If you’ve ever dreamed of growing your own food, stop dreaming and get to work. It’s not as hard as you might think.
Growing a garden allows you to know exactly what you and your family are eating and what has or has not been applied to it during the growing process. Although the task of starting a garden may seem daunting at first, by using some time-proven techniques and selecting the right crops, almost anyone can be successful.
Here’s a few tips to help you get started.
Create a Space
If you own property, this part is easy. Simply rent a rototiller and till up a chunk of yard to create a garden bed. If you rent or don’t have room for a garden plot on your property, consider building a raised bed or using large pots to grow your greens. Neither of these options are expensive and both can be squeezed into a small space, even an upper deck. No matter where you decide to place your garden, make sure it receives a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day and is in a well-drained area.
Take a Soil Sample
Taking a soil sample before you put the first seed or starter plant in your garden could save a lot of frustration down the road. Collect soil from different parts of your garden and place it in a plastic bag, mail it in for a soil analysis, and amend the soil according to the results you get back. Most garden plants prefer a soil with a PH between 6 and 7. Most gardeners will find that their soil is too acidic. Lower the PH by adding lime to your garden and working it into the soil. Do this as early as possible to allow the soil’s PH to change before you start planting.
Select Your Plants
This is where the fun starts. Select plants based on what you like to eat. If you don’t like broccoli, it’s obviously a poor choice for your garden. If you love tomatoes, plant several varieties that will bear fruit at different times and avoid a surplus come harvest time. Some common plants for first time gardeners include: cabbage, lettuce, spinach, beans, cucumbers, squash, peppers, and tomatoes. These crops tend to grow well with minimal care and are great on the dinner table.
Make a Garden Plan
After you’ve selected which plants you’ll put into your garden, it’s time to plan where you will put them. A piece of graph paper will help you map out your garden and ensure that each plant has the proper amount of space to ensure healthy growth and maximum production. Keep in mind that some plants like squash and cucumbers require more space than others, such as spinach and lettuce, and plan accordingly.
It’s best to plant your garden in stages instead of all at once. Cold-hardy crops like spinach and peas can be sown early, while those that need warmer weather, like peppers and tomatoes, shouldn’t be planted until there is no threat of frost. Early crops can be started from seeds in the garden, while those that require a later planting date should be started indoors (or purchased already started) to give them enough time to mature and bear fruit.
Proper Maintenance Pays Off
Now that your garden is planted and growing, you need to maintain it throughout the growing season to see the best results. If your area is not receiving rain, water your garden as necessary to keep a moist—but not sopping wet—bed of soil. Keeping your garden as weed-free as possible will also encourage growth and crop production from your vegetable plants. Spending 10 minutes a day removing unwanted weeds is a lot easier than letting weeds take hold and removing them all at once.
Harvest and Preserve
Nothing tastes better than a homegrown tomato straight from the garden that you cultivated yourself, but sometimes the bounty is more than you can eat before it goes bad. If you find yourself in this situation, you have a few options. First, you can give away a portion of your harvest to friends and family. Second, you can donate excess produce to a local food bank. Finally, you can dehydrate or can the crops you are unable to eat fresh and enjoy the bounty of your garden through the long, cold winter. Whatever you choose to do, don’t let the produce you worked so hard to create go to waste.