grow your own

What better way to know your food and get it fresh than by growing your own! Even if you rent and have no space to plant, there are ways to cultivate your green thumb. Growing food is not without challenges, but for those who are interested and are willing to get their hands dirty, there is a lot of support around, especially at Cooperative Extension. Call the Growline for expert support at (607) 272-2292, or learn the basics through the Seed to Supper training. Or sign up for the local Garden Post newsletter below for timely gardening advice and links to upcoming gardening classes and resources.

Who should Grow Their Own?

While everybody should at least find a container or an old boot, fill it with soil, and grow some lettuce on a windowsill, those who are likely to be most successful are those have time to do the required work. Preparing the soil, building a deer fence, planting, weeding, watering, fertilizing, harvesting--there is always something to do.

Where & How Can I Grow My Own?

There are several options, depending on where you will grow your plants:

  • Bucket garden. This is a great option for beginners, and for those who don’t have space. Tompkins Community Action and CCE-Tompkins often hold workshops and help people with limited incomes get started with gardening in the Spring. Check with them if you are interested.

  • Community garden. This is another great option if you don’t have land. There are many perks: a deer fence, tools, water, and a community of gardeners that can give you tips and lend you a hand. Here is a list of community gardens around the county.

  • Build a garden. The first thing you’ll want to do is build a deer fence. Here is a 5-step guide from the Maryland Extension office that may be useful.

What to Grow & When to Plant?

What you choose to grow is up to you, your space, and taste buds. But here are some tips to help you decide:

  • Try some veggies that require little attention: lettuce and salad greens, zucchini, kale, green onions, tomatoes, basil and other herbs, potatoes.

  • Different plants need to be planted at different times. Here is a chart to help you determine when to plant here in Tompkins County.

  • And here is a chart showing the latest dates for planting for the Ithaca area.

  • There are local garden shops and nurseries that can supply you with seeds and plants to your hearts content.

  • CCE Tompkins has a free seed cabinet. Individuals are welcome to take up to 5 packs per visit. And to donate seeds as well.




Yayoi Koizumi in her garden in West Village, “I’m financially pretty strapped, I’m a single parent, but I eat really well.” Photo: Sarah Paez

Yayoi Koizumi in her garden in West Village, “I’m financially pretty strapped, I’m a single parent, but I eat really well.” Photo: Sarah Paez

Ten years after arriving in Ithaca to work at the Cornell library, Yayoi Koizumi with other community members in West Village started their own community garden, with funding from Sustainable Tompkins for a deer fence and raised beds.
“I like that it’s fresh, I like that I know how it was grown,” says Yayoi of the food from her garden. “There’s no pesticides; it’s organic.” Yayoi sees gardening as an effective stress reliever. She also feels the garden gives the community more liveliness where otherwise the place would look a little barren.
While Yayoi maintains a small garden plot in West Village, her main source of food is her CSA from West Haven Farm. She estimates that she saves a lot of money with her CSA because, “all the produce I get is organic,” which is usually expensive at grocery stores.

“I’m financially pretty strapped, I’m a single parent, but I eat really well,” says Yayoi. She hopes her healthy food habits will prevent her from future illnesses. Her CSA costs about 16-17 dollars a week, much less than the average person spends on organic produces at supermarkets.
“I eat all sorts of veggies that I didn’t know how to cook before, like kale and kohlrabi,” says Yayoi. “I think if people actually know what’s in their food, like all the chemical additives, sugar, pesticides and GMOs… people would not want to continue to eat and feed their family the same way they have.”

Interview by Sarah Paez, GYGB intern

Read another "grow your own" story featuring Gibrian Hagood on our blog.

Costs and Savings?

If you are a beginner, you should not expect to see significant savings from the get-go. But as you gain experience you can learn how to grow more and more of the food you like. By learning to preserve their harvest, many local gardeners are finding they can provide themselves with healthy fruit and vegetables at a very low cost throughout the whole year.

Got Additional Questions and/or Ideas?

  • Call the Growline, the gardener’s hotline at (607) 272-2292. Trained Master Gardeners at Cooperative Extension can answer even the toughest of questions.

  • This National Garden Bureau page contains a list of many useful resources.