A DECADE AGO, I BECAME AN ACCIDENTAL GARDENER.
Returning to my native Northeastern Ohio after a 5-year stint in Florida (3 hurricanes in 4 months wears a person down), I moved into a rural duplex in Rootstown. My landlord came by one day to ask if I wanted a garden since he was already out tilling for other tenants. “Uh, sure, I guess,” was my answer. Not exactly a strong commitment, but I figured, “What the heck. It’ll give me something to do.” The only garden experience I really had was recollections of my parents tending our garden, with us children mostly on weeding and poop spreading patrol.
With faded childhood memories, I began in earnest, planting the newly prepared soil after a few trips to local garden shops. Purchasing seeds and familiar vegetables starts (tomatoes, peppers, onions, peas, beans, squash, pumpkins, broccoli, and even turnips), my garden filled out in no time. That is when the “fun” began. The 500 square feet of reclaimed goldenrod and black raspberry claydominated land soon started fighting back. Weeds popped up, soil dried out, some plants grew poorly. All the weeding chores of my youth came back to bite me (literally— brambles and thistles are very, very pokey). I added fencing to keep out my newfound friends (those cold-blooded, pea-eating, predatory bunnies), which, of course, found ways of getting around, as hungry herbivores are bound to do. My first garden was a lot of work, but it also gave me the great feeling of accomplishment. Some veggies grew easily (yeah, green beans), so at least I had something to show for my efforts, besides a sore back, scratches, and less money.
Four years ago, after moving to Kent and establishing a much better garden, I decided to start a vegetable gardening blog. The hardest decision to be made was its name. After a few duds (like “What Thyme is It?”), I decided to call it The Snarky Gardener. The first time I heard the term “snarky” was on the TV comedy That 70’s Show. Kitty (the mom) told her son Eric not to be snarky. I instantly looked up the definition (“crotchety, snappish, sarcastic, impertinent, irreverent”) and thought it sounded just like me. I’ve always been sarcastic (especially in my youth), and consider it to be one of my super powers. What I have found over time though is it’s not always easy to be snarky while discussing gardening. I often look over my writing and wonder “Is this snarky enough?” Nobody’s complained so far, but I’m always striving to be better.
My primary reason for starting The Snarky Gardener was I wanted to keep people from making the same mistakes I made. There is plenty of gardening information in books and on the Internet, but getting location specific advice is more arduous. My most read blog post is called “Top Ten Best Vegetable Crops to Grow In Northeastern Ohio”. It’s popular because when people are just starting out, they want to know what vegetables to grow in their location and naturally, ask the all-knowing Google, “What vegetables should I grow in Ohio?” With growing plants, location is everything. You can grow things in California or Florida that you can’t grow here (like citrus), and there are crops that grow better in Ohio (potatoes for instance) than in warmer places.
Location is also important in gardening as different locales have different environments. For instance, Northeastern Ohio soil tends to be mostly clay. While clay has its advantages, like holding water and being nutrient rich, it also has its downsides. Clay compacts easily, so if you walk on it, roots will have a tough time penetrating through. I learned through trial and error that any efforts to turn your soil into a dark rich loam (think potting soil) will be rewarded in better growing vegetables. The secret to doing this? Add lots of organic material (leaves, kitchen scraps, straw, wood chips, newspaper). It will take a few years, but the wait is worth it.
So my question for you is, “Do you want to grow vegetables this year?” March is the perfect time to start your planning and learning. You might not know this, but some vegetables can be planted starting in March. Ohio lore says you can plant peas, potatoes, and onions around St. Patrick’s Day. And this time of year is when we start seeing warmer weather. As a bicyclist, I’ve developed a St. Patrick’s Day tradition of riding as temps seem to always be around 65 degrees. I’m not one of those crazy winter cyclists who go out in below freezing weather. Less than 45 degrees means I’m
If this is the year you start growing veggies, there are plenty of resources for those of us who live and work in Kent (are we called Kentans or Kenters or Kent dwellers?). One great place to learn is the Kent Free Library. Did you know they have a seed library which allows you to check out seeds like you do books? Also, I give gardening talks at the library through my group “Kent Food Not Lawns”. My “Beginning Vegetable Gardening” class is held on April 18th at 6:30pm. Spaces are limited and registration is requested, so please call the library at (330) 673-4414 after March 21st to reserve your spot. And, of course, there’s my blog— thesnarkygardener.com—and my recently released book “The Snarky Gardener’s Veggie Growing Guide”, available on Amazon as an eBook or paperback.
Useful Internet Links: