, you can do it again, and again, until deep in the fall. And you probably won’t have to plant it again next spring, because it is stronger than winter’s cold.
String beans and sugar snap peas are also guaranteed winners. Off the vine, they are so tasty that they might not make it all the way to the cooking pot. Pumpkins are fun to grow, carve, and eat, and they are easy if the pollinators help. That IF will deepen your connection with the green world.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.