The purpose of this lesson is to help us begin a home garden or improve our existing garden.
President Spencer W. Kimball called upon Latter-day Saints everywhere to produce their own food. For several years, he asked each family to have its own garden. He said: “We encourage you to grow all the food that you feasibly can on your own property. Berry bushes, grapevines, fruit trees—plant them if your climate is right for their growth. Grow vegetables and eat them from your own yard. Even those residing in apartments … can generally grow a little food in pots and planters. Study the best methods of providing your own foods. Make your garden … neat and attractive as well as productive. If there are children in your home, involve them in the process with assigned responsibilities” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1976, 170–71; or Ensign, May 1976, 124).
When President Kimball asked each of us to grow a garden, he reminded us of the words of the Lord: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
There are good reasons for this counsel from our prophets. Gardening has many benefits. It expands our appreciation of nature. It teaches the family to work together. When we have a garden that produces well, we are not entirely dependent on others for food. We can select crops we like that provide a nutritious diet. Growing our own food gives us the satisfaction of providing for ourselves. We can also trade produce with our neighbors, save money, and help those in need.
Ask the sisters to explain benefits they have received from a home garden.
Before we can actually plant our gardens, we must make some decisions.
Display visual 25-a, “Those who live in apartments can garden in pots and planters.”
First we must decide where to plant the garden. A garden needs the best location possible. It will become a valuable piece of land. Choose a sunny location with at least six hours of sunlight each day. Check the soil. Some soil is so sandy that it cannot retain water or so full of clay that water collects in puddles on top and runs through very slowly. If so, we should add compost or the opposite kind of soil to improve it. Water should be available if there is not enough rainfall. The garden should be near the house if possible. It should not be so far away that it is hard to get there to work several times a week. Choose a place that is not too steep; otherwise water will wash away the soil and seeds. If you must garden on a steep slope, make furrows running across the slope rather than up and down. Those who live in apartments can garden in pots and planters.
Those who want a larger garden can dig up the yard or flower garden or borrow or rent land. Two families in Germany found a way to have a garden:
“‘We are two families in the Frankfurt Mission, and we [are writing to] tell you about our garden.
“‘It was not very easy to find a piece of land in a large city like Frankfurt—it is a tiny garden—and when we rented it, it looked like a wilderness, with a broken fence, a broken cottage, and wild grass all over. It did not discourage us.
“‘First we made a new fence, repaired the cottage, and [dug] the whole garden. In the springtime we planted vegetables and the neighbours told us that [they] would not grow. There is a little stream where we can go on our bikes [and carry cans with us], and this way we carry our water. We prayed to the Lord that he would bless our garden. The Lord did answer our prayers. Every kind of vegetable came. It is so wonderful to see the plants grow’” (quoted by Spencer W. Kimball in Conference Report, Oct. 1976, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 1976, 5).
Display visual 25-b, “Select and plant foods that grow well in your climate and soil.”
The second decision we will have to make is what to plant. Some gardens have plenty of space; others have only a little. If space is limited, choose crops that grow upward, such as berry vines, pole beans, or tomatoes on stakes. Choose seeds that bear heavily, such as squash and tomatoes, rather than crops, such as radishes, that produce only one fruit or vegetable from a single seed.
Be sure to choose foods that will give your family the nutrients they need. But avoid planting foods they do not like and will not eat. Also be sure to select foods that grow well in your climate and soil.
Display a poster showing the specific fruits, vegetables, legumes, roots, and grains that grow in your area, or refer to the information on the chalkboard. Which crops produce the most food in a limited amount of space?
It is a good idea to draw a map of your garden each year while planning. The same plants should not grow in the same spot year after year. If crops are not alternated, the soil will become poorer and poorer, and crops will not grow well.
Display visual 25-c, “A sample group of vegetables.”
Another decision we must make is when to plant. Each food grows best under its most favorable conditions. Some crops grow better in a dry season, while others prefer more water. Some crops—beets, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, onions, peas, and spinach—grow best in cooler weather. Others—beans, corn, melons, squash, and tomatoes—grow best in warmer weather.
Display a poster listing the planting times for specific crops that grow in your area, or refer to the information on the chalkboard.
Four to six weeks before planting time, clear the site of weeds, stumps, stones, trash, and twigs. Loosen the soil with a shovel or hoe so that water can go through easily. The soil should be crumbly, not in clods, at planting time.
At this time, most soil can be improved. Compost, or well-rotted plant and animal waste, will improve the texture of both sandy and clay soil. It also helps to produce better crops because it adds nutrients. But compost cannot be made and added to the soil in the same day. It can take four to six months to produce compost that is ready to go in the soil. Because of this, some people make a compost heap every year and add it to their gardens the next year.
You can learn how to make your own compost heap by consulting a library book, an agricultural adviser, or an experienced gardener.
Ask sisters who have made compost to explain how they made and managed their compost heap.
In areas where the growing season is short, you may want to start your garden indoors in potting soil. If you start outdoors, plant seeds in straight rows so that you can tell weeds from vegetables. Leave space between the seeds. Learn when to plant seeds for each crop, and plant on those dates. Plant one row of the same crop such as corn every week for several weeks. Then you will have a longer period of maturing crops.
Seeds vary in size; if they are all planted at the same depth, they will not grow. Plant each seed at a depth of about four times its diameter. Then tamp the soil down firmly. Be sure to leave enough room between rows so that you can loosen the soil around the plants while they are growing.
Keep the ground moist after the seeds are planted. If the ground dries out, seeds will not germinate.
All of the planning, preparing, and planting we do will have little benefit if we do not care for our gardens later. We will need to do the following:
Water the garden heavily about once a week if there is not enough rainfall. The soil should be wet to a depth of seven inches just after watering. Always water when the sun is not hot so the ground does not become baked.
When the plants get several inches high, remove any remaining weeds. Place sawdust, shredded newspapers, grass, leaves, or straw two to three inches high around the plants and between the rows. This mulch prevents the soil from drying out or becoming too warm. Many people who use mulch find that they do not need to pull many weeds.
Weeds rob water and nutrients from plants. Pull them by hand or dig them out with a hoe. A thick mulch may prevent weeds from growing, but you will need to pull the mulch to one side every week or so in order to loosen the soil with a hoe. Replace the mulch after loosening the soil.
Insects damage plants and can ruin crops. Be sure to remove any mature crops before they begin to rot. If you do not, insects will feed on them. Also remove any crops that have stopped bearing. Remove insects by hand, wash them off, or use insecticide. If you use insecticide, be sure to wash the food before eating it.
If you pick fruits and vegetables just before cooking, eating, or preserving them, they will give the best flavor and nutrition. Some crops, such as cucumbers, produce much better if they are harvested often. Do not allow them to become overripe, wilted, or dried out. Harvest leafy vegetables when they are young and tender.
We can show that we love the Lord and trust Him by doing as His prophets have asked us. Each of us will receive blessings if we will plan and prepare our gardens and then care for them so that they will be orderly and produce well. President Kimball counseled: “Keep your lawns and your gardens well-groomed. Whatever your circumstances, let your premises reflect orderliness, beauty, and happiness. Plan well and carry out your plan in an orderly and systematic manner” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1976, 171; or Ensign, May 1976, 125).
Plan now to begin or improve your garden. Remember that the whole family can work together to have a successful garden.
Before presenting this lesson:
Learn the following from your library, a local agricultural adviser, or an experienced gardener:
Which crops produce best in a home garden
What the planting dates are for each crop
How to make a compost heap successfully in a home garden
How to water, weed, control insect damage, mulch, and cultivate a home garden
Prepare the posters suggested in the lesson or write the information on the chalkboard.
Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.