Tomatoes grow on a vine

Tomatoes grow on a vine at the Bradford Research Center. The U.S. Department of Agriculture acknowledges more than 25,000 different types of tomatoes.

It’s always a good time to stop and smell the roses, especially in your own backyard. And what is sweeter than fresh fruit or vegetables you grew yourself?

Planting a garden can seem like an overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be.

Kathy Doisy, 67, president of the Community Garden Coalition, believes gardening can benefit everyone. She has been an avid flower and vegetable gardener for 46 years and began volunteering with the coalition 15 years ago.

“I think it’s going to enrich anybody’s life, not just physically, but spiritually, emotionally, nutritionally,” Doisy said. “And then you make all these friendships. If there’s anything that makes people understand each other, it’s gardening together.”

When getting started, Doisy suggested making an initial decision: “Do you just want to get your hands dirty and be out in nature, or do you want to actually produce vegetables?”

If you don’t want to start your own garden, Doisy recommends checking out community gardens or the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, a nonprofit organization that connects people to agriculture and donates all its yield to food relief organizations.

If you want to plant your own garden, start small, Doisy said. It’s easy to get carried away, but it’s better to see if you like it before investing time and money into a big plot.

Gardeners also need to assess the amount of sunlight, condition of soil and the tools needed.

Good, consistent sunlight is needed throughout the day for most plants to thrive. Vegetables need six to eight hours of full sun a day, Doisy said.

Well-conditioned soil is also crucial. Developers around Columbia often scrape off the topsoil before building homes, so new gardeners will need to amend the soil to make it healthy for plants.

“If you’re in a newer neighborhood, chances are your soil is terrible,” Doisy said.

Work-arounds include purchasing potting soil and fertilizer, switching to container gardens or sharing a community garden. Not all crops grow well in pots; containers will require more water, but it’s a way to avoid dealing with Missouri claypan soil.

Wearing protective clothing is critical, Doisy said. “Nobody needs a sunburn.”

In her 30s, Doisy experienced malignant melanoma, and she knows a woman in her 40s who suffered a heat stroke followed by deafness from gardening during a blistering afternoon.

Wearing light, yet protective, clothes and shoes with full coverage are safe practices.

“You should never be swinging a hoe around your flip-flops,” Doisy said. “That’s a good way to really hurt yourself.”

Using sunscreen, hydrating properly and wearing gloves are other protective steps to take. When it’s hot, it is also a good idea to work early in the morning or late in the evening, Doisy said, when there’s enough light but less heat.

Finally, a gardener needs proper tools. For older adults, Doisy speaks from experience when she recommends tools that are light, long and brightly colored. The bright colors make them visible among the plants. Light and longer tools are easier to use.

Scooters that move across the ground on wheels and knee pads are also innovative methods Doisy and the coalition employ in community gardens.

Raised beds are another benefit for older gardeners. Doisy’s husband started building waist-height beds a few years ago, and now Doisy plants all of her low-growing plants in them.

Instead of bending over for hours on end, she harvests all her strawberries and green beans from a standing position.

With these tips, gardening is an attainable, fulfilling pastime, she said.

“It will never be boring if you garden,” Doisy said. “Growing your own food, even when it goes bad, just brings you in touch with nature.”

For more information about the Community Garden Coalition, visit It is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and has several education opportunities planned for the occasion.

  • Community reporter, spring 2023. Studying journalism and English. Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5720.