So, you’ve decided to grow your own food? Congratulations!
You’re among millions of others who have decided to take their family’s food production into their own hands and that is a big step in itself. Give yourself a pat on the back! Knowing where your food comes from is a huge boost towards your peace of mind when it comes to your family’s nutrition, especially when there is an overabundance of opinions, research about what to eat, when to eat it and where to buy it. You’ve decided to cut out the middleman and grow veggies right in your backyard. Good on ya!
If you’re anything like me, your next question is: where do I begin?
I, the aforementioned fool, began by creating 42 Pinterest boards on gardening, buying 17 different varieties of pepper and tomato seedlings with the grand plan of making the WORLD’S BEST SALSA and giving it as Christmas gifts. That plan was no bueno. It wasn’t even a plan so much as it was a failure to launch. Most of my plants died or underproduced from easily remedied issues and what I was left with was a whole lotta the wrong varieties of veggies to make salsa, much less the world’s best.
Where did I go wrong?
That could prove to be a much longer post than you signed up for so what I will tell you is that I have since learned from experience. My mistakes could have easily been avoided had I only followed some of my own advice. Instead of detailing a list of what I did wrong, I’d like to share with you X easy steps you can follow to create a fool-proof veggie garden plan, even if you don’t have a green thumb!
TIP 1: BEGIN WITH A PLAN
Every great idea begins with a plan. A plan is not just the final product but how you are going to actually get there. I skipped steps 1-10 in my plan and went straight to the final product without taking into account my gardening experience (zero), my knowledge of plant varieties, watering schedules, planting zone, soil…you get the point. If you have little-to-no experience gardening, then a good plan is to begin by asking yourself a few questions. What do I want to grow and why? Does my current climate support growing these plants outdoors or will I have to keep them indoors? If I’m growing indoors, do I have the space or needed equipment? Answering these simple questions, as well as those outlined in the tips below will help you to develop a reliable plan and give you a head start on your garden.
TIP 2: START SMALL
As a general rule of thumb, anything you begin with little experience should be on a small scale. Just as you wouldn’t invest your life’s savings in a stock you have no knowledge of, you don’t want to go to the nearest big box store and throw away hundreds of dollars on colorful plants and shiny equipment that don’t serve your family’s needs. While it can tempting to buy the latest soil aerator at the home and garden show (guilty), RESIST! Soil aerators are no good if you’re growing herbs on your windowsill. Begin with a couple seedlings or, if you’re comfortable, a few packs of seeds and go from there. You can always add to your garden later in the season or the next year but it’s impossible to undo seeds that fail to germinate or seedlings that die because you were too overwhelmed by all the shiny new stuff heaped in your greenhouse.
TIP 3: START WITH GOOD SOIL
As every master gardener will tell you, the secret to a great garden is the soil. It’s like the foundation to your house. You can build a state of the art mansion but fail to build a solid foundation and the whole thing will crumble. Whether your plan includes a raised bed garden or a cluster of large pots on your patio, good soil will either make or break your garden. Potting mix can be bought practically anywhere and can be used alone or worked into raised beds along with compost or any other soil amendments your plants may need. All plants are different in their specific needs for optimal growth but unless you’re a scientist, stick with the pre-mixed stuff until you get the hang of gardening. You can always experiment with different types of soil later on and no one is going to judge you for not testing the pH, analyzing structure or measuring moisture content right off the rip. In fact, pre-mixed potting soil is formulated for use with most plants and is a great starting point for the beginner.
TIP 4: GROW WHAT YOU EAT
Does your family eat a ton of rutabaga? Then it’s probably not a good idea to grow a large plot of them, huh? I know this sounds simple but many people begin gardening with the idea that they’ll grow all these beautiful veggies they don’t typically eat in hopes that the sheer beauty of the plant will inspire them to change their evil ways and make them eat more veggies. Don’t fall into this trap! Now, if you love a slice of fresh tomato on your sandwich or atop a salad, try growing those varieties. Remember to keep it small. One cherry tomato plant and one slicing tomato plant is generally going to be enough for all of your sammy and salad needs.
TIP 5: RESEARCH EACH PLANT
Knowing your plants needs is paramount in the growing process. Once you’ve decided WHAT to plant, you need to know what your plants need to thrive. Do your chosen plants require full sun or shade? Are they hearty varieties that are going to require less watering so you can take off on a weekend trip? How much do they generally produce? How much space do they need? Can you safely plant your watermelons next to cucumbers? Answers to all these questions will help guide your plan towards fruition rather than leaving you dead in the water.
TIP 6: GET IN THE ZONE
I dearly love passionfruit. (I know, it’s a fruit but technically so is a tomato, soooo…) I mean I could eat a plateful every day for breakfast. I was introduced to them during a visit to my friends in St. Croix where we ate them for breakfast, made them into a curd sandwiched between chocolate cake as well as a tart dessert after dinner. They grew just outside their house, with virtually no work and were ripe for the picking when I arrived. While I would love to be able to walk out my front door and pick one off the vine, Kentucky frosts, sporadic rainfall and shorter summers doesn’t allow me to grow tropical fruits outside like Crucian conditions would. So if you have your heart set on growing something that requires longer growing seasons or a set of specific conditions that your area doesn’t offer, you may have to change up your game plan.
To find your specific zone, when you can plant to safely avoid frost and how long your growing season is in comparison to time needed to maturity for your plant, check out the USDA’s plant hardiness zone map here.
TIP 7: TAKE NOTES
As with any good plan, you need to take notes and keep a log of all your research. Use a small notepad or journal you can tuck in your purse or under your arm to write down pertinent info on growing your veggies. This includes answers to all of the applicable questions from this post as well as those you’ve come up with on your own. Everyone’s situation is different so yours may include protocols from your homeowners association or ways to keep critters out of your garden. Your future self will thank you as these notes will be invaluable when you plant and need answers.
So, there you have it folks! You’re now ready to strike out on your own and begin planning your veggie garden. I hope these tips have helped you feel confident in your journey and empower you to grow lots of nutritious veggies for yourself and your family!
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Thanks for taking the time to read my post! Peace, love and cheesecake!!