It is a new year, and for many that means resolutions. Recommended resolution for this year: Grow your own food. Yes, it can be done. You don't have to be a bicycle-riding, Prius-driving, urban goat owner to grow your own food. You too can grow food and Instagram great-looking garden booty.
Never gardened in the desert before? Don't know where to start? Boho Farm and Home owner Caroline Van Slyke, who recently transformed her own front yard into a fruit-growing paradise, recommends starting small and simple.
"One 4-foot-by-8-foot garden box or a couple of wine barrels and grow things that you like to eat -- if that seems too much, plant a fruit tree. A peach tree is easy! This will help you see the success and enjoyment in raising your own food and then you can slowly add more beds," she says.
Whatever you do, don't jump in the deep end. "The mistake I see most often is people in their desire to have multiple gardens and beds right away plant too much, and they get overwhelmed and say they can't garden." says Van Slyke.
You want to try to make growing your own food an empowering, not overwhelming, experience. "This journey to sustainability for our family has been one of the most rewarding journeys we have embarked on," she says.
In other words, it is pretty cool to harvest a salad from your own backyard in your pajamas.
Van Slyke lives a simple, sustainable life in Arcadia and incorporates design, gardening, and cooking into a visually stunning home. But, you don't need to be quite as glamorous as she is to make a change in the new year.
"There is something very special and healing about being in contact with the land . . . belonging to the land. Planting a backyard garden can change the world!" she says. Or at least your world.
You can put in a veggie/fruit garden now or wait until the early spring. You'll just want to make sure the spot you pick gets six to eight hours of sun.
"This time of year is one of my favorites to plant because it is bare-root fruit season, from late December to early February is the time in the Valley to plant bare-root fruit trees and roses too," she says.
Regardless of when you plan to begin your resolution, don't start with crops that are out of season. Van Slyke recommends visiting a local nursery instead of a big-box store. "They will give you great advice and all the plants they have are for this growing season."
If you have pets and plan to grow food, you might want to purchase items to cover your first food garden.
"Most things edible to us are edible to our pets. That is why I cover my garden with construction mesh, to keep the birds, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, and kids out."
Van Slyke started food gardening with roses. Yep, roses. "Roses have a place in my heart. They are food for the soul. And I do make rose petal jelly from them too."
Of course, water is important, too. You can certainly plant a garden near your hose, but better yet, hook a set up drip hoses to a raised bed. This enables you to water the garden on a timing system, which is great if you work during the day or leave town a lot.
"When it's cooler or cold, you'll want to water about every three days," Van Slyke says. "If we get a freeze warning, water the plans, but do not get water on the leaves. The watering keeps your plant warmer. Then wrap with frost cloth."
Now, onto soil. "Your soil is the best key to success in gardening," she says. You might currently have a yard full of sand and/or xeriscape. Bottom line -- you might need to indulge and pay for some dirt.
"The soil make up all over the Valley is different, but what I do that I have found to work where we live [in an old orchard in Arcadia] is 50 percent native soil and 50 percent organic matter. I would get the native soil from your own yard because you know what has been done to this. "
However, you might want to rethink using your own soil if you've had the Orkin man out to spray for bugs. "Get Singh Farms fine compost or Western Organics organic soil mix, both of these you can get in yards, and work the native soil and organic matter/compost together. I know people don't want to pay for dirt, but it is the wisest investment . . . Then get a good organic fish or kelp fertilizer and use it every month on your veggies. Singh Farms has their own blend or you can get it at Bakers," she says.
Van Slyke is a force to be reckoned with, and her own garden/farm is inspirational. So inspirational, your thumb might turn green just standing in her yard, which she occasionally opens to the public. You can meet and speak to Van Slyke herself as she sells her garden fresh preserves every Friday and Saturday at Singh Farms Farmers Market. Often, her items are also available at Sweet Salvage (open the third Thursday of each month), and Van Slyke also hosts dinners and other farm events at her home. Visit her blog for details.