Sunlight: An important component to a successful garden

Here Comes the Sun

In less than two weeks we will all be celebrating the first day of spring! Gardeners all over are waiting with anticipation for the first two inches of soil to be warm enough and friable to allow cold crops to be directly seeded outside.  Some, like myself will have to wait until the winter snows stop and then the three to four feet of snow blanket to melt away by the warming sun. While others who have the space and patience have begun to start seeds indoors to get an early jump on the growing season. But what if you are new to gardening and you read things like this and get overwhelmed at the thought and begin to think that the effort required is actually greater than what needs to be put in?

Before, Mark and I started up Homegrown Harvest we talked to a lot of people about gardening and quickly discovered that although many people wanted to have a garden but didn’t. When asked why they didn’t they said they honestly didn’t know where or how to start and the idea of even beginning would get so overwhelming that they just never moved forward to make it happen.

It was hearing this repeatedly from people that made us want to provide people with simple solutions to gardening. Building a garden doesn’t have to be the time consuming or daunting task that some people imagine it to be. That’s why all our products we offer we have installed repeatedly ourselves and can attest to their ease of use.  If it isn’t easy to use and durable, then we don’t offer it.

Understanding the sunlight and the types of sunlight your space has is very important when initially setting up a garden. Reviewing some of the terminology – there’s full sun (6+ hours), partial sun/shade (3-6 hours), and full shade (less than 3 hours). These are the terms of sunlight recommendations on seed packets or plant start tags. But the sunlight in your garden may not be so clear cut. You might have some trees that during part of the day create a dappled sun (inconsistent light) or plan to put your garden near a reflective light source such as some vinyl privacy walls which bounce light off, providing an indirect source of sunlight to your garden. 

Beside the material you select for your raised garden bed, one of the biggest considerations is location. Where is the best place to put the garden? If you want to grow food successfully, then you have to put your garden in a spot where it will receive 8 – 10 hours of sunlight, 6 hours minimum of solid unobstructed sunshine, otherwise your tomato plants will be thin and spindly. Sunlight is important to your fruits and vegetables, helping to provide the energy needed for growth. Flashback to middle school science class when we all learned about the process of photosynthesis. The diagram should shed some light on the situation – ha, ha, ha! I couldn’t help myself.

If you are trying to figure out where to put your garden, take the time to go out and spend some time in the space where you imagine it to be.  On a nice day, put on your sunscreen and hat, have with you a pad, pen and a lawn chair and sit exactly where you plan to put the garden. Draw a rough sketch – it can be circles and squares it doesn’t have to be a Monet. Sit out sometime between 10-2pm during the heat of the day. If you are doing this in the springtime, make note around of the trees whose leaves will come in and cast shade during parts of the day as the sun rises higher in the sky as spring melts into summer.

When I used to install gardens and would visit our clients’ yards of course I couldn’t just set up camp and study the light, so I would draw a quick sketch, snap a lot of photos and then would do something I learned while becoming an Accredited Organic Land Care Professional. Wherever the prospective garden was going I would stand and look directly up, my left hand would extend towards the edge of any obstruction visible (tree, shrub, building) and repeat the same with my right hand.  Ideally what you are striving for is an angle of 45º or greater or unobstructed blue sky about you. Or you can always buy a sun meter kit if you want to be sure.

Once you have your spot, the best position for your raised bed is to run north to south, lessening the chance of crops shading one another. The right light for your garden can and will make all the difference between having a garden which produces healthy, strong plants which produce bountiful harvests throughout the growing season and a garden whose plants are spindly and don’t produce as much if at all. Enjoy gardening.

Speaking about Organic Gardening

It’s been a whirlwind of new year for us at Homegrown Harvest. You wouldn’t think the dead of winter would be a busy time of year for a couple of gardeners, but it has been.

We’ve been putting together a new lecture series on organic gardening. A few months ago, I was asked by a friend to come speak at her volunteer organizations’ opening meeting.  I’d never been asked to speak – although Mark and I had talked about the idea earlier in our IMG_1039organizational days of beginning Homegrown Harvest- so I agreed.  I decided to do a talk on the whys and hows of healthy eating – why you should grow food and not lawns.  It was going to be the first time I was ever in front of an audience of people who wouldn’t fail the class for being absent. I had never ever given given a talk or lead a discussion like this before. High school, in front of a few Trinity classmates perhaps was the last time I did anything remotely close to this. In college at BU,  I made sure to stay away from speaking opportunities, the exception being in my photography class where they made you get up and present your photo before a firing squad as your “peers”.  Okay perhaps they didn’t riddle my work with bullet holes but each comment felt like a slap in the face of humiliation at at the time.

My years working for my brother in the hedge fund industry taught me how to put together presentations, so sitting down and writing out the discussions has proven to be a cathartic activity for me, reinforcing my beliefs in organic land care management.   It was a moment of clarity brought on my Dennis Hopper and an Ameritrade ad that helped me diverge from following my brother’s path any further and create my own.  My work on the Hows and Why of Healthy Eating turned into 52 slides filled with vegetable facts, flowers and photography with given some animation. Hours and days of numerous edits , dry runs with more edits and more dry runs in my living room with my laptop, projector, screen and audience of five four footed friends of mine.

Finally, the day arrived. with about 40 women attended the September meeting of the National Charity League that morning and my despite the fact it was to be my virgin takeoff into the world of public speaking – I was relatively calm and not afraid to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers.  Instead I found myself to be excited by the possible opportunity public speaking could lead to for Homegrown Harvest.  Afterwards many people came up to me to tell me how much they learned and enjoyed my talk. One used the word ‘inspired’ to describe how they felt afterwards – the best compliment I could ever hope to ever receive and it has given me more confidence to go forward.

I decided shortly after that lecture that perhaps I would approach the New Canaan Library with the idea for a Spring Garden Series.  They recently started up a seed bank so I though it would be a natural tie in for us as a local vegetable gardening business.  It seemed a much better way for us to get out message out to people that healthy home vegetable gardening doesn’t have to be difficult and the healthy rewards you reap are beyond comparison.

Mark and I consider ourselves to be garden coaches – why not? People have life coaches, sports coaches, spiritual coaches. We don’t just sell you a product and walk away. We help you as much or as little as you want. Many people are too busy to get things up and started or don’t know how or where to begin.  We help teach and guide people in the process – making it easier for them to enjoy all the healthy benefits that go along with growing their own harvests.

Before the end of 2014, I had the privilege again to be asked by another volunteer organization, the New Canaan Beautification League to wanted me to come talk to them at their February meeting. They asked me to do a Garden to Table talk – oh and by the way – we’d like to video tape it if you don’t mind and put in on our public access channel CH79 New Canaan! Videotape? Um? Okay…

What had I agreed to?  I’ve never been videotaped except in home movies and those are not anything to be shared! So now I am going to be on TV? Um, that heightened the nerves a bit. So now I had to come up with a cohesive presentation that made sense talking to fellow gardeners about setting up a vegetable garden and the inspiration it en-vibes on your meals.

At the recommendation of a good friend of mine, I decided to take an online Dale Carnegie class on public speaking.  I’ve been to a number of lectures and presentations in my professional career, where the speaker went off on tangents, jumped around in their thoughts and slides – leaving my confused just wanting to take the handouts to figure everything out for myself later.  I certainly don’t want to be one of those types of speakers.

There is tons of information you hope to share with your audience but its crucial to not give too much which could overload and just confuse matters.  I find when I sit down to start one of these presentations that I want to tell a story. The overall point being that we can all enjoy growing some of our own food and by doing so reap the multiple rewards that vegetable gardening brings to our bodies and our souls.

Our local library loved the idea of doing a spring gardening series and we set up two dates in February and two more in April. March was off limits as the town does a one book, one town sort of things and everything revolves around that in March.  So our first two discussions in February I decided to focus on organic small space gardening dividing the discussions into two; focusing the first on container gardening. February can be a brutal month, and this year has been a doozy! This morning temperature was 14 degrees which has warmed up from the at zero and below zero days we’ve been experiencing here in Connecticut.

IMG_1640The first program 28 registrants signed up for the free lecture – 12 brave soles showed up. The weather had been snowy earlier and bitter cold, proving too challenging even those with cabin fever to start thinking about spring gardening.  Tomorrow we have our second installment in the Spring Series – we have put together a discussion on the organic benefits of building a polyculture garden. A polyculture is an organic method that brings in variety to the garden, breaking up the monoculture, in turn helping to deter disease and bad bug infestation simultaneously adding health, beauty and color to the garden.  The weather is still frigid but clear and bright with a newly developed threat of snow later in the afternoon that hopefully will not keep people from coming out to enjoy learning about the vast benefits of growing your food efficiently and effectively through intensive planting.