[Productive Hobbies] Your Guide to a Productive ‘First Garden’ Experience (Part 1)

Your Guide to a Productive ‘First Garden’ Experience | Productive Muslim

Photo by: Wendy Keslick

In a previous article, Umm Muhemmed discussed the benefits of gardening. This article will help you be on your way to becoming an accomplished gardener, even if you do not have any previous gardening experience.With little patience and perseverance, you will be enjoying the bounty that will flourish right in your own backyard.

The journey of growing and harvesting your own nutritious and delicious vegetables is not as complicated as you might think. It just takes some simple steps. The journey actually starts while your garden lies beneath the frost and snow. It is during this time — in the late winter and early spring — that we must plan and prepare a productive garden.

The foundation for your garden can be set by choosing your location, testing your soil and determining your water source and drainage. We will examine the first three simple steps in detail so you will feel confident and well-equipped to save time, money and fuel while growing your own food. More useful tips will also follow.

1. Choose Your Location

Your Guide to a Productive ‘First Garden’ Experience | Productive Muslim

Photo by: Ahmed Elzway

Although this step sounds simple, it requires much thought and attention. For a productive vegetable garden, you will want to locate an area that receives 6-12 hours of direct sunlight each day. Sunlight is not only important for the growth of the plants, but also for the ripening of the vegetables that grow on a vine. Check for anything in the vicinity that might contribute to shade at various times of the day including; buildings, fences, hedges and trees. To guarantee a maximum amount of sunlight throughout the day for each plant in your garden, it is best to arrange your rows to run North to South.

2. Test and Prepare Your Soil

Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) says: “Whoever reclaims and cultivates dry, barren land will be rewarded by God for the act. So long as men and animals benefit from it He will record it for him as almsgiving.” [al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, vi, 39; Haythami, Majmau al-Zawaaid, iv, 67-8.]

Knowing the pH of your soil is helpful in determining whether or not your soil is more alkaline or acidic. A simple and inexpensive soil pH test kit can be purchased at any lawn or garden store. These kits can vary in accuracy, but a more precise option would be to send your soil sample to a lab for analysis.

Most garden vegetable plants will flourish in a considerably wide pH range, generally between pH 6.0-7.0, which is considered to be within the slightly-acidic-to-neutral range. The good news is, by adding compost to your soil, you will be helping to neutralize the pH, regardless of whether your soil is too acidic or alkaline.

Your Guide to a Productive ‘First Garden’ Experience | Productive Muslim

Photo by: Wendy Keslick

Instead of purchasing compost from the local garden store, you can save time and money by maintaining your own compost pile or bin. There are many styles of compost bins, but all of them serve to turn your vegetable scraps, grass clippings, used coffee grounds, yard and garden waste into beautiful compost that is rather beneficial to your garden. This is also a great option for the environment as it reduces the amount of waste that goes to our landfills all year long.

In addition to testing for the pH of your soil, you might also consider testing your soil for contaminates such as lead — especially if you are starting an urban garden. If your soil does test positive for such contaminates, you may want to research raised beds and container gardening and import new soil.

Additional tip: If your garden is large, it is recommended that you take soil samples from various locations as the pH can vary between different areas.

3. Examine Water and Drainage

Most gardens are going to require more water than can be provided with just the rain. How will you water your garden, then? Do you have a garden hose? Is your water source close and convenient? Will you collect rain water using a barrel? These are all important questions to consider.

Rainwater collection is a sustainable and inexpensive way to provide water for your garden. Once you connect a rain barrel to your rain-spout, you will be supplied with chlorine and chemical-free water each time it rains. Collecting rainwater is the best environmental choice with regards to conservation. Surely, if we are told to conserve water when performing ablutions, we must also conserve water when gardening.

A beautiful hadith about this issue is this: “God’s Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) appeared while Sa‘d was taking the ablutions. When he saw that Sa‘d was using a lot of water, he intervened saying: ‘What is this? You are wasting water.” Sa‘d replied asking: “Can there be wastefulness while taking the ablutions?” To which God’s Messenger replied:  “Yes, even if you take them on the bank of a rushing river.” [Musnad, ii, 22; Ibn Maja, Tahara, 48, No: 425; i, 147]

Just as enough water is essential for a healthy garden, so is proper drainage. A simple test for determining if your garden is draining properly is to dig a hole that is twice as deep as it is wide. For example, if your garden is roughly 10 inches x 10 inches wide, you will have to dig a hole that is 20 inches deep. The next step is to fill half of this hole with water and return 24 hours later. If your garden is draining properly, there will not be any water in the hole. However, if there is water in the hole, you may need to seek a new location for your garden or make a few provisions for your garden to assist with the drainage.

One solution to assist in proper drainage is to add more soil to create mounds that will divert excess water to run off to a different area. If this does not seem to help with the excessive accumulation of water, you will need to research on how you can add some piping to ensure proper drainage.

Additional tip: Always be mindful of keeping the drainage system to be away from your home and any other structures that could be damaged by excess water.

Once you have completed these three basic steps, it is time to choose the vegetables for your garden. If this is your first time attempting a garden, you will want to start small and simple as to avoid getting overwhelmed or discouraged.

4. Choose Your Seeds and Plants

Now that you reached this step, you will want to decide whether you want to start your garden from seeds, plants or a combination of both. For the purest seeds and plants, search for those that are certified organic and non-GMO. You may also want to search online for heirloom seeds.

Seeds can be planted indoors during the end of winter or early spring. The seedlings can then be transplanted into garden after the last frost. If you are starting from seeds, the information contained on the back of the seed packet will have valuable information. Generally included on the back is a map to let you know your planting zone based on your geographical location. This allows you to easily determine the best time to start the seeds if planting indoors, or the best time for planting seeds directly into the soil if planting outdoors. Additional information often included is the number of days until germination, number of days until harvest, planting depth, required spacing between plants and plant height at maturity.

Seed packets or simple online searches will also give you information regarding vegetables. You may, for example, be informed that many leafy greens have spring and fall plantings. Also, you will find that herbs such as cilantro can be planted throughout the spring, summer and fall for continual harvest.

Your Guide to a Productive ‘First Garden’ Experience | Productive Muslim

Photo by: Ahmed Elzway

Purchasing plants from your local garden store is an easier option for new gardeners. It can always serve as a back-up plan for a less-than-successful start from seeds. However, know that you can save a considerable amount of money by starting your plants by seed.

Additional tip: It can be fun and rewarding to share and swap seeds with other gardeners. In addition, it can be highly cost-effective to save seeds from the vegetables that you harvest. As long as they are not hybrids, they can be dried and saved for the next growing season.

5. Enjoy Sharing

One of the most beautiful parts of gardening is sharing your harvest with others.

As we reap the reward of the labor of love that takes our garden from cultivation to harvest, we can share the bounty — not only with our family and friends — but also with local food banks that are feeding the poor and hungry in our communities.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “If any Muslim plants any plant and a human being or an animal eats of it, he will be rewarded as if he had given that much in charity.” [Bukhari]

May your garden provide you with — not only nourishment for the body as you eat your fresh vegetables — but also nourishment for your soul as you connect to that which has been created by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Amen.

“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of the night and the day, and the [great] ships which sail through the sea with that which benefits people, and what Allah has sent down from the heavens of rain, giving life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and dispersing therein every [kind of] moving creature, and [His] directing of the winds and the clouds controlled between the heaven and the earth are signs for a people who use reason.” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 164]

The next article will cover vertical gardening: A fun, creative and easy option for those who want to have a productive garden but face the challenges of limited space.

Please share with us here below in the comments sections if you find this article useful, and how you envision your own first garden experience.

Read the other parts of this series: Part 2 | Part 3

Sources and sites for helpful information