Many people do not know How to Start Gardening.  In 2020, the world changed.  With the global pandemic and lockdowns starting, people rushed to buy seeds and plants from the store. Then they tilled up parts of their yard that might have been out-of-the-way, purchased pre-made garden beds or constructed raised beds as shelves at grocery stores went empty.  Many people needed something to do during the global pandemic, and they turned to gardening as a past time.

I totally get it.

On Small Scale Life (my other blog and podcast), I call those Tipping Points. They are major events in someone’s life that changes your mindset, demands your attention and forces a person to act. Tipping Points are powerful triggers in a person’s life, and Tipping Points tend to change a person: their mindset, personality, approach to life and trajectory of life.

Many people just had a major Tipping Point in their lives, and they do what humans have done throughout the ages: returned to their roots and returned to the land.

As 2021 dawns, these same folks are going to look at those gardens and start to wonder what comes next. They might ask themselves:

  • Where should I start?
  • What do I plan to grow for this season?
  • Do I grow plants from seed or do I buy them in a store?
  • If I am going to save some money and grow my own plants, how do I actually grow them when it is snowing outside?
  • What do I need to do to grow successfully in 2021 and beyond?

These are great questions, and it can feel overwhelming to start gardening. That is why I am going to write a series about How to Start Gardening in 2021.  While I don’t have ALL the answers or even the right way necessarily, I have learned one thing over the years:

To grow successfully, you need to provide light, water and nutrients.

The plants take care of the rest.  We just need to make sure we provide those three elements to the plants for them to grow.  That IS….the real trick, isn’t it?

My Tipping Point: Crash of 2008

 Illinois Square Foot Gardens in 2011

I have been gardening consistently since 2008. I started gardening when a neighbor brought over some extra vegetables from her Square Foot Gardens. At the time, I was stressed out about the Crash of 2008: my job was hanging by a thread, I had a mortgage that was killing us and I was worried that I didn’t have any skills to survive beyond my office walls.

Here was my gracious neighbor sharing some vegetables from her garden and telling Julie and I that it was EASY to grow them.

My great-grandparents, my grandparents and my parents were gardeners.  In fact, some of my ancestors were farmers in Poland before coming to America, and my dad even dabbled in farming after his career in the National Football League came to a close.

As a young man, I hated gardening. I hated weeding.  I hated planting. I hated canning. It was hot and tedious, and I always would pick the wrong weed while getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. I’d rather be riding my bike in the woods, playing in the creek or fishing on the lake.

As a man, I had too many other things to do. I had work obligations and the kids’ activities and everything else going on. When my eyes were opened to our precarious position and lack of skills, I did what others are doing in the current crisis:

Returned to the land; returned to my roots.


Retuning to My Roots

Small Scale Garden 2014

As I have written about previously, Julie and I started gardening in 2009.  Like many, we didn’t know How to Start Gardening. We were pretty clueless, and clearly there wasn’t the plethora of gardening resources on the web as there are today.

Julie and I read the Mel Bartholomew Square Foot Gardening Book and started with two basic 4’x4’ Square Foot Gardens.  We followed the directions and built the raised beds with cedar planks from a defunct mushroom farm, put down landscape fabric and filled our beds with compost, vermiculite and peat moss.  Julie and I bought plants from the local big box store and started.

That is how we started gardening.

Through trial and error over the years, I learned a lot about gardening, and then food preservation because you can only eat so many tomatoes and cucumbers in one sitting.  It didn’t take long for me to expand the garden with two new raised beds. Julie and I moved from Illinois in 2012, and we started renting in St. Louis Park, Minnesota (a suburb just west of downtown Minneapolis).

Even as a renter, I had raised bed gardens in a “Wild Area” in the back of the yard which was littered with broken bottles, branches, litter and out of control landscaping.  I even created gardens on driveways and clinging to fences while successfully growing peppers, cucumbers, herbs, and salad greens.

When I have owned the property, I have experimented with Square Foot Garden Beds, Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow Systems, Mittleider Grow Boxes, Vertical Gardens, Patio Gardens, Wicking Containers and Wicking Beds made of out metal watering troughs.  By experimenting with these different and various types of methods, I have learned a thing or two about gardening, pests and plants. It has been fun to experiment and talk about it on Small Scale Gardening and Small Scale Life.

A New Adventure Begins in 2021

Eagles Ridge Homestead 

Flash forward to 2021.  My wife Julie and I purchased property in Star Prairie, Wisconsin. We are building a new homestead and community there. A centerpiece of this new homestead is my garden. 

Early on after purchasing the property, I woke up at 3:30 in the morning. My brain was already working on the placement of the garden, what I would grow and how I would grow the plants and herbs. 

I can see it already in my mind. I have a vision of how it will work, where beds will be placed, where I will plant fruit trees, berries, grapes asparagus and rhubarb. I will have a heated greenhouse, and I will collect rain water.

It is coming….someday soon.

A New Series Begins: How to Start Gardening

 Seed Starting. How to Start Gardening

As the winds are howling and pushing temperatures to -25 degree Fahrenheit tonight, it is the perfect time to start gardening.  It is early February, and our growing season is short in the Upper Midwest. It takes some plants time to germinate and become healthy plants with ripe produce before the first frost wipes it all out in early October.  This is especially true for heirloom seeds, and I recently wrote about Hybrid vs. Heirloom Seeds here.

Here is what I know: I am starting from scratch.

All of my gardening gear is stored securely in a storage locker in New Richmond, Wisconsin.  I have no idea where that gear is; it is buried under a wall of boxes. That means I don’t have my grow lights, heating pads, seed trays, tools, plant labels, potting soil or seeds. I don’t even have a garden yet; the land has grass and the Wicking Beds are stored

Trust me: I truly am starting from scratch!

In this new series, I am going show how to start gardening when you have nothing. I am going to walk you through the process:

  • Plan your 2021 garden (things to think about)
  • Grow plants from seed in my apartment
  • Transplant the seedlings into bigger containers
  • Build a mobile garden using self-watering containers
  • Plan the new garden at Eagles Ridge
  • Prepare the garden area
  • Plant the first perennial plants and fruit trees
  • Protect the garden from four-legged fury pests (rabbits and deer)

My plan is to use the Small Scale Gardening Instagram and Small Scale Gardening YouTube Channel to show you How to Start Gardening.

Fresh Peppers, How to Start Gardening

I am also going to update the 2020 Seed Starting Guide and provide that to folks that sign up to the Small Scale Gardening Email List. I am planning to use my email lists more in 2021, so please consider signing up.

Are you ready?

I am!  I have some seeds, a seed tray and some potting soil.

It is time to get started!


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