Joanne Corwin of Albuquerque, N.M., picks vegetables from her backyard garden. Corwin participated in the Seed to Supper course last year. The course is offered by New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service and the Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition program. | NMSU photo by Jane Moorman

NMSU Seed to Supper program creates virtual gardening community, offers free online course

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people have become interested in starting their own vegetable gardens, and have sometimes discovered it’s not as easy as it seems.

Fortunately, there’s the online Seed to Supper program, offered by Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition (ICAN), which is housed within New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Seed to Supper program was introduced in 2019 in three New Mexico counties to provide a comprehensive guide for adults to begin vegetable gardening on a budget.

The program, with both in-person and online components, immediately proved successful, and in early 2020 announced plans to expand to four more counties. However, the pandemic created a larger demand for online courses statewide.

Seed to Supper is now offering a new spring online course that takes participants from planning a garden all the way to harvest. Participants can either enroll in a weekly course, or take the self-paced course.

“There’s definitely an interest for gardening, but I don’t know if it’s because our program is more well-known now, or if people are still thinking about what happened last year and are still wanting to grow their own food,” said Sally Cassady, ICAN food system specialist.

Cassady said since the online version of the program began in February 2020, more than 200 people have graduated from the course. This year, there are 558 people who have enrolled in the program. So far, the feedback for the online courses has been positive.

“I think people really appreciate being able to connect online with others,” Cassady said. “Something I try to focus on is where people are from, so they can potentially have a network in their community so they can swap seed or harvest or supplies.”

Cassady said the Seed to Supper program also has a private Facebook group for participants, where they can share photos of their gardens and offer items to others in their area.

“Someone ordered mulch in bulk and asked if others wanted to split it, so it’s nice to see people sharing with each other,” she said.

While many new gardeners may have dreams of creating lush garden beds filled with a variety of vegetables, Cassady said it takes a lot of trial and error to become successful.

“I started in 2012 trying to container garden, and I did not successfully grow anything until 2017,” Cassady said. “Hopefully with the resources we offer, it won’t take people five years to succeed.”

Cassady said a common mistake people make when attempting to create container gardens is using regular garden soil instead of potting soil. Another mistake she sees is people not fertilizing their container gardens enough.

“Garden soil is not broken down enough to hold moisture well, and the nutrients are hard to access in containers,” Cassady said. “I suggest starting really small. Grow something in a little pot, great creative and use things you have around the house to start.”

Cassady also suggests starting out with growing lettuce, an easy vegetable for beginners to grow. Beginner gardeners should also spend time researching their potential new hobby.

“We encourage people to find resources to learn how to garden, because it takes a while to understand all the components plants need,” Cassady said. “You’re going to have issues at first, and that’s OK. It’s a learning experience and you’ll know better for next time.”

For more information on starting a vegetable garden, click here. For more information on the Seed to Supper program or to register for the free statewide course, visit the Seed to Supper page.

Author: Adriana M. Chávez – NMSU


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