My husband and I met in the dark and stormy winter months. When spring finally made her appearance, we were hanging out on the reg, and he introduced me to the community garden space he’d been tending for the year prior. We quickly found out that we both had passion and keen interest in growing food and that we worked incredibly well together.
It made sense that we dig — quite literally — into learning everything we could about the process.
We tended that same rectangle of Earth for years to follow. And each year, we learned so many things, a lot of which was by trial and error, and through the amazing gardening community that is Eugene.
We were able to grow much of our own food throughout the season and preserve enough to get us through the gray of winter. As we became more able, we could share what we grew with friends and family. That’s when the idea to do more took hold.
Rounding the corner into 2020, we bought a piece of land just outside of town. And through what could only be viewed from this distance as unique timing, moving day landed bang in the middle of the state of Oregon’s pandemic lockdown. We suddenly had a ton of space of our very own, what we considered a wealth of knowledge for gardening and explicit orders to stay home as much as humanly possible.
In some bizarre way, it all worked very well indeed.
Within the first week of being here, we cut our first garden beds into the pasture that would no longer house animals, just vegetables. Spring was already bearing down on us, and we had a ton of work to do. It was glorious.
A few years have passed, and we have expanded Olive Creek Farm a little more each year. The learning curve has bounced to literally every corner of possible outcomes, and the weather continues to perplex and defy. Our dreams of being able to grow enough for ourselves, our friends and family and our community as well are being realized, bit by bit.
I tell you all of this for one simple reason. OK, two simple reasons:
The first is that if you have any interest at all in growing your own food, I encourage you to do so. It can seem daunting or overwhelming, but it can be one of the most rewarding endeavors you’ll ever undertake. To help cheer you on, I’ve compiled a short list of tips to help you get started.
The second is that we all know that gardening isn’t for everyone. It’s hard work and, some days, the rewards can be downright invisible. The hours are long and the time of year that everything loves to grow can be hot or, more likely, better spent doing other things. So this is my plug to support your local farmers. Buy local, hit that farmers market or one of the many roadside farm stands that dot the country roads and enjoy produce that comes from our own soil. Trust me, it tastes better.
The best way to begin growing your own food is to simply begin. If you live in a small space, use containers to garden. Renting? Raised beds can easily be removed when you move on.
Absolutely no space for growing? Join one of the many community gardens our town has to offer. If you aren’t sure what to grow, think about what you like to eat. Grow your favorites and you may never be able to eat them from the store again. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different methods, different varieties and different techniques. And don’t get discouraged if something doesn’t work out. Every year brings new challenges, new “rules” and new opportunities to try again.
Use the off-season to learn
When the weather is awful and nothing seems to be worth going outside for, take the opportunity to learn through books, videos or classes. There are hundreds of different ideas about gardening, how to and what works. The one that works great for your neighbor might not work for you. Knowing several different ways to go about one crop is a magnificent way to ensure that you can dial in a system that works for you.
Make a plan
It is absolutely fantastic to walk out to your garden space in the spring and know exactly what will be growing where and when. Knowing what grows well together and how long each plant will produce makes for a simplified growing season. All the reading and learning you did over the winter months will have provided you ample information. Show up on planting day ready.
Write that plan in pencil
With all that learning and careful planning it is important to also keep in mind that the only thing you can be absolutely sure of with gardening is that everything changes. The best laid plans and all that. Last frost dates can — and do — move. Seeds and starts sell out. Pests come and go at the worst possible times. Something that grew like a dream last year will wither on the spot. So be ready to be flexible.
We are incredibly lucky to live in a corner of the world full of avid gardeners and farmers. Pick every brain you can. The folks selling the seeds and working at the garden center love to steer folks in the right direction. Your community garden plot neighbors or neighborhood neighbors — especially those who have been at it a while — can be incredibly helpful with questions. And if their advice, solicited or not, doesn’t work for you, that’s OK, too. Lots of well-meaning folks overstep with enthusiasm.
The Oregon State University Extension office is a wealth of information and knowledge, providing classes and resources of all kinds, a Master Gardener course, and it even has folks on staff so you can drop in and bring your specific questions. There are many great books out there and dozens of wonderful YouTube channels. Just be sure you’re accounting for your USDA gardening zone — the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location.Ours is 8b!