I think every witch should grow a garden. It puts you in touch with energies and cycles that people who don’t garden just don’t know about. If you grow food or magical or medicinal herbs, they are just that much more potent from the energy you put into them. And, if you are learning about magical herbs, there is no better way to get to know them than to simply spend time with them. Raise them up from a seed and watch their lifecyle.
A lot of folks I have talked to say they can’t keep a plant alive, they have a black thumb. But the truth is, gardening, like anything, is a skill. You just have to keep at it. I have killed more plants than I can count. I have lost plants to disease and fungus, too much watering, not enough watering, deer wood, woodchucks, weed whacker accidents, my own rampaging chickens and ducks, the dog. The cat likes to sit on the house plants, I don’t even know why. And sometimes they just die and I have no clue. But plants know this. That’s why they put out hundreds or thousands of seeds. We try, we mess it up, we do research, we try again, we experiment.
So what do you need to do to get started? I have identified 5 simple steps.
Step 1- Evaluate your space and resources
The first thing to do is take an inventory the space that you have to plant your garden. You want to evaluate for light, moisture, and soil.
If you don’t have outdoor space, look at your windows. South-facing windows will give the most amount of sunlight, assuming they are not shaded by trees, East and west are okay and North facing windows aren’t going to be great for most plants, though some can tolerate low light conditions and will thrive there. If you have a patio or a deck you can grow plants on, evaluate it for the amount of light it will get in the same vein. If you just don’t have any suitable windows or outdoor space, consider getting yourself some grow lights. I got this set of grow lights (Barrina T5 Grow Lights at Amazon.com) to upgrade our seed starting operation and they would be perfect for providing light wherever you have space to put a pot, on a shelf, under a cabinet, on your dresser or even on a window sill that doesn’t get adequate light. Outdoors, you want to choose a space that gets as much light as possible. A little afternoon shade is usually okay, especially if you have hot summers.
Now you want to look at moisture. If you’re growing in pots indoors, moisture is going to be pretty much under your control. I find plants do dry out more quickly indoors and yet, somehow they are more prone to being overwatered, so you will have to monitor this. Outdoors, if you have a soggy boggy yard, like the bottom of my property, you may be very limited in what you can grow. Likewise, if you live in a very dry area though it’s always easier to add water than to take it away. The quickest and easiest way to fix a soggy boggy problem is to use raised beds instead of planting directly in the ground. Or you can choose plants that like their feet wet. There are other methods, swales and drains, but these are a bit more complicated and we’re going to keep it simple today.
Finally, your soil. If you’re doing a raised bed or pots, you can source good garden soil at your local nursery or landscaping supply center. If you need a lot you can have it delivered. I like to put a big plastic tub in my trunk and fill it up. If you’re planting outside, you first need to find your soil. Chances are, it’s covered by lawn. This is easily handled by covering it with cardboard and compost. Give it a good soaking and let it sit a few days and then you can plant right into the compost. The cardboard will break down and the grass will die and you will have some fabulous soil. Or you can grab a shover and spend a few hours removing the sod. It will come back quickly, but you should get a few months out of it.
If your soil is very gravelly, you may want to consider a raised bed instead of planting directly into the ground, but if it’s just hard and compacted, or sandy, sheet mulching (the cardboard, compost layering mentioned above) can help sort that out. Don’t break your shovel on it.
You can test your soil. Soil test kits are available and you can send your soil out to your local agricultural extension but unless you have reason to believe your soil is either depleted or contaminated, I don’t think you need to worry about that just now. I want you to get started as quickly as possible and you can get fancy later. If you are planting the same area year after year, you will want to get it tested periodically to balance out the nutrient profile. If you are planting near an old road, a polluted body of water, an agricultural or in an industrial area, you may wish to get it tested for safety or just do a raised bed.
When I think about contamination though, I feel like most of the food is grown in contaminated soil these days, at least to a certain degree and not all toxins are going to be taken up by the plants. I don’t think it is worth worrying about unless I am in a place that is really suspect.
Once you’ve taken a look at the growing space you have available, you can start to think about how many plants can fit in there and choose which plants to grow. I suggest starting with no more than five different plants so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Step 2- Think about what you use most often
Take some time to think about the plants that you use most often for cooking, magic, and medicine. Consult with the people you live, prepare meals and practice with.
My list looks like this
- Rosemary – love love love
- Basil – husband loves it and it’s great for bringing harmony to the space.
- Potatoes – twice a week at least
- Onions – almost daily
- Garlic- What don’t I put garlic in?
- Kale- kiddo loves kale chips.
- Bay laurel – I put bay leaves in everything
- Tomatoes – they are no good from the store
- Lettuce- also no good from the store.
- Sweet corn – also no good from the store
Step 3- Research the plants needs and narrow down your choices based on your ability to meet them.
Now I”m going to narrow down my list based on my plant’s needs. First, I’m going to check my agricultural growing zone or hardiness zone (5a) and then I’m going to check my growing season, that is, how many days there are from my last frost date in the spring to my first frost date in the fall. About 130 days. You can get this information from a Farmer’s Almanac or from your local cooperative extension though many sites that market seeds and plants for sale will have this information too. If you type “What is my growing zone” and “what are my first and last frost dates” in any search engine, you’ll find what you need.
For each plant that is a perennial, I need to check what its ideal growing zone is and for each plant that is an annual, I need to check my days to maturity date. Then I need to check spacing to see how many I can fit in the space I have available and light requirements to see if I can meet them.
Then, I’m going to research the plants on my list to see which I will be happiest in the space I have for them. Let’s pretend I am a brand new gardener with a single kitchen windowsill and a 10×4 raised garden bed outside in zone 5a wil a 130 frost-free days. I can find out all the details I need about these plants on a seed merchant’s site or with a simple search engine search. My updated list might look like this:
- Rosemary – Perennial. Needs zone 7-10, but only needs a 14 inch pot, so I can grow it indoors.
- Basil – Annual. Frost tender, but can grow indoors in winter. 50-75 days to harvest.
- Potatoes – Needs more space than I have available for a decent crop, possibly more work than I’m willing to do
- Onions – I need to start these early to get a good harvest and I have to pay attention to my day length. Maybe later.
- Garlic- Yes. But I will plant it later in the fall to overwinter.
- Kale- Yes. Annual. Needs 50-75 days to harvest. Frost hardy. Needs one foot of space.
- Sage- Perennial. Zone 5-9. 2 feet of space
- Oregano- Perennial. 12 inches. Zone 5-10.
- Thyme- Perennial.12 inches. Zone 5-9.
- Bay laurel – Zone 8-10. 24 inch pot. No room!
- Tomatoes – 60-80 days. 24 inches. No room indoors, room next to the kale outdoors.
- Lettuce- 30-70 days. 6-8 inches apart.
- Sweet corn – Plants should be 12 inches apart in rows or blocks for pollination. Don’t have space.
So, I am going to cross onions, potatoes, sweet corn and bay laurel off my list right away.
A tomato or two, some basil, a kale or two, and a row of lettuce in my outdoor raised bed and I can tuck some garlic in there in the fall. That will fill up my raised bed and I’ve got room for maybe three pots on my windowsill. Rosemary, oregano and thyme all grow well in pots and that will be my windowsill. Sage looks like it will be too big but if I really want it I could sacrifice the tomatoes or the kale.
Or I can figure it out next year. That’s the beauty of gardening.
Step 4- Source your plants
The best plants are going to be purchased at your local garden center and most garden centers have plenty of useful plants available. These plants have been growing in your local climate and you taking them home in your car or even public transportation is going to be less stressful for them than shipping would be. You can also get a good look at them before you buy them to make sure they are bushy and healthy and you aren’t bringing home any weird spots of bugs. You can also order them online. Choose a site that is as near to your location as possible and has good growing information for each plant that they sell. If it’s just a lot of pretty pictures and no information, I would be suspicious.
If you are looking for something unusual, check out https://strictlymedicinalseeds.com/
Step 5- Plant your plants!
Your dirt is ready, your plants have come and the weather is right.
First, make sure your plants are comfy in their pots for a few days, and then set them outside for a few hours each day to get used to the local environment. Do this for two or three days before planting outside.
I like to do my transplanting on an overcast day so the plant isn’t hit with full sun just after moving day.
If your plant was shipped to you from far away, remove any soil from the roots and rinse them off. There are lots of invasive species that come in on soil and this simple step can help keep them in check.
Then, I just tuck in my trowel and wedge the soil apart (drop in some rabbit poo for a treat) and slide the plant in, pat it down around it, and water it well.
Voila. Planted. Now all that’s left is to wait.
Step W Make it Awesome
This your witchy kitchen garden, so make it your own. Add some gnomes and fairies. Or just a few shiny rocks. A gazing ball, a wind chime. Whatever makes it feel magical and wonderful to you. Make sure you have seating nearby so you can relax near your garden and just spend time with it.