Have you been thinking it’s about time to learn to grow your own food?
Would you like to be able to provide for your family through what you grow in your backyard?
Everyone can learn to grow their own food.
In this blog, we’ll provide you with a beginner’s guide to creating a garden full of fresh produce that’ll keep you stocked for months.
1. Do you have to be a gardening expert to grow your own food?
If you’re nervous about growing your own food — about nurturing a garden — because you’re not known for your “green thumb” then don’t be.
You may have killed every house plant you’ve ever owned.
However, with the right knowledge and time, you can successfully manage a thriving garden.
Just don’t underestimate the time it can take for your garden to thrive.
Don’t plant seeds once a year and expect to come back to food.
You’ll need to plant, thin, weed, harvest, and prune.
You’ll be watering often and pouring your soul into your garden in some cases.
A full backyard garden can require up to 10 hours of work a week.
2. What should you know before you grow your own food?
There are several factors that you need to understand before you can grow your own food.
Understanding the climate in your specific geographic area is an essential piece of the puzzle.
Here are some of the elements you’ll need to recognize before planting.
1. Hardiness zone
This is based on the average annual low temperature in your area and determines which plants (specifically perennials) will be best suited to your climate.
The USDA has a map of the country that details the hardiness zones.
It designates areas on a scale of numbers 1 through 13.
Plants and seed labels will normally include a range of ideal hardiness zones or say that a plant is “cold hardy” up to a certain zone number.
While this isn’t necessarily important for annual vegetables that last a single growing season, it is essential for perennial herbs, fruiting trees, and flowers.
2. Frost date
Beginner gardeners often set seeds down too early.
They will seed on the first warm day of the year, and these plants are then usually killed by late-season cold snaps.
Seasoned gardeners will plant according to the calendar instead of the weather.
To do this, you just need to find the average date of the last frost in your area.
This is the last day of the year when temperatures plunge below freezing.
You can also use the seed labels to find the best time to set seed in relation to the date of the last frost.
One of the best resources for agricultural information is your county extension site.
These are typically run by either state or research universities.
They provide information on soil quality, frost dates, planting times, and other agricultural topics to the public.
To find yours, simply type “[insert] county extension site] into Google.
Just note that not all extension websites are created equal.
If you have trouble finding what you need online, feel free to give them a call.
Choose where you place your garden based on how much sun the plot receives.
Your spot should get at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day.
If you’re not sure where in your yard this could be, wake up early one day and set an alarm on your phone to go off every hour.
After each alarm, take a picture of your backyard, balcony, or wherever you want to grow things over the course of the whole day.
At the end of the day, put those pictures together and create a flipbook of how light is moving across your space.
It’ll give you a sense of how long there’s direct sunlight in any given spot on your land.
Soil is an essential part of a successful garden.
1. Soil safety
Before you plant anything, get to know your soil’s safety and history.
Then assess it for specific attributes that will make it suitable for growing.
For more information, you can consult your extension site for information about soil safety.
You can also look on the EPA’s website to see if there are any known environmental pollution issues in your soil.
Remember, soil can retain chemicals and heavy metals that plants absorb.
This will make them potentially hazardous to consume.
Urban areas will often have high levels of heavy metals in their native soils.
As a result, cities often recommend that people grow their food in raised beds with healthy soil from a garden store.
If you’re still uncertain after doing research, we suggest seeking out soil testing services approved by your state through your state health and agricultural departments.
2. Soil drainage
Soil can be safe and low-quality.
The drainage is an important factor in determining the quality of your soil.
You may see issues with this if plants sit in waterlogged soil.
The roots won’t be able to function, and even with fertilizer, they won’t grow well.
We suggest testing your drainage by poking a few holes in the bottom of a coffee can.
Dig a hole in the ground and place the can snugly inside.
Next, fill it with water and let the water drain out completely, then fill it again.
If the water drains quicker than an inch per hour the second time, then the soil drainage is adequate.
If it doesn’t drain, then you’ll want to find another spot in your garden or build raised beds.
Another way to improve the drainage of soil is with mulch, compost, and materials like vermiculite.
If you’re working with potted plants, stick to store-bought potting soil.
This soil is designed to drain quickly.
Don’t use soil from your yard in pots as pots require a high level of drainage that most conventional soils can’t provide.
3. Soil fertility
Plants get their necessary nutrients from the soil, which is why fertile soil is critical.
You’ll know if you have fertile soil by the number of weeds in your garden.
When you have weeds in your garden, you can be sure the soil is nutritious.
If you don’t have any weeds, you’ll want to consider using fertilizer.
The preferred organic fertilizer is compost.
Compost works best when laid on top of the ground because the feeder roots of all plants are in the top few inches of soil.
If you want to purchase plant food, make sure you read the label.
You’ll normally see three consecutive numbers in this format: #-#-#.
These numbers refer to the levels of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) in the fertilizer.
All of these are important for plant growth.
The rule of thumb is “up” nitrogen, “down” phosphorus, and “all around” potassium.
Nitrogen encourages the plants to grow “up” with bigger, green foliage.
Phosphorus encourages the bloom and root growth “down.”
Potassium is beneficial for “all around” health.
You can do some additional research on the types of plants you’re growing to make sure you know how they like to be fed.
In general, organic is the way to go.
4. Soil temperature
Depending on the crops you’re growing, soil temperature can really matter.
For example, tomatoes and peppers are heat-loving crops.
To lengthen your growing season, find the warmest spot in your yard.
You can do this by paying attention to where snow melts first — this is a great place to plant your fruit and vegetable garden.
If you grew up with just a few plants or flower pots outside on the porch, you may think that a watering can will do the job just fine when it comes to water.
However, you’ll quickly find that the watering can just isn’t as efficient as you need it to be.
To make watering more efficient, situate your home garden close to a water source (like a spigot or hose).
You may also consider installing a sprinkler system if you’re able.
3. What foods should you start with?
Depending on the size of land you’re working with, you may not have room to grow everything, and you’ll need to pick and choose.
If you’re working with a window box or fire escape rather than an acre of land, that’s okay!
You can still grow your own food.
Here’s what we recommend starting with.
Keep in mind that some vegetables are more beginner-friendly than others, but even growing one vegetable can help alleviate the need to buy produce.
- Tomatoes: Grow fast, provide a lot of produce, lots of varieties to choose from
- Peas: Sweeter off the vine than anything you’ll find in the grocery store
- Peppers: Prolific and provide immediate returns once they flower
- Lettuce greens: Grow quickly and are ready to harvest in five weeks
- Kale: Loves cold weather, can go in the ground early and be harvested late, good long season crop
4. What equipment do you need to grow your own food?
As a beginner, you may not have a lot of gardening equipment.
Fortunately, you don’t need a whole lot to get started.
Here is a list of items you should purchase.
Some items may or may not be necessary depending on how large your garden is.
Items for digging: Full-size spade for digging large holes
Items for planting: Hand trowel for planting seeds, seedlings, or small potted plants or harvesting root vegetables; garden jackknife to use for planting, harvesting, dividing perennials, and opening paint cans
Items for cutting: Bypass pruners for cutting back foliage and pruning hardy stems and roots; garden scissors for harvesting herbs and snipping greens
Items for moving dirt: small bucket; wheelbarrow for larger amounts of soil, mulch, and compost
Items for protection: Wide-brim hat to protect your face and neck; work gloves to protect your hands; apron to protect your clothes and hold your tools
Items for watering: watering can for window boxes and tiny gardens; hose for larger garden operations
5. How can you make your garden more successful?
Before you begin planting, make a garden map.
Seed packets often include information about spacing.
So, use a plant spacing chart to determine how much space you need to leave between your seeds for ideal garden growing.
You can also create a calendar and to-do list for your garden.
This will include tasks like planting seedlings, setting up your outdoor space, and transplanting your seedlings when they’re ready.
These will ensure your garden is as successful as possible.
6. What if you don’t have land right now?
This is a common question.
So many people don’t have land, but they want to begin the journey of growing their own food.
If you’re in a cramped apartment, you can still grow food both inside and outside while utilizing whatever space is available.
Here are some ways that you can maximize your space.
Maximize your indoor space
If you’re gardening in an urban area, you must maximize vertical space.
You can do this using windowsills, edible hanging baskets, steel mesh, wood trellis, or other wall racks for indoor gardens.
Maximize your outdoor space
If you have some outdoor space (rooftop, side yard, small balcony), then you can establish your plants in raised beds or large containers.
We recommend maximizing the vertical space with a trellis system for plants that vine.
These include tomatoes plants, melons, squash, cucumbers, beans, peas, etc.
If you have a balcony garden, you can grow plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc. in hanging buckets to make the most of the space.
7. How can you make gardening more communal?
If you’re enjoying the process of learning to grow your own food, then you may consider making it a communal activity.
Consider joining a gardening community near you, which will allow you to gain the space to have a full garden set-up as well as the expertise of others.
Some people love the support and ability to connect with others along with this newfound hobby.
Are you ready to grow your own food?
Initially, the process of growing a garden can seem like a lot.
Don’t let it overwhelm you.
You can start out with just a few plants on your porch or a few rows in your garden and gradually transition to more once you get the hang of it.
Growing your own food is a great way to provide for your family and always make sure you have food to eat.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.