Heidi Teal, co-owner of Cliff Avenue Greenhouse and Garden Center in Sioux Falls, has spent her whole life in the garden. She and her sister inherited the business from her parents who started it from scratch in the 1970s. Over the course of 40 years, what began as a part-time tomato sale based out of the family’s garage expanded into two thriving locations in the heart of the city.
Heidi also happens to be married to a third-generation soybean farmer, Brian. While they no longer live on the family farm, she knows there are a lot of similarities between farming and gardening. They both love digging in the dirt and growing healthy plants for people to enjoy. Farming just takes more large-scale management and requires concentrating on two or three crops.
For Brian, that means keeping it simple and rotating soybeans and corn each year. Heidi could never pick just one plant to grow.
“They’re all my favorites!” said Teal with a laugh. “Every time they come out with something new, it’s just so much fun.”
With all that experience in the field and the greenhouse, we asked Heidi to share a few simple tips to help new gardeners discover their groove.
Grow Something You Want to Eat
For first-time vegetable growers, Heidi’s main piece of advice is simple: Choose a starter plant you’d be excited about eating come harvest time.
“If you’re starting to do your own vegetable gardening, and you have no idea where to start, pick your favorites is what I always tell my customers,” said Heidi. “Don’t pick something you don’t want to eat. Nothing is worse than it all coming in and you don’t know what to do with it.”
Many popular vegetables can be grown in pots if you’re just starting out and not ready to invest in a plot or raised bed. Peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and lettuce are all great choices.
Protect Your Plants
Many of Heidi’s customers run into trouble with common pests like slugs, earwigs and rabbits. Her store carries several pesticide products, including rabbit repellents, that are good at controlling pesky critters so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. Whether using crop protection products on the farm or in the garden, it’s important to always read product labels carefully and apply according to instructions. Brian also has the help of precision technology to make sure he uses just the right amount of pesticides each time.
For customers who find slugs in their vegetable patch, Heidi suggests a tried-and-true home remedy. Place a pie tin, tuna can or shallow dish of beer in the garden area as a trap. Slugs will be attracted to the beer, attempt to drink from it and fall in.
Watch Soil Composition and Sun Exposure
Heidi enjoys guiding her customers through their gardening journey. Some of the most common mistakes she sees from first-time gardeners involve soil composition and sun exposure.
Don’t pot your plants in plain, black dirt. Modern flower varieties have been bred for nutrient-rich potting mixes. It’s similar to how farmers use nutrients and fertilizers to enhance the soil to grow healthier crops.
Do pay attention to the kind of sun exposure your plant needs i.e., full, partial, shade, etc. and plan accordingly. Too much sun and not enough rain can be bad for field crops as well. That’s why some farmers choose to plant GMO seeds to help protect them from extreme weather conditions like drought.
Heidi loves petunias, geraniums and anything that bursts with color. She recommends them to new gardeners because newer varieties can last all season. When you stop by the Cliff Avenue Greenhouse, ask for the Super or Wave Petunias or the Surefire, Whopper or Dragon Wing Begonias, which are all hand-grown.
With these tips, you have the basic tools to get in your gardening groove. Learn more about similarities between gardening and farming by reading this conversation with Ken and Vonda Schulte. Plus Vonda shares a seed tape secret that makes planting a snap.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.