POSTED ON APRIL 10, 2013:
Green Thumbs Up
everyone can get into gardening in green country
When Oklahoma begins to shake off the shroud of winter, signs of spring begin to sprout across this green state of ours. It triggers a hunger for strawberries and tomatoes, and visions of pastel petals begin to dance in our dreams. As spring's song begins, we begin fantasizing about our own gardens. Shall we plant peppers or zucchini this year? Petunias or poppies?
Some have vast swaths of land to sow, while others have found ingenious ways to make do in an urban setting. Even those who are gardening-averse can still reap the benefits of Oklahoma's bounty by visiting their local farmers markets and various festivals held throughout the season.
As Robin Williams once opined, "Spring is nature's way of saying 'Let's party!'" and every spring Oklahomans show Mother Nature they know exactly how to live it up.
For those fortunate enough to have a little plot of land to call their own, creating your own secret garden is well within reach. Perhaps you are looking to beautifully landscape your lawn by adding brave splashes of color or some showy shrubs. Or maybe you'd prefer to have a produce aisle in your own backyard full of fruits and vegetables. No matter what you fancy, there is a veritable cornucopia of resources that can help you curate the garden of your dreams.
Around the Yard
If using greenery and flowers to jazz up your yard is what you seek, then there are some things to consider. First, for those plants of yours to photosynthesize, sunlight is oh-so necessary. Some plants and flowers work better with full-on sun while others like to keep it shady.
To determine how much sun your future garden will receive, just pop your head outside at various times throughout the day and see how the light lands. Make a little cheat sheet by jotting down the times and amount of light that peep through any trees or other structures that block the sun.
There are four categories that help guide you to the types of the plants that will work best for your garden. Full sun means six or more hours of sunlight, while partial sun describes four to five hours. On the flip side, partial shade is the term used when the area receives two to four hours of sunlight. Shade means less than one hour of sunlight. Using these categories will help take the guess work out of choosing plants and will set you up for success.
Some plants thrive in the more temperate conditions of spring and early summer. But it's important to remember (whether we want to or not) that the blazing Oklahoma summers can wreak havoc on your beautiful foliage. Be prepared to rotate your blooming crops a bit to accommodate for the higher temperatures. There are actually some hardy plants and flowers that can take on the summer sun, while others will shrivel at the sight of temperatures over 90 degrees. Think of this as an opportunity for a facelift for your garden, like painting the bathroom or getting a new rug.
Though flowers are pretty, being able to eat the fruits of your labor is the best payoff ever. Few folks have the time or resources to run a full-on farm, but that doesn't mean that you can't have a nice harvest of your own.
The first thing to consider is the scale of the project you have in mind. Do you want your own personal farmers market that can feed a family of four? Or do you prefer to have a nice, manageable garden that will supplement your meals?
It's important to not bite off more than you can chew, because not only does gardening require time and dedication, it also costs some green for supplies such as fertilizers and pesticides (organic, of course), not to mention the cost of the seeds and plants themselves. It's easy to get in over your head, so if it's your first garden, start conservative to stretch your green thumb. You'll also see what works best in your particular location given the sunlight and soil quality.
A great way to lay out your garden is by constructing a raised-bed garden. Instead of tilling into the ground and creating rows for your vegetables, raised-bed gardens, like their name suggests, are built above the soil. They are about three to four feet wide and you can have just one or as many as you can manage.
The garden is framed by wood or cinder blocks, even rocks, and then enriched soil is placed into it. Being able to mix your own soil gets you ahead of the game, because you don't have to depend on the existing soil, which could be dicey as far as nutrients are concerned.
The shape, size and look of the raised-bed garden are entirely up to you. There are as many ways to build a raised-bed garden as there are vegetables to plant in them. Don't like bending over to tend to the garden? Build your garden up higher! The key is to keep it a manageable size so you can still reach in comfortably to pluck your produce.
The benefits of the raised-bed configuration are numerous, such as keeping more moisture in and keeping weeds out. Also, you can fit a lot of produce into a small area. For each crop, simply cordon off one square-foot area. This is large enough for one tomato plant or 12 carrots, for example.
Garden on a balcony cray-cray? Not so much.
The plants being so close to each other is actually a good thing, hampering the growth of weeds, and it also means more veggies per square inch. The sides of the garden help eliminate erosion of your good soil while also allowing for drainage under its walls. When you harvest one area, simply add more compost, then plant something else.
So maybe you have no yard to speak of. Take the blinders off and look at your space with new eyes. If you have a balcony, that's a natural location. Just like you would with a yard, determine how much sun it gets. No matter what the size, you can create your own secret garden by using the railing and build your garden up. Using some of the same gardening techniques, growing your own luscious tomatoes or peppers could be an easy endeavor.
After determining what you have to work with as far as sunlight and space, now comes the best part -- deciding what to plant! A variety of veggies do very well in Oklahoma, from asparagus to zucchini, so pick your favorites, do a little research and let the magic begin.
Outwitting Mother Nature
Is the only bit of paradise you have covered by a parking lot? No problem! Urban gardening is a growing trend that takes the techniques from outdoor gardening and converts them for use in smaller, indoor areas.
If the urge to grow is overwhelming, you can go rogue. Who needs Mother Nature and the ups and downs of Oklahoma weather playing with your emotions and precious crops? Simply find a spot inside, maybe a spare bedroom or even your garage, and create your own environment.
Though it may sound like an oxymoron, urban gardening has become quite popular for those who find themselves in an apartment setting or with no yard. It may seem like gardening would be something out of reach for folks in the concrete jungle. But if the need to grow something green, whether for looks or even for food, there are viable options.
Since there you have no soil to dig into, container gardening is your go-to. On first thought one might think of those terra cotta pots of yore. But urban gardening has expanded greatly, and people can use anything from specialized bags to repurposed two-liter bottles. The possibilities are endless and far more creative than apartment-bound folks could ever imagine.
The gurus on indoor gardening are from a new place that opened in August called The Mad Farmer, 11630 E 51st St. They have all the supplies you need to create an indoor oasis.
Engineering your own ecosystem is easier said than done, but the folks at The Mad Farmer are happy to lend a helping hand. Not only do they have some of the most innovative accessories to ensure your indoor garden thrives, they also have a wealth of information. Though they specialize in indoor gardening, the offer products for all gardeners. Talking to one of their employees is a mind-expanding experience.
By creating your own indoor oasis, you can actually maximize your growing periods by using Oklahoma's weather to your advantage. Fresh tomatoes in November? It's possible! When nature gives us the cold shoulder or turns the heat up, just take your operation indoors.
But to go totally indoors there are a few key items you will need to start and it can be a pricey enterprise. But it's a one-time cost for materials and then you can grow 'til your heart's content.
"If you are starting from seeds, you'll need something give it light, like a T5 fluorescent," said Autumn Bauman, co-owner of The Mad Farmer. "Along with the lighting, we also have the plastic containers, domes, and heating mats that you'll need."
All the talk before about the importance of sunlight is just as important indoors as out. However, your regular 75 watt bulb is not what happy plants need.
"The fluorescent lighting we have is plant specific," said Bauman, "It provides a certain spectrum of the light. It's different from the light in your garage."
Once you take on the role of Mother Nature, you might realize her job isn't as easy as you think.
"You have to control the temperature -- not too hot, not too cold," said Bauman, "You must provide the water, the nutrients and even the wind."
The wind? That is something most people do not consider, but "if there's wind, no air circulation, the plants become tall and leggy, not strong," Bauman said.
Bauman also recommends the hydroponic method. This method doesn't use soil at all and instead uses water only.
"Hydroponic is 'water working,' growing things in water without using soil. You are supplying the nutrients directly to the plant when and where it needs it," said Bauman.
Lynn and Megan at A New Leaf
FILE COURTESY OF NEW LEAF
From an indoor standpoint, not having to bring dirt into your clean house definitely makes more sense. When plants are grown using the hydroponic method, they tend to grow more quickly, Bauman said.
"A lot of people do peppers, tomatoes, herbs, their lettuce, (and) greens like kale and chard all do well using hydroponic growing indoors," said Bauman, "And peoples say that the fruits and veggies taste better than when grown outside."
It's not an inexpensive endeavor, with light equipment beginning around $500 on the low end. But keep in mind it is a one-time purchase, and it sure beats betting on the Oklahoma weather.
Your Plant Plan
So now you have in mind the type of garden you want. It's time to buy your crops. There are many nurseries throughout town to find any plant, flower or vegetable under the sun. The people that work at these places are extremely knowledgeable and are also extremely passionate and helpful. Even researching online will provide an abundance of information.
Once you start getting your hands dirty, gardening can become an addictive activity. Studies show that gardening is a hobby that is not only healthy because of eating the nutrient-rich garden food, but, on a more soulful level, it is a relaxing activity. Watering, pruning and weeding creates an almost Zen-like experience. Just the joy of watching something grow from just a little sprout into something that produces an actual tomato or squash is a little awe-inspiring.
Nurseries and gardening outlets are always there to lend a helping hand, but there are many festivals dedicated to the love of gardening. The next two weeks feature events a little more exciting than a trip to a big-box store, offering a chance to meet experienced gardeners and get advice on what grows best.
Herb Day in Brookside is "kind of like family," said Pat Kroblin, who, along with Sandra Foster, is coordinating this year's event. Nearly 40 vendors will be on hand Saturday, April 13, from 9am-5pm at E. 41st Street and S. Peoria Avenue.
"Whether you're looking at doing flowers or tomatoes or pepper plants or herbs or lots of different things, the growers who have been around Oklahoma weather forever are together there to help you," Kroblin said.
Another event that gardening gurus make a point to attend is Tulsa Garden Center's SpringFest Garden Market & Festival. This year the event is set for April 12-13 from 9am-4pm at 2435 S. Peoria Ave.
If you've never visited the Tulsa Garden Center, it's a great resource and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Tulsa.
The event offers a festival atmosphere the whole family can enjoy.
"It's a great way to kick off spring," said Mike Blake, the center's education and marketing manager. "It's kind of a carnival atmosphere. We have a kids' zone to keep the kids happy while the parents shop. We are expecting around 40 to 50 vendors."
The event is a fundraiser, helping pay for the center's educational classes. Starting at around $10, you can learn basic plant science, hear lectures from prominent horticulturalists, and even take classes on photography and portrait art.
The spotlight on gardening also shines the following weekend, with Herbal Affair, one of the largest gardening festivals in the state taking place in Sand Springs.
"Since 1989, the Sand Springs Herbal Affair has become one of the longest-running festivals of its kind," said Melissa Carlson, the city's marketing manager, "It started as just a small downtown street sale in Sand Springs and has sprouted to one of the most respected in Oklahoma."
The event attracts over 25,000 garden enthusiasts each year and boasts 100 vendors selling everything from herbs, perennials, natives, and heirloom plants, along with herbal products, gardening supplies and folk art. This year it will be held Saturday, April 20, from 9am-4pm, with several blocks in downtown Sand Springs devoted to the festival.
It's not the only such event that day. In Broken Arrow, A New Leaf greenhouse and nursery helps adults and children with developmental disabilities learn important job skills through horticultural therapy.
The nursery will host A New Leaf Garden Fest on April 20, from 8am-5pm, with a special Garden Party event set for April 19 featuring live music, beer and wine tastings, hors d'ouvres and a 15 percent discount on purchases.
Festivities take place at 2306 S. 1st Place and 2405 S. Elm St., with party tickets $25. The Saturday event is free to the public.
If your next two weekends are booked, take heart in knowing that Tulsa's farmers market season is now blooming. Produce may be the main focus of weekly events like the Cherry Street Farmers Market, held from 7-11am on Saturdays on E. 15th Street near S. Peoria Avenue, but it's not surprising to find gardening and plant vendors at such markets.
Other markets set to open this month include the Pearl Farmers Market in Centennial Park, held Thursdays beginning April 18 from 4-7pm near E. 6th Street and S. Peoria Avenue; the Sunday Market at Guthrie Green, held 10am-4pm at E. Brady Street and N. Boston Avenue; and Broken Arrow Farmers Market, on Saturdays beginning April 20 from 8am-noon at 418 S. Main St. in Broken Arrow.
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