If April showers bring May flowers, now’s the perfect time to start a garden. With produce, flowers and herbs all readily available from local stores, you may ask yourself if starting a garden is necessary. Brandon Iker offers up a resounding, “Yes!”
Iker manages the garden for Winchester, a Grand Rapids restaurant. The Winchester Garden is currently used to support education and awareness of local produce, while also providing food for the restaurant. Anything harvested from the garden is utilized in garden parties and summer weekend specials, and to keep the bar stocked with flowers, herbs and of course: cucamelons.
“(A cucamelon) looks like a tiny watermelon and tastes somewhere between a green grape, crisp cucumber and fresh watermelon rind,” Iker said.
Along with garnishing many bar drinks, the cucamelon makes its way into several dishes at Winchester and Donkey Taqueria.
According to Iker, starting a garden has personal, financial, social and environmental benefits. It’s freeing to always have a reason to be outside, along with fresh produce and flowers at your fingertips.
Of course, along with the benefits come limitations. “Gardens are sort of like humans. They require about the same conditions — not too hot and not too cold, plenty of water, nutrients. They require about the same amount of time as any good relationship,” Iker said. But like all good relationships,
it’ll be worth the effort.
You’ll need the right equipment to put in that effort correctly though. “A gardener is only as good as his tools,” Iker said. Since finding supplies can be difficult, Iker suggests searching for hand-me-downs at yard sales or flea markets.
Along with tools, high-quality compost is essential. “We like to get ours from Flowerland here in town and use it liberally at the Winchester Garden. Their leaf and mushroom compost is some of the best all-purpose compost for the price,” Iker said.
After tearing up the sod with a shovel, Iker recommends topping it with four to six inches of compost to keep weeds buried in the ground. Quality seeds are also a must. Since rainwater is best for a garden, Iker also recommends investing in rainwater harvesting.
If that all sounds like hard work, just remember that gardening is really about taking it slow and relaxing. Move at your own pace and just do the best you can. Iker said you’ll reap more than just some tasty herbs and vegetables.
“Starting your own garden can lead to great improvement in your health,” Iker said. “One overlooked benefit of gardening is to promote mental and physical wellness by creating a quiet place to work and reflect.”