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So You Want to Plant a Garden?

Andrew Curtiss

JW: So you want to plant a garden, grow some of your own food, some herbs to season it, and maybe some flowers to fill vases to adorn your table. Now's the time to start planning it all out. But how do you get started? I'm Judy Wagley. This is “From the Ground Up!” Andrew Curtiss of Show-tiss Farm in Shepherd, Michigan raises a lot of produce that he sells at local farmers markets, and he has to do a lot of planning. Thanks for visiting WCMU today.

AC: Thanks for having me, Judy.

Judy Wagley

JW: If someone is brand new to gardening and they want to get started, what are some of the first steps?

AC: Yeah. The first step you need to do is make a plan. You need to decide what vegetables you personally like to eat. Maybe what your family and your neighbors like to eat. Write them down and then decide how much of them you want to grow. Do I want to just eat fresh? Do I want to process and can do I want to freeze? What's my goal? Do I want to eat fresh every week all year? You could conceivably eat fresh beets 52 weeks a year in Central Michigan if you planned accordingly.

JW: Step two?

AC: Step two. You determine how much you need to grow of each thing, and that goes back to what's your goal? How much do you want to have available? Do you want to eat it one time and can and process it? Or do you want to eat fresh green beans, maybe 20 weeks out of the year? Then you'd have to make a little different plan and grow a variety that will produce constantly until it's killed by frost.

JW: Step three?

AC: Yeah. Step three is determine how big a garden you need based off your goals from Step two. So I recommend you start small your first time and you work your way up. Over the course of 20 years, our garden has grown from a family garden that was roughly 60 feet by 50 feet to over 5 acres of production in our largest years. I'd recommend first-time gardeners. Start with a small garden done with excellence versus a large garden that consumes your summer and turns you away from the idea of growing your own.

JW: Yeah, because it could get overwhelming.

AC: Absolutely. The fourth step would be putting your plan into action. The sweet spot for gardening in Central Michigan is around Memorial Day when you would want to plant. This usually puts us past our final frost of the spring and gets the garden in with plenty of time for maturity before fall’s first frost.

JW: Andrew, how do we acquire these plants that we're going to plant?

AC: Yeah. So you're gonna buy transplants, which will come in vegetable flats or in single cups. We usually find them at farmers markets. We grow about 100 flats ourselves. You can find them at box stores as well. I recommend the farmers markets. You're going to talk to a guy or a lady, a person who grows them personally and they're going to grow varieties that are fit for this region and for your area.

JW: Plus, you're supporting the local farmer.

Jeremiah, Micah, Alia and Shai Curtiss help to raise healthy produce on Show-tiss farm!
ANnew Curtiss
Jeremiah, Micah, Alia and Shai Curtiss help to raise healthy produce on Show-tiss farm!

AC: Absolutely.

JW: When we get our plants, what should we do?

AC: Yeah. So you're going to want to make sure there's no cold nights in the future where they're lows in the high 30s, low 40s, and then what we do when we transplant-- I transplant early in the day or late in the day if possible. When you remove a plant from its pot, you instantly put that plant into what's called “transplant shock.” This happens every time. In order to mitigate this, I recommend planting early or late in the day. The sunshine is a gardener's best friend and his worst enemy. The same sunshine that makes plants grow can kill a young seedling in just hours. Transplanting when the sun is low in the sky gives you the opportunity to plant and your plant to being establishment without being burned up by the sun. When you transplant, you should always gently water the plant in in order to set its roots.

JW: We've started our brand-new garden and now it's time to---be patient?

AC: Yeah, Judy. So that's kind of the fifth step, and I call it the “weed and the wait.” I take nightly walks in the garden during the last few hours of daylight with my wife. This gives me an opportunity and time to inspect, admire, plan and pull the random weeds that are popping up and make sure my crop is healthy and growing strong.

JW: Andrew, for someone who is starting a brand-new garden, would you recommend maybe some easy things to grow?

AC: Yeah, I would. I would start with zucchini. I would have maybe a few onion sets, some tomatoes, a cherry tomato plant, a pepper plant, stuff that it's kind of hardy and going To produce well.

JW: Could we throw some herbs in there too, because I really like herbs!

AC: Absolutely! My favorite thing to grow is cut herbs.

JW: Some basil, maybe some dill--easy to grow. Any more thoughts on starting a brand-new garden?

AC: Yeah. So one thing that I recommend is that you get a garden notebook and you take notes. Write down what you're working on, what's working, what's not working, inspirations you get while you're in your garden, and admiring your plants. This notebook becomes a wonderful read in the winter. And it'll take your garden to the next level in the years to come. Gardening is more than just growing food. It's a life experience. When you get your hands in the dirt, you experience it, you grow from it. Great things happen in the garden!

JW: Well said! Andrew Curtiss from Show-tiss Farm in Shepherd. Wow--such great information today! Thank you so much for joining me for “From the Ground Up!”

AC: You're welcome. It's my pleasure to be here.


Judy Wagley is WCMU’s midday host, and is the producer of The Children’s Bookshelf from From the Ground Up! She guides listeners through their weekdays from 9am to 3pm.