You’ve just moved into your first home and you want to start charting a path towards self-reliance. Before you cultivate food in the yard, there are a few essential steps you should take to set yourself up for success. These must-read tips are courtesy of holistic gardener Aja Yasir, who has spent a lifetime learning and teaching about regenerative practices. Aja and her family moved from urban Chicago to suburban Gary, Indiana, and began growing food for her entire plant-based family on her eighth-of-an-acre property.
Lawns are so pre-COVID and it’s time to get proactive! Remember those wartime victory gardens? Similarly, more people are producing sustenance with home gardens and using the opportunity as a way to ground into the healing powers of nature.
Don’t know where to start? No problem! Begin with these two simple steps: start recycling your home waste, and plant an easy-to-grow herb garden. Over time you will gradually decrease your dependency on the supermarket by replacing all that turf with organic edibles.
Don’t have your own land? Seek out a community garden plot or volunteer at a nearby market garden —— both are becoming increasingly commonplace in urban and peri-urban environments.
Before you start, check out Aja Yasir’s foundational tips for backyard vegetable, herb and fungi gardening:
The most important thing you need to do before planting a garden is test the soil. Assess your soil’s nutrient profile, mineral composition, and check for traces of pollution and contaminants. As a result of nearby industry, urban environments have higher instances of soil toxicity than more rural areas. If industrial waste has leached onto the property and contaminated your soil to the point where it is no longer safe for cultivation, you can build raised beds on top of the existing soil or sod. Checking the soil’s nutritional profile will determine what components it lacks and give you an idea of what organic inputs you can then use to amend it.
Close the loop of your consumption and get organic waste from your household back into the soil. This can also include cardboard and other paper waste. Start composting your kitchen scraps as well as your yard waste, both carbon and nitrogen-rich matter such as leaves and grass clippings, and woody materials such as chips and sticks. Aja uses a Bokashi kitchen composter to mitigate the smell of traditional compost. She sprinkles the microbial Bokashi bran on top of the waste, fermenting the scraps rather than leaving it to rot. Once the content of the composter is fermented, Aja buries it two-to-three feet underground in her yard in a paper bag to decompose into soil. She then digs it up and applies it to sections of the garden, keeping the soil alive with healthy microbial activity that feeds happy plants.
Growing plants native to your geographic location is a fool-proof practice for the new gardener. Native plants will attract pollinators to your garden, and in general, these plants can generally be hardier and more forgiving, especially with some of the weedier varieties such as borage, calendula and peppermint. The essential oils from herbs will also help deter pesky bugs and serve as a natural form of integrated pest management. Do some research on companion planting before sowing seeds or planting starters to see which plants will thrive next to one another.
Collecting rainwater can benefit you and your garden in many ways. First, water conservation has become increasingly important in areas where drought has ravaged the land, and a thirsty garden absorbs a lot of water. So save as much water as you can, and catch water throughout the entire year using methods such as a rain barrel or eavestrough cistern. Secondly, rainwater might also be less contaminated than standard city water and could be a cleaner option for growing your food. Regardless of the source of your water, you can always check the pH of your water and adjust it according to what your plants require. Well and groundwater are usually more alkaline, and a simple pH Down product can help lower the pH for plants that favor more acidity.
Once you’ve established a good foundation of native plants, it’s time to plant something new! Exotic plants can bring about that wow-factor to any garden with eye-popping colors, bizarre textures and unique fragrances. Once you know the plant hardiness zone of your area, you can choose from a variety of exotic plants that will thrive in your native environment. Aja grows wasabi root and Japanese Ichi persimmon trees in her yard. She loves choosing from a variety of food sources, such as edible flowers, mushrooms, hazelnut trees and scrumptious greens. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes or killing plants — that’s how you learn to be a gardener! Keep a record of what crops you grow, track how well they do, and each year, watch your skillset expand!
Aja Yasir is a wife, mother, holistic gardener and folk herbalist living in Gary, Indiana. She uses regenerative methods such as habitat restoration and intense biodiversity, to grow fruit, vegetables, medicinal herbs, and mushrooms at her urban home. In addition, Aja is the host of Abundant Living and Gardening Podcast, the Executive Director of Gary NORML, founder of Blaze Summit: Conversations on Cannabis, and Cannabis Sommelier.