Despite snow still being on the ground, now is the time to start planning ahead for the growing season. If you do, you have a much greater chance of achieving success and finding enjoyment in your home gardening efforts.
The Seed Farm, with a mission centered on growing the next generation of farmers, recently hosted a series of Winter Planning Virtual Sessions called "How to Grow Like a Farmer." The workshops catered to homesteaders, gardeners and hobby farmers of all experience levels, in addition to aspiring farmers, who were looking to learn tips for planning ahead.
“Going through the planning exercises for the beginning of the season are not glamorous, but sets you up for a successful season,” said Lindsey Parks, program administrator at The Seed Farm.
The idea is to recognize that just because you aren’t growing for a profit doesn’t mean you don’t have to be strategic and savvy taking into account in advance what to grow, how much space you have to work with, how many people you’re growing for and what tools you’ll need to prepare and maintain your garden.
“The goal both in farming and home gardening is to maximize efficiency and productivity and streamline and simplify things as much as possible,” said Parks.
In the online classes, Brad Pollock, The Seed Farm’s Farm Manager, shared simple and low-tech farming concepts he uses to show people how to apply them to their home gardens as well as their farms. The focus of the sessions, however, was on the planning process that happens in advance of tilling your garden.
While typically taught in person, the classes went virtual this year due to COVID. The virtual series of workshops were open to the public, so despite The Seed Farm being located in Emmaus it was reachable to any growers regardless of locale. The aim was to create an informal learning environment.
“Because of COVID we decided to create a series of virtual sessions so we could virtually gather together,” Parks said. “So people can ask questions in real-time and have conversations.”
COVID has also brought food security to light, a topic that Parks highlighted in her talks as a reason to support local growers well before the pandemic started. But she found that at that time it wasn’t well-received given the alarmist nature of her recommendation. Now that times have changed people are much more open to having that conversation.
“COVID happened and now food security is a real thing and there are going to be supply chain disruptions,” Parks said.
Andrea Barker who is relatively new to gardening attended the Virtual Planning Sessions. It was two years ago when she started her first garden and the pandemic inspired her to look even closer at the process.
“It taught me a lot about how much work goes into what I’ve taken for granted,” Barker said. “It’s made me so much more aware of the time, work and energy.”
Having her own garden enabled Barker, a mom of four children who lives in a suburb of Center Valley in the Lehigh Valley, to leave home less and avoid stores.
“I had fresh produce and didn’t have to worry about where it was coming from,” Barker said.
Conversations about growing food among some close friends became an outlet during the pandemic. It was a safe, outdoor activity they could partake in together.
“They would start to come over once or twice a week to get their hands in the dirt because they live in apartments,” Barker said. “With the pandemic, it was a way for us to connect.”
Prior to attending The Seed Farm’s planning workshop, she didn’t think much about how she was going to approach the season in advance of it.
“The idea that I could or should start thinking about it now has never crossed my mind,” Barker said. “It was always in April when I’d start thinking about it.”
Barker said she was surprised to learn there is so much math and science involved in preparation for growing to enable plants to thrive.
“It blew my mind,” she said. “I had no idea how much math went into gardening until I was in these sessions.”
Through attending the workshop, Barker was surprised to see how many people were interested in gardening and she felt a sense of community through shared experiences.
“It’s getting a sense of someone’s garden who has tried this and a suggestion for that,” Barker said. “It’s building a community and hearing from other people.”
The Seed Farm has been broadening their reach in an effort to be accessible to a larger segment of growers, including home gardeners of all experience levels, like Barker.
“We want to be accessible to all and are trying to accommodate people growing at all different scales,” Parks said.
The Seed Farm, part of Community Action Lehigh Valley, hosts an annual plant sale every May that’s open to the public. Their starter plant offerings include over 200 varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers.
Due to an uptick in home gardening in response to the pandemic, last year The Seed Farm sold out of their 6,000 plants that are all grown according to organic standards. They release a list of offerings in advance to assist in the pre-planning of your garden.
“The day the sale opened we had over 200 orders come in in the first hour,” Parks said.
It was at The Seed Farm’s plant sale two years ago where Barker chose tomato and cucumber plants to launch into gardening for the first time. It was a huge game-changer for her, giving her the confidence to get growing given she was brand new to it.
“When you start to Google gardening it can be really intense when you read about starting from a seed packet, heat lamps in the home and repotting,” Barker said. “When I saw I could buy already-started plants it was almost like getting a toddler instead of an infant — it has some grounding and I thought, ‘all I have to do is water and keep it alive and it should work’.”
Last year she expanded her garden, her kids are chipping in, and this year she is planning much earlier than in previous years thanks to The Seed Farm’s Planning Sessions.
"Now I’m in!” Barker said, with lots of anticipation for the growing season. “I’m so ready for this snow to melt so we can get going with our 2021 garden!”