Dirt on My Mind

What I Know About the Garden


Whether your planting plot can be measured in acres or inches (or even in your dreams), the same rules apply: Be crazy, expect nothing, get dirty, wake up with the sun, talk to yourself, prioritize color, stop over-mothering, organize chaos.

Beauty Everywhere. The garden is an exercise in appreciating what life hands you. There’s always a surprise. Sometimes nothing comes of the seeds you’ve planted. And sometimes it’s magnificent.

What to grow. Rainbow chard. Chioggia beets. Yaya carrots. Tavera beans. Beira kale. Sugar Snap peas. Rover radishes. Hakurei turnips. Lemon basil. Padrón peppers. Fioretto cauliflower. Benefine endive. Adam gherkins. Little Gem lettuces. Purplette onions. Romanesco zucchini. Cesare’s tomatoes.

Plant tomatoes sideways. Lay a tomato plant on its side for the day, until the top turns upward toward the sun. Dig a 4- to 6-inch-deep trench long enough to fit the plant. Remove all the lower leaves. Bury the plant horizontally so that just the frilly top sticks out. Water thoroughly.

Get organized. I organize my seed packs in plastic photo boxes. I label each box with its category: Brassicas, herbs, flowers, beans, etc. In winter, I plot out my beds and order seeds. I’m a heavy user of the Mother Earth News Garden Planner. But a sketch pad will do.

Develop your kit. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a lot of junk and gems. Some favorites are Texas Tomato Cages, Garden Kneeler, Grow Ease Seed Starter, Garden Markers, Washdown Gun, Niwaki Snips, Super-Birki clogs, bamboo poles, SunLite Grow Lights, Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen.

Know your sh*t. Think of your dirt as your most important crop. Study what it needs. Improve on it yearly. Befriend sheep farmers who have piles of rotted-down manure. Compost most of your junk. Save your eggshells. Treasure your coffee grounds. Grow stuff that makes more good dirt.

“A diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables is the first step to achieving good health.”

Sandra J. Arévalo, MPH, RDN, CDN, CDCES, CLC, FAND
Director of Community Health & Wellness
Montefiore Nyack Hospital

What About Flowers?

I grow flowers for only a few reasons: because they are edible, because they are beneficial to the garden, or because I’m obsessed with them. Here’s my basic list: Helen Mount violas, giant orange and yellow marigolds, chamomile, trailing and Alaska mix nasturtium, sweet alyssum, borage, lavender, yarrow, calendula, echinacea, ornamental kale, “Hairy Balls” milkweed, cockscomb.