How To Transform Any Space Into an Edible Garden
Jasmine Jefferson, founder of Black Girls With Gardens, shows us how it’s done.
Gardening experienced a major increase in popularity over the past year as we found new ways to not only entertain ourselves at home, but also calming activities to strengthen our mental health. And social media is largely to thank. From onion sprouts grown in glasses of water to potted basil leaves taking center stage on IG Stories, growing your own food is in.
But for those who have no idea where to start on edible gardening, the best way to learn is by asking someone who does it on a daily basis. Jasmine Jefferson, a Florida therapist and founder of Black Girls With Gardens, created the platform in 2017 so that Black woman gardeners could share their experiences and learn about plants.
“I just really became obsessed with growing,” Jefferson says, mentioning she started around the same time that her grandmother passed. “Honestly, now I know as a mental health professional, that I was grieving and that was just my coping method, but it was just really helpful at that time in my life, and I just became obsessed with learning how I can grow vegetables for people.”
After realizing the impact of social media and searching through gardening hashtags on Instagram, she noticed she did not see many people that looked like her and she wanted to change that. The Instagram page for Black Girls With Gardens now has more than 180,000 followers and features photos and videos of Black women gardeners—and their plants, of course—from around the world. Jefferson believes her platform allows Black women to see themselves as gardeners and connect with others who share a common interest.
“I feel like this community always existed,” Jefferson says. “There are some people who, of course, during COVID have decided to start gardening. But since representation was not always there, we had some type of imposter syndrome, and we just didn’t really talk to anybody about this interest in gardening.”
So what is edible gardening?
Edible gardening is a beginner-friendly way of entering the world of planting and will also give you fresh vegetables that you can eat.
“I think the importance of doing so is that you have control of what's going in your body,” she says. “A lot of times the vegetables that we receive at the grocery store have been coated with some type of chemical to make sure they stay fresh. They have traveled across the world, things of that sort. But you want to make sure that you have healthy vegetables."
Edible gardening is also important for communities of color as many face food apartheid due to socioeconomic inequalities and systemic racism. “They don't have a grocery store or somewhere that has good, fresh vegetables. So growing your own is sometimes the only way that you can get them,” Jefferson says. “Also, growing edible gardens is just fun. It's a great way for you and your family to commune and come together and learn a new skill, learn different tasks, and teach your kids different things.”
How do I grow an edible garden?
The first step in planning out an edible garden is understanding your hardiness zone. This zone tells gardeners which plants would be more likely to thrive depending on where they’re located.
“Weather plays a huge role in determining when you're going to grow your garden and how you're going to do it,” she says. “So based on the last 10 years, this zone kind of tells you when to expect your first frost, or the first time the weather is going to go below 32 degrees, and your last frost, the last time it's going to go below 32 degrees. You just base your garden off of those particular dates.”
Jefferson suggests giving or taking two weeks from the dates you get because they’re estimates of the last 10 years. You can find your hardiness zone here.
Whether you have acres of land, a backyard, or a patio is going to greatly affect the types of plants you can grow. While gardening can appear to be overwhelming initially, Jefferson says research will keep you from facing too many obstacles in terms of deciding how you’re going to garden.
“An issue a lot of people run into when they dive deep into gardening is just not knowing when to grow something, where to grow it, or how to grow it,” she says. “That's where my platform hopefully comes into play. I let individuals know, for example, that tomatoes, eggplants, and okra love hot weather so you could definitely grow those then. Leafy vegetables and celery prefer cool weather, so you can grow them then.”
Can I grow an edible garden in a small space?
If you’re looking to start out small or you don’t have a lot of space to grow large vegetables, consider getting into small-space gardening.
“Grow as many mini-herbs as you can because herbs are things that you can add in pots together, so you can put thyme, sage, and oregano in the same pot. You’ll be maximizing the use of your space,” Jefferson says. “In reference to vegetables, you always want to look for compact variety, or patio variety vegetables. Sometimes you can't grow two peppers within two inches of each other. Vegetables need their space so the roots can spread out.”
Jefferson recommends growing a specific variety of small space cucumbers called Spacemaster cucumbers because they only grow two or three feet compared to cucumber vines that can grow up to 10 feet long. “You’ll still able to have a full garden on a fire escape, or a patio,” she says.
What else do I need to know?
As with anything you want to thrive, your edible garden will need proper care and maintenance and that starts as soon as you put your seeds in the ground. Jefferson recommends starting out with a mix of compost and regular top soil before you place your plants.
“You’ve done your research,” Jefferson says. “You know what you're growing so you know what the tomato plants need in reference to fertilizing. You know that your cucumbers are going to need a trellis, so you set up a trellis for them. You have to make sure you're watering on time and harvesting when the time comes. A lot of the work is basically the research, and then from there, it’s kind of smooth sailing.”