Grow Your Own Food! A Guide to Getting Started

I’ve had an interest in gardening since I was a kid. My dad used to have the largest, most wonderful garden in our backyard filled with tons of beautiful vegetables. For the entire summer, we’d have a steady supply of zucchini, green beans, Swiss chard, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and more. While I define myself as a mostly lazy child, I did help my dad pick ripe vegetables occasionally (then I’d see a bug and run away). And while other kids had lemonade stands, my sister and I were running a small produce stand in the driveway, selling whatever vegetables my dad had in abundance. I was so inspired, that one time I even had the bright idea to start my own garden in the middle of the lawn…then I got in trouble for digging up the lawn. Lesson learned.

 

My mom was (and still is) a wonderful cook, so she always made the most of whatever produce came from the garden. Needless to say, dinners were always hearty and delicious. Her cooking skills definitely rubbed off on me, and I began cooking at a young age. I still enjoy it now, and like to use lots of fresh vegetables in my meals, especially when I’ve grown them myself. As soon as I moved into my own place out of college, I started growing my own food and haven’t stopped since. Even when I only have the capacity to grow plants in pots, I do that as much as I can. There are so many benefits to growing your own food. If you’ve never tried growing veggies and/or herbs, here are some great reasons to start:

 

Reasons to Grow Your Own Food: 

  • Healthy & Delicious – I can’t think of anything you can grow yourself that wouldn’t fall under one of these categories. There is no limit to the amount of herbs and veggies you should eat, as they will all benefit your health in some way.
  • Saves Money – Have you ever gone to the store to buy fresh herbs? They’re expensive! Even if you never grow vegetables, grow herbs just to flavor your food and save money. (Great link here explaining more about this)
  • Easy, Fun & Empowering – You don’t need a 10×10 garden to call yourself a gardener. Gardening can easily be done in a few pots if you prefer. Plus, it’s very empowering when you finally get your first veggie of the season.
  • Therapeutic – I thoroughly look forward to buying my plants, seeds and soil in the spring of each year. Spending a few hours getting my pots filled and my hands dirty is somehow quite peaceful and therapeutic.
  • Win Friends – Not only are there gardening clubs in every city in the country, but if anyone finds out you garden and you have extra veggies/herbs to give away, you can bet you’ll make some fast friends.
  • Mini-workout –  With gardening always comes weeding, and this can definitely strengthen those leg and arm muscles, especially if you have a large garden. Plus, you’ll need to water every day, and you can always add more plants depending on the season, which will give you some extra work.
Spinach.jpg

Little baby spinach sprouts

 

Now that you’re convinced to start growing your own food, what should you grow? There are certain herbs/veggies that will do better in the ground versus pots. So depending on what you have capacity for, here are some suggestions for easy plants to get started with.

 

What to Grow in Pots: 

  • Tomatoes – These are by far the most common and easiest plants to grow, especially if you’re a beginner. I always grow both cherry tomatoes and plum or beefsteak tomatoes each year. You can also try Roma or Heirloom tomatoes.
  • Peppers – Some peppers are trickier to grow than others. I’ve always had great luck with jalapeños, but not as much with bell peppers. Certain peppers have different soil/water needs, so be sure to research that before planting.
  • Herbs – I love growing herbs, just because of how easy they are and how much I get out of them. Some of my herbs I plant new each year, while others will grow back year to year. Here’s a list of some great ones to try:
    • Basil – perfect for sweet or savory dishes
    • Parsley – can use in just about any dish
    • Chives – an excellent onion/garlic replacement
    • Mint – grows as large as the pot it’s in
    • Oregano – wonderfully scented and high-producing
    • Thyme – will grow back each year
    • Rosemary – great winter plant
    • Dill – grows very tall and bushy
    • Cilantro – bonus coriander seeds!
    • Sage – grow this just for the sake of Thanksgiving
    • Catnip – if you have kitties, of course
Herbs.jpg

My herbs growing wild and free: Chives, Thyme, Parsley & Dill

What to Grow in Gardens:

All of the above can easily be grown in a garden, in addition to the below veggies:

  • Carrots – high-producing, plus you can also use the greens
  • Beets – similar to carrots, you can also use the greens
  • Green Beans – plant in rows with poles to support them
  • Greens – Lettuces, Spinach, Kale, Collards, Swiss Chard, etc.
  • Cucumbers – best to use trellises to allow them to crawl upward
  • Squash/Zucchini – always produces a LOT!

 

Of course, there are SO many more veggies and herbs to plant, but the above are good options if you’re a beginner and need to start somewhere. As you get comfortable with gardening, you can get creative with other types of plants to grow.

The Essentials of Gardening

Gardening can be an easy hobby, as long as you have a plan and commit to sticking to it. Here are a few basic necessities for gardening:

  • Pots/Garden Beds – You have free reign to choose whatever you have capacity and time for here. Be sure you have enough containers for the plants you buy, so you’re not crowding them together. You can even scour Pinterest to make your own.
  • Good Soil – I always like to avoid the cheapest soil, because you usually end up with a lot of mulch, pebbles and wood chips inside. Look for soil that’s mostly soil (obvious, I know), and specifically meant for gardening. Bonus if you can find or make compost.
  • Water Daily – Especially when it gets to be very hot, you’ll need to make sure you’re giving your plants enough water. Once daily is usually enough, but keep an eye on them to ensure the soil isn’t dried out. If it rains, you’re covered!
  • Adequate Sun – Most herbs and veggies need sun to grow, so find a place where your plants will have some access to sunlight each day.
  • Pull Weeds/Remove dead things – This is the part most of us hate, but it must be done. If you’re using pots, luckily you won’t get many weeds. But you also want to be sure to remove any dead parts of your plants if need be. Be mindful of the ingredients in weed killers so that you’re not using harmful chemicals on the food you’ll eventually eat.
  • Cages/Trellises/Poles – You may need these depending on what you’re growing. Plants like tomatoes, peppers, green beans and cucumbers grow best when supported.

Tomatoes.jpg

 

Where to buy all of this?

So where do you go to get everything you need to start gardening? You have a few options:

  • Farmers Markets – Many large markets will have vendors selling plants in the spring. This is a great option, because many local farmers aren’t using as many pesticides as commercial farmers are. They also have high quality produce, so you know you’re getting a good product.
  • Nurseries/Garden Centers – This is the second best option, and you can also buy some good quality soil here. You’ll get the best customer service at a garden center if you need assistance or have questions about specific plants.
  • Home Improvement Stores – Stores like Lowes or Home Depot are great to buy plants at if that’s what you have closest to you. You’ll find the best deals if you’re on a budget, and they usually have a large variety of plants, soil and other equipment.
  • Order Seeds Online – If you prefer to go the seed route, many websites will sell seed packets for you to purchase online. This is great if you’re looking for something very specific to plant that stores may not carry.

 

Rosemary.jpg

Don’t forget to get some statues!

 

You’re ready to start your garden! What are you going to plant? If you have a garden already, what are you currently growing? Leave a comment!

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