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Column: Planning a garden, from the ground up

I am not what they call a green thumb. I am what you would call a yellow-green thumb. I struggle with what vegetables to sow when and which varieties are the best. I also have a habit of planting something and then letting Mother Nature do what she may. In the end this does not turn out to be very effective for my garden or my plate. This year I want to change all that! My strategy is to pay close attention to what I am doing-or not doing — and become highly educated. How do I become highly educated? I go to the experts for advice.

A few months ago I enthusiastically joined a gardening class offered by The Cornucopia Project. This non-profit based in Peterborough is dedicated to teaching sustainable and nourishing life practices to children and adults by connecting them to the land and the community through organic gardening. I knew that with a mission such as this, I would learn a lot, and I did.

The founder and Executive Director, Kin Shilling is like an onion — she is a woman of many, many layers when it comes to farming, food and healthy living. The more I got to know her the more I couldn’t wait to see her each week. It was like I had a knowledge crush on my teacher.

In the first week, we talked a lot about gardening and a lot about farming in general in this small and intimate class. Kin facilitated the class from her notebook, containing years and years worth of information. Specifically, we talked about what vegetables work well with others. Who even knew that this was an issue? I learned that some pests will jump from one plant to another so it is best not to place them together. A garden plan actually drawn out on paper helps to place plants in the correct location and also allows you to pay close attention to the sun and shade in your garden.

In subsequent classes we actually planted seeds from a vast collection of their very own seed packets, beautifully designed by Kin herself. I planted varieties of Kale and lettuces that will hopefully begin to sprout in a few weeks as long as I don’t revert back to my old habits of letting them fend for themselves.

Along with all of the gardening techniques that I learned, we planned future projects together and with other farms. Farming is one of those rare industries that although as farmers we all work independently, as business owners we must work with our competition to share knowledge and sometimes even customers.

I now feel very prepared, confident and excited about having my own successful garden this year. I have some techniques in my back pocket on how to involve my children in the garden and although I am nowhere near a gardening expert, I feel confident that I could answer some basic questions on gardening and seed starting. I think I can actually feel my thumbs turning color as we speak.

Kim Graham lives in Dublin with her husband, Jim, and their two children. She also writes the Starting from Scratch column that appears on the Food pages on the third Tuesday of every month.

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