Now that the sun is out and Summer is officially here, it’s time to take full advantage of the great outdoors and the bountiful resources that have generously been gifted to us by Mother Nature. One way you can do this is by growing your own food. While we tend to associate planting seeds with Spring, it’s never too late to begin building your own garden.
In order to ensure that your garden will bear the most delicious fruit ever, we’ve compiled some tips to help you do it right!
It’s just not about what you do, but where you do it.
When gardening, picking the right location (with just the right amount of sunlight) is key. In regards to where to plant your seeds, Greatist.com says the following:
“Gardens come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s just a matter of figuring out what will work for you. In fact, gardening doesn’t even have to occur outside—plants grown indoors provide some of the same stress-reducing benefits as gardening, while also improving indoor air quality.
“If you’re growing plants outdoors, try to choose a spot that optimizes all those things that plants need—light, water, nutrients, and good soils. You can choose to grow plants directly in the soil (which is an easy and affordable option), to build raised beds, or to grow plants in containers.
“Raised beds (which are basically large wooden boxes filled with soil) are often six to 24 inches off the ground; they can be very productive, but it will cost extra money for the materials to build the beds.”
Click here to learn how to make your own raised beds.
“For smaller spaces or starter gardens, containers are a fantastic way to go because they provide so much flexibility. Watering is especially critical for containers because they dry out faster than garden beds. Luckily, these gardens are often pretty small so watering only takes a few minutes.”
Here are some foods you can grow in containers:
Fruit, Vegetables, Herbs: This is How to Grow an ENDLESS Supply of Free Food at Home
Microgreens: How to Grow Microgreens at Home
Other foods to garden around your home:
In your home
In your yard
Certain plants yield better fruit when the are grown next to each other. Here are some great combinations of vegetables you might want to consider growing together:
2. Timing is Everything
While you can grow food all-year round, when should you actually garden?
“To better understand your climate, get familiar with the plant hardiness zones. They’re based on the coldest winter temperatures, which help determine which plants are likely to do best in a particular location. This information is especially useful for planting perennial plants—that is, plants like trees, shrubs, and many flowers that live for several years—because often it’s the coldest winter temperatures that determine where these plants can thrive.
“Growing season length is another handy piece of information. It’s the average amount of time per year where the temperature stays above freezing during both day and night. Growing season length is particularly useful for planting annual plants—including most garden vegetables and many flowers—which live for only a single year.
“If you want to plant melons, for example, you’ll want to make sure that you can find a variety of melons that can grow fully within the length of your growing season. And you’ll want to make sure that you plant it early enough that there are plenty of days left in the season for it to grow and mature.”
3. Putting it All Together: What You Need
In order to make your garden come together nicely, there are some essential tools you will need. Different types of gardens will require different equipment. Here are a few basics to have on hand (via Greatist.com):
- potting soil
- a watering can
- small trowel (or even a sturdy kitchen spoon!)
- a trowel
- watering can
- digging fork
- same as raised beds
- rototiller, for preparing the soil—but this is by no means necessary if you’d prefer to flex those muscles in the garden
4. Putting it All Together: What Your Plant Needs
Just like humans, plants need essential nutrients in order to live and bear fruit. But rather than filling up on avocado and quinoa, they feed off of soil. According to eartheasy.com:
“The soil provides your plants with the vital nutrients, water and air that they require for healthy growth and development. But each plot of ground has its own blend of minerals, organic and inorganic matter which largely determines what crops, shrubs or trees can be grown successfully.” In other words, the soil in your yard will be a certain type based on where you live.
“Ideal soil conditions for specific crops can be created in contained plots such as raised beds or planters, but for larger gardens and landscapes it helps to understand the characteristics of the soil you have to work with.”
1. Clay soil
- Feels lumpy and sticky when very wet
- Rock-hard when dry
- Clay drains poorly
- Few air spaces
- Warms slowly in spring
- Heavy to cultivate
- If drainage is improved, plants grow well as it holds more nutrients than many other soils
Summer crop vegetables and fruit trees grow well in clay soil.
2. Sandy soil
- Free-draining soil
- Gritty to the touch
- Warms up quickly in spring
- Easy to cultivate
- Dries out rapidly
- May lack nutrients, which are easily washed through the soil in wet weather (often called a “hungry” soil)
Vegetable root crops like carrots, parsnips and potatoes favor sandy soils. Lettuce, strawberries, peppers, corn, squash, zucchini, collard greens and tomatoes are grown commercially in sandy soils.
3. Silty soil
- Smooth and soapy to the touch
- Well-drained soil
- Retains moisture
- Richer in nutrients (more fertile) than sandy soil
- Easier to cultivate than clay
- Heavier than sand
- Soil structure is weak and easily compacted
- A very good soil if well managed
Most vegetable and fruit crops thrive in silty soils which have adequate adequate drainage.
4. Peaty soil
- Contains a much higher proportion of organic matter (peat) because the soil’s acidic nature inhibits decomposition
- But this means there are few nutrients
- Dark in colour
- Warms up quickly in spring
- Highly water retentive and may require drainage if the water table is near the surface
- Fantastic for plant growth if fertiliser is added
Vegetable crops such as Brassicas, legumes, root crops and salad crops do well in well-drained peaty soils.
5. Chalky soil
- Alkaline, with a pH of 7.5 or more
- Usually stony
- Free draining
- Often overlays chalk or limestone bedrock
- This means some minerals, such as manganese (Mg) and iron (Fe), become unavailable to plants, causing poor growth and yellowing of leaves
- This can be remedied by adding fertilisers
Vegetables such as spinach, beets, sweet corn, and cabbage do well in chalky soils.
6. Loamy soil
- The perfect soil
- Good structure
- Drains well
- Retains moisture
- Full of nutrients
- Easy to cultivate
- Warms up quickly in spring and doesn’t dry out in summer
Most vegetable crops and berry crops will do well since loamy soil can be the most productive of soil types.
When growing food in containers, you should go with a potting mix. To make your own potting soil, you can follow this recipe.
Watering your garden is a crucial step in keeping it alive. Vegetable plants need water because they absorb nutrients in dissolved form. Here are some tips for how and when to water your garden (via vegetablegardener.com):
- Get to know your soil. Depending on the type, your soil will absorb water more quickly.
- Consider the life cycle of the plants in your garden when you water. For some crops, like tomatoes, yields may improve but some flavor may be lost with too much watering as fruit ripens. And with carrots and cabbages, for example, watering should be reduced as the crop reaches maturity to keep the vegetables from splitting.
- If you have the space in your garden, you can save yourself some trouble by grouping plants according to their water needs. For example, you wouldn’t want to plant your herbs next to your lettuce, even though they often wind up together in the salad bowl. Generally, herbs thrive in drier areas, while lettuces like it lush. If the lettuce gets the water it needs, the herbs are likely to be lush, too, but tasteless.
- Like many things in life, timing is everything when it comes to watering. Early morning, late afternoon, and evening are usually best for watering because the cooler temperatures mean less water will evaporate. Limiting your watering to these times is a particularly good idea if you use overhead sprinklers.
It’s also safer not to water at night, as the leaves will remain wet, which may encourage disease. In arid places, however, some people decide to risk night watering to give the water longer to soak into the soil and cut evaporation from the sun.
Your-vegetable-gardening-helper.com sheds some light on how much sun your garden needs:
“Light is one of the most important elements in growing veggies and is probably the one that we have least control over. When growing vegetables consider the amount of light your area will be getting. Most vegetables need an average of 6 hours of sunlight.
“Do not be too concerned if your garden plot is in a shady area as leaf and root vegetables (lettuce, peas, carrots, kale, swiss chard) will tolerate some shade. Vegetables that produce fruit (tomatoes, peppers,eggplant, squash) are the ones that need full sun – but these can easily be grown in containers on a sunny patio. Container gardening is a wonderful way to grow your vegetables.”
“Compost is the decomposition of plant materials into an earthy, dark, crumbly substance – excellent for adding to houseplants or enriching garden soil,” says Argonne National Laboratory.
“Compost does several things to benefit the soil that synthetic fertilizers cannot do:
- First, it adds organic matter, which improves the way water interacts with soil.
- In sandy soils, compost acts as a sponge to help retain water in the soil that would otherwise drain down below the reach of plant roots. In this way, it protects plants against drought.
- In clay soils, compost helps to add porosity (tiny holes and passageways) to the soil, allowing it to drain more quickly so that it doesn’t stay waterlogged or dry out into a brick-like substance.
- Compost also infuses the soil with vast numbers of beneficial microbes, such as bacteria and fungi. Microbes are able to extract nutrients from minerals in the soil, which they eventually pass on to plants.”
In order for your compost to be effective in the garden, it requires a few different elements (via Argonne National Laboratory):
- “Browns” (i.e., leaves or wood chips) are added to compost for energy. The microbial oxidation of carbon produces the heat needed for decomposition. Leaves and woodchips tend to be dry, so browns often need to be moistened before they are put into a compost system.
- “Greens” (i.e., green leaves, veggies, etc.) are added to compost to grow and reproduce more organisms to oxidize the carbon. High nitrogen materials tend to be green or colorful and wet, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, green leaves, coffee grounds and tea bags.
- Oxygen is needed to oxidize carbon in the decomposition process.
- Water, in the right amounts, maintains activity without causing anaerobic conditions.
- A good mix of browns and greens is the best nutritional balance for microbes. This mix also helps with aeration and the amount of water in the bin. Browns, for instance, tend to be bulky and promote good aeration. Greens, on the other hand, are typically high in moisture, and balance out the dry nature of the browns.
Last, but certainly not least, it goes without saying that our beautiful gardens will attract a lot of unwanted visitors. While conventional farming uses loads of toxic pesticides to prevent this from occurring, spraying chemicals on our food is not the only option.
For a homemade, non-toxic solution to pests, read this: Get Rid Of Garden Bugs With This Homemade Non-Toxic Formula.
5. Benefits of Gardening
If you’re going to sow the seeds, you might as well reap something from it, right? Fortunately, there are several benefits to growing your own food. Gardening is a healthy, cost-efficient activity that comes with a number of advantages.
Provides more nutrients
By growing your own fruits and vegetables, you are giving yourself easy access to what is arguably the most important food group. As we all know, fruits and vegetables are rich in essential nutrients that feed all areas of our bodies and allow them to fully function.
Since we don’t always want to reach for a pound of carrots at the grocery store, growing your own can encourage you to reap the benefits of your hard labor and increase your vitamin intake while you’re at it.
In addition, according to extension.org, “The fruits and vegetables grown in your garden will promote health because they are rich in nutrients, especially in phytochemicals, anti-oxidants, vitamin C, vitamin A and folate. Fruits and vegetables from your own garden are higher in nutrients than the ones that have traveled several thousands miles to get to your grocery store.”
Moreover, gardening allows you to control what goes in your food and ultimately, what goes in your mouth. Store-bought produce that have come from farms are typically sprayed with chemical fertilizers and pesticides to promote growth and to keep the bugs at bay. Such chemicals have been tied to numerous health risks, such as a breast cancer and a weakened immune system.
Livestrong.com discusses how growing your own food is also more satisfactory to your taste buds:
“Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of garden vegetables is the taste. MayoClinic.com states that some people claim they can taste the difference between organic and commercially grown food, but “freshness” may be the actual predictor of taste.”
“Home grown tomatoes, for example, can stay on the vine until they are red, ripe and ready to eat. Store-bought vegetables are pulled from the vine weeks before they arrive on the produce aisle. Additives and chemicals may also take away from the taste of your favorite vegetables.”
Gardening requires the use of compost to enrich your soil and in turn reduces waste. Argonne National Laboratory says, “Composting is a good way to recycle your yard and kitchen waste and it reduces the volume of garbage sent to landfills.”
You can compost a number of things you normally throw out, including coffee grounds, egg shells, and even dryer and vacuum lint!
Having a green thumb isn’t just a good way to reduce your carbon footprint. It’s equally a good way to lower your grocery bill. Greenandhealthyhomes.org says this:
“Consider this: the average price for fresh tomatoes in the supermarket is about $2 per pound. Most gardeners get 10 or more pounds of tomatoes per plant. That adds up to at least $100 worth of produce for a modest five tomato plants, which can typically be purchased for about $2 apiece from the garden center. If you grow from seed, the savings are even more: a typical packet costs less than $2 and usually contains enough seed to meet your needs for more than one season.
If you have a small yard, you may think you don’t have enough space to grow food for your family. However, it only takes about a tenth of an acre to produce most of the vegetables one person will eat in an entire year, according to gardening expert Maria Iannotti. Even a small garden plot can produce significant food. For example, you could grow the five tomato plants mentioned above in only about 30 square feet if you trellis them. Even if you have no yard, many vegetables are easy to grow in containers, on your porch or balcony.”
According to greenandhealthyhomes.org, “Good-tasting food isn’t the only heath benefit gardening offers. It’s also an easy and enjoyable way to spend time in the fresh air and sunshine getting healthy, moderate exercise. Most people agree that gardening is pleasant and relaxing, and it has actually been clinically proven to can help alleviate stress.”
One study also found that spending time in the garden improves mental health as “it can help people connect with others, reducing feelings of isolation.” In addition, this bout of physical activity releases endorphins, the chemical in our bodies known for triggering positive feelings.
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