Do you want to grow food but don’t know where to start? Or maybe you have an edible garden, but like me, still have so many questions. Wherever you are at, one thing holds true, we all need a little guidance, support, and inspiration.
I can’t think of a better way to inspire you than to introduce you to a woman that has motivated and educated me about urban, edible gardening. Meet Hilary Dahl, Co-owner of Seattle Urban Farm Company and Creator of Encyclopedia Botanica Podcast. Not only is she wicked smart about gardening, but she distills the science into an easy guide that makes growing food possible for anyone. Plus, she is a super talented photographer, so don’t forget to follow @SeattleUrbanFarmCo on Instagram to get a daily dose of her amazing photos.
I had the opportunity to ask Hilary a series of questions about how she started her urban farming career, advice and tips for those that want to grow food, and helpful knowledge for those that are already working on their green thumb. Plus, at the bottom of this post you will find a list of helpful resources from Hilary and Seattle Urban Farm Company and a GIVEAWAY. Enjoy!
Megan: What is your gardening mission?
Hilary: My mission to is make edible gardening accessible for everyone. I try to create content, such as the podcast, blog and social media feed, that help take the mystery out of home food production. Edible gardening is possible for anyone, our goal is to provide resources that empower people to get out there, be successful, and enjoy themselves.
Megan: Why did you decide to start a career in urban farming?
Hilary: I became interested in urban farming while in college. I attended the University of Washington and studied the relationship between environmentalism and urban planning. Urban agriculture seemed like a great tool to connect city dwellers to the natural world, improving their quality of life and providing a tangible way to increase their own environmental sustainability.
Megan: What advice would you give to those who are thinking of trying to grow food?
Hilary: I would encourage beginners to start small and read the instructions. You definitely want to start gardening with a space that you can easily manage, and to be honest with yourself about how much time you can spend in the garden each week. An hour a week is a reasonable amount of time to spend, which means you might want to begin with only a couple of small raised beds. A plant doesn’t have instructions per se, but seed packets and plant tags contain a surprising amount of information, as long as you read it! Beginners who do not heed the advice that accompanies their plants will almost always make mistakes that are easily avoidable!
Megan: What is the most difficult part of growing food?
Hilary: It can be challenging for people to accept that, as a farmer, they must deal with the vagaries of nature. Gardening provides a wonderful opportunity to connect to the natural world. However, crops are exposed to a wide range of threats including freezing temperatures, insect pests, fungal diseases, viruses and animals. Therefore, you have to understand that food production will have failures and that to be successful, you simply must persevere and try again!
Megan: What is your greatest learning from helping hundreds of people to start their own gardens?
Hilary: Growing food can be easy. However, it has been remarkable to see how many people make the same mistakes when they are getting started. Honestly, I think people just need to take a little bit of time before they get started to understand the basics. They should take a workshop, read one of our books or spend a few days helping out a friend who is already a gardener. There is a wealth of gardening knowledge out there waiting to be accessed, so get involved in your local community.
Megan: If you were given a few more hours in the day, what would you choose to do?
Hilary: I could always spend more time taking photographs of the garden. I love being out with the plants first thing in the morning, and a mid-day and in the evening. It is amazing how much can change during the course of a day, and I’d love to have even more opportunities to capture everything that is happening out there.
Megan: What are the top 4 things someone should consider before starting their own garden?
Hilary: A few keys to getting the garden started properly: first, make sure your garden gets great sun exposure (at least 6 to 8 hours). Second, start with a space that is easy to manage (perhaps only a couple of raised beds). Third, use good quality soil and add organic fertilizers to your beds before planting. Lastly, always follow the plant spacing guidelines for each crop and make sure to water your crops regularly! If you do those things, you will almost certainly have a great first gardening season.
Megan: Do you think everyone should grow food?
Hilary: I think that growing food is good for people. Just about everyone would benefit from spending more time outside, getting their hands in the soil and eating more vegetables. Having a garden makes all of these things inevitable, so it’s a very healthy habit.
Megan: If someone can only grow 3 plants? Which ones should they grow and why?
Hilary: Choosing only three plants would be challenging. I think the crops might be different for everyone. One of the things we have learned from working with lots of different gardeners, is that each person has their own tastes and preferences. Some people might only want to plant tomatoes, while another might only want salad greens. If I had to choose only three crops, they would be beets, kale and beans. I’d grow beets simply because they are my favorite vegetable to eat; kale because it has a long season, produces a ton of food from each plant and is very nutrient dense; green beans are also big producers and are easy to store by canning, drying or freezing, so you can eat them year-round.
Megan: A lot of people don’t have yards; can they grow edible food on a deck or in pots?
Hilary: You can definitely create an edible garden on a deck or in pots anywhere you have room. Make sure the space gets at least 6 hours of sunlight, make sure you can easily get water to the space so you can irrigate your plants (pots dry out really fast), and make sure to use a potting soil in the containers. Potting soil is essential, because regular garden soil will become compacted and too dense in a container for crops to grow well. There is no such thing as a space that is too small, even growing one pot of basil is a fun gardening project!
Megan: What is your most favorite edible plant to grow and why?
Hilary: I have too many favorites to choose only one, but I really like growing lettuce. Because lettuce grows really quickly, you can keep replanting it all season long. I plant 3-4 heads of lettuce in the garden every week or two and this means that I can have a salad pretty much any day of the year. Lettuce is a great crop because it is easy to grow, it matures quickly and pretty much every meal benefits from the addition of a salad.
Megan: What is next for you?
Hilary: I am really hoping that our new podcast, Encyclopedia Botanica, will find a nationwide audience. I think there is a need for a down-to-earth edible gardening resource and I love the podcast medium. Podcasts are such an easy way for people to learn and I am just trying to get the word out there so that everyone knows what we are up to.
Helpful gardening resources from Hilary and Seattle Urban Farm Company:
Food Grown Right in Your Backyard – a must-have!
Last but not least, Hilary and I have teamed up to give away a copy of the must-have book “Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard” by Seattle Urban Farm Company’s Co-Founders!
Giveaway begins Tuesday, November 15, 2016. Check Instagram on Tuesday for details!
To enter for the chance to win:
- Follow both SeattleUrbanFarmCo and SeedSproutGarden on Instagram
- Leave a comment and tag a friend sharing why you love gardening
- Chance to enter giveaway ends Thursday, November 17, 2016 at 11:59pm PST
- Winner will be announced on both SeattleUrbanFarmCo and SeedSproutGarden Instagram accounts on Friday, November 18, 2016
Good luck! While your waiting, listen to the latest episode of Encyclopedia Botanica.
Photography by Hilary Dahl