Edible backyard gardens started sprouting across the country in 2020 as COVID-19 kept people at home and on the hunt for new (and healthy) hobbies. Jamila Norman, the founder of Patchwork City Farms in Atlanta saw it first hand.
"Interest has gone through the roof. People who were like, 'I've always wanted to have a garden, but I just never had time,' well, now they're home with nothing but time," she says. "The local food movement and growing your own food, it's been building, but the pandemic really put a big spotlight on it."
Of course, not every aspiring grower has a green thumb, and that's where Norman steps in. On her Magnolia Network show Homegrown (stream the premiere on Discovery+ now and watch the full series this summer), the veteran farmer helps families create thriving vegetable gardens in their suburban backyards.
"People try and they're like, 'Oh, it's not really growing that well.' I'm like, 'Well, first, you probably should have put it in the sun,'" she says with a laugh. "The enthusiasm is always there, they've got some skin in the game, you've just got to make a few tweaks."
Here are four of Norman's best tips for first-time growers:
Plant in the Sunniest Spot You've Got
If you want to grow veggies, be prepared to commit a "premium part" of your yard to a garden. "Vegetables need at least six to eight hours of direct sun every day," says Norman, who says her clients with unsuccessful gardens often have them planted along a fence or in an area that doesn't get enough light.
Start with Easy-to-Grow Greens
Kale, collards, mustard greens and arugula are all good "beginner plants," she says. Radishes offer instant gratification, sprouting from seed in a couple of days, she adds. "And then, not even a month later, you can pull radishes out of the ground. You just feel really successful."
Pair up 'Companion' Plants
Some plants benefit from growing near each other, Norman explains. Nasturtiums, for example, helps repel certain pests that attack squash. Planting basil near tomatoes has a similar benefit and, Norman says, is believed to make the tomatoes "taste better and grow better."
Invest in Healthy Soil
Don't just grab "the cheapest thing off the shelf," she says. A combo of soil, compost and mulch, which retains water, gives plants the best chance to thrive.