Think gardeners have nothing to do right now? You'd be surprised how many ways we put the seemingly "off season" to work for our gardening projects. In addition to four-season growing (which is completely possible in our temperate climate), fall and winter are great times to do the researching, planning, organizing, and advocating needed to start a home, community, or market garden. Here are some general tips to get you going, or should I say, growing:
1. Home garden. First, make a realistic prediction about how much time and money you want to spend on your garden. That will help you make decisions about its size and complexity. Then, give some thought to what you actually want to grow. One of the major joys of home gardening is choosing what you want to plant based on your family's specific needs, preferences, and reason for gardening in the first place. Do you want your children to see how things grow from seed to table? Do you want to save money at the supermarket, or make dinner preparation extra easy by simply walking outside and snipping a couldn't-be-fresher salad? Do you want to have a personal hand in preserving heirloom seed varieties? Do you simply crave a crunchy radish or sweet-as-sugar peas? You will learn over time what you and those you feed (family, friends, you name it) really appreciate and what seems to be worth the effort, but give it some thought from the get-go to increase the chances of a satisfying gardening experience.
Now, assess your property for sun, slope, soil quality, and water access. Make sure you have a good solid 6-8 hours of sun a day (picture the trees with leaves on them to be sure they don't block your spot), and that your garden is situated to take advantage of it (south facing seems to work best). A healthy base for gardening requires the right balance of fluffy soil (so that air and water can get to plant roots), organic matter, and the necessary nutrients. A soil test done affordably by your local cooperative extension service will tell you exactly what you need (ask to have the results converted to organic recommendations, if your extension service doesn't automatically do this) so that you don't waste a whole growing season having disappointing results while you try to get it right. (Consider the Farmer D Organics organic planting mix and custom-blended fertilizer to get the perfect balance right away.) Finally, consider how you are going to water when you choose your location, and if you will need or want water harvesting and/or irrigation solutions.
If you desire a balanced ecosystem that includes small-scale animal husbandry, you need to make sure this is allowed in your zoning ordinances as well, and then make appropriate accommodates for the humane care and feeding of these animals on your property. As you may already know, Decatur allows chickens and goats, but some places not far from here do not.
2. Community Garden. The additional concerns regarding starting a community garden include land use and ownership issues relating to the property you are considering, parking, amenities such as bathrooms, ADA-accessibility, community access, fencing needs, general safety, and the ability to add accessory structures such as tool sheds and greenhouses, if desired.
3. Market Garden. If you want to grow food for sale, you now need to determine whether or not commercial activity is allowed, plus how you can accommodate larger equipment, food storage, accessory structures, and a larger compost operation than a community garden or home garden might require.
Much work is being done all over metro-Atlanta about urban agriculture. See the Atlanta Local Food Initiative's website for details. Contact your city hall for exact details about local ordinances that affect growing food where you live. And be ready to dig in when it's time for spring planting--which, in metro-Atlanta, is as early as February.
See www.farmerd.com for more growing tips, and be sure to follow us on Facebook.