Learning How To Garden with Megan Cain

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Learning How To Garden


Megan CainMegan Cain is a passionate gardener, an author and a brilliant teacher of gardening.  Do you know someone who loves learning about the soil and growing things?  Then you need to introduce them to Megan!  I got to interview her and learn about her exciting new 7 Day Challenge that’s she is organizing.   I’d like you to hear from her.



How did you get started gardening?

I grew up in a row home in the city of Philadelphia where we barely had a yard.  I didn’t know anyone who had a garden and I don’t think I ever thought about vegetables or how they were grown (nor did I eat them).

When I was living in San Francisco a few years after college I wanted to learn how to grow my own food.  I decided to apply for a gardening internship at an Ecovillage in Missouri and ended up living there for 1½ years.  I met my husband within days of arriving and we lived in a 90 square foot cabin – talk about getting to know one another!  I worked in a ¼ acre garden that first summer and it was my first experience with growing food.  I fell in love with it!  Looking back at that time in my life I realize that my experiences in Missouri set my life on a very distinct path that continues to this day.

What excites you about it?

I think gardening is a lifestyle that encompasses more than just growing food.  First, you learn the details of gardening.  But, then you realize you need to prepare and cook the food, preserve the excess and continually learn how to become a better gardener.  You also become more in tune with nature, the seasons, your body and the physicality of working in the garden.

I had no experience with any of these aspects of life when I started learning how to garden.  I didn’t come from a family that cooked or ate a lot of vegetables.  Most of the things I was helping to grow in Missouri I had never eaten.  I had no idea how to cook anything from scratch.  I spent a lot of time outside growing up, but it was in a very urban area.  Living the rural life in a self-sustaining Ecovillage was a crash course in all of these things!  I remember feeling very overwhelmed and out of my element for many months.

But, in the years that followed gardening was the thread that ran through the tapestry of my life.  I continued to seek out different learning experiences and eventually ended up with a job developing one of the first kids’ gardening programs in the city where I live now, Madison, WI.  Through educating others I developed an even deeper relationship with growing food.  It’s been 14 years since I first sunk my hands into the garden soil, and now I teach others how to become successful gardeners!

Vegetable Harvest

Can you explain what you get from gardening on a personal level?

Gardening is such a holistic experience for me.  I love the physicalness of it – digging, hauling, bending, stretching and having tired muscles at the end of the day.  I love the aesthetic beauty of it – the shapes, colors, textures and forms of the plants and fruits.  I love the creativity of it – combining those colors and textures to create something beautiful to look at is a yearly goal for me.  I love the concreteness of it – creating something with my own two hands is something I derive great pleasure from.  Growing my own food in my own yard with my own body is an elemental experience like no other.

I’ve lived in Madison, WI for the past 12 years.  Last year my husband and I moved to a new house with a completely blank slate.  We removed lots of weedy trees and shrubs from the sunniest parts of our yard and have established about 1600 square feet of vegetable gardens so far.  (I’d love to eek out a little more space next year!).  I grow 300-500 onions and over 200 garlic which I store in my basement for year round use.  I grow lots of tomatoes and peppers for making salsa and freezing.  I love salads so I try to grow as many greens as possible.

What’s exciting you in the garden this season?

I try to grow at least one new vegetable or variety each year.  I have potted figs on my back porch this summer and it looks like I should get a handful of figs!  I’m also growing okra for the first time since my days in Missouri.  Next year I’d like to start growing shiitakes and oyster mushrooms in the shadier parts of my yard.

If I was only allowed to grow one thing I would stick with spinach.  It survives the winter in Wisconsin and I could eat a spinach salad every day of the year.

Working on a CSA farm for two years taught me how to be a better gardener.  I became deliberate about producing large amounts of food in my garden and started to treat gardening like a serious pursuit.

Okra Plants

Do you have some favorite gardening resources that you can share?

I have lots of advice for beginning gardeners on my Gardening Basics page here: http://www.creativevegetablegardener.com/gardening-basics/

Besides my own, two of my favorite gardening websites are Margaret Roaches’ awaytogarden.com and nwedible.com

I agree with a lot of the advice in the book Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard.  I also recently released a print book focused sharing my techniques for super easy food preserving!

I make mistakes in my garden all the time.  Just last week, I pruned off the growing tip of one of my tomato plants by accident.  It’s the exact part of the plant you don’t want to cut off!

In my classes I often share this quote from The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture – “…in the garden there are no mistakes, just lessons pointing you towards better solutions.”

How can we find out more about your challenge?

Megan is hosting a free 7 Day Challenge – Make Your Garden Harvest Last All Year – to inspire people to try some simple food preserving this season (no canning involved).  It starts on August 23, 2015  and you can sign up here: http://www.creativevegetablegardener.com/challenge/
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