Growing your own food is not only satisfying but it also saves you money and significantly decreases your carbon footprint. The advantages are endless.
You can be certain that the fruit and vegetables you’re eating are organic, aren’t genetically modified, harmful pesticides were not used to grow them, they were not irradiated before transportation to the store, and they’re as fresh as possible.
Growing your own food is a more sustainable way of living. When you sow and harvest by hand, you don’t need to burn fuel in a tractor. Because the food you eat didn’t need transporting, fewer fuel emissions enter the atmosphere.
Less dangerous chemicals were leached into the ground or endangered local wildlife while your food grew. And no packaging is required to get your food from your yard to your kitchen table, so less plastic was needed.
Gardening is also a great way to stay healthy both physically and mentally. The activities of breaking the ground, weeding, and harvesting keep you physically active. Watching your crops grow and then eating the literal fruits of your labor provides great satisfaction.
Labor that achieves a goal is a form of mindful exercise that makes a positive contribution toward your mental wellbeing. And, of course, eating more fresh and organic fruits and vegetables is good for your health, too.
However, you may have heard the expression: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Growing your own food can be tough and demanding, but it’s not theoretical physics. This quick guide provides easy to follow advice that will get you growing your own food in no time.
#1. Start small but plan big
Full of enthusiasm, you may be ready to dig up your whole back yard today. Stop and plan ahead a little. There’s are many reasons farmers work hard. You may want to begin with a small project garden to gain experience and then expand over the passage of a few years.
If you are too enthusiastic and create a vegetable patch the size of a football pitch, you may be unable to keep up with the weeding and wind up with 2 acres of weeds and few viable vegetables.
To feed a 4-person family with entirely home-grown fruit and vegetables, you would require approximately 12,000 ft2 of land. However, you don’t need to be completely self-sustaining. Any fruits or vegetables you grow increase your sustainability and decrease your dependence on the corporate food chains.
#2. Gather the right tools for the job
When you start off, you may already have the tools you need to start growing your own food. A spade, a fork, and a garden trowel make a good start.
Search out a sunhat to keep the sunshine off your neck when it gets hot, and gardening gloves to protect your hands when things get rough. Garden sheers are useful for pruning fruit trees when your garden is more established.
When you get more serious, a rototiller may be needed to loosen up the soil in your vegetable plot for the best results. You can save money on your water bill and protect the environment by collecting rainwater in a rain barrel for watering your plants.
When you need more water in summer, a sprinkler or a garden hose with a sprinkler attachment will become essential for irrigation. And you may decide to invest in a greenhouse and a hydroponics system. A compost bin is useful for recycling your garden waste and transforming it into something that you can make good use of.
Because tools can be expensive, you’ll probably want to store them inside a lockable garden shed where they will be safe from theft and the effects of the weather. It is important to maintain your garden tools, keeping them clean and oiling moving parts.
The winter, when the harvest is done and few weeds are growing, is a great time for garden tool maintenance.
#3. Choose the right spot
Farmers understand that some of their fields are suitable for one crop and others for another. Even parts of a single field may be significantly different from other parts due to flooding or bedrock creeping close to the surface.
When looking at your backyard, there will be some areas more suited to growing crops, some ideal for fruit trees, some shady places ideal for a chicken coop, and some areas only good for growing weeds where you could keep beehives to provide fresh honey.
Be aware that the roots of some trees spread wide around its trunk, significantly reducing groundwater, causing problems when digging, and stunting the growth of root crops. Trees also create shaded areas, as do fences and hedges, which may be great for a chicken coop but bad for leafy vegetables.
If your yard is lawned, you may have noticed areas where the grass grows tall fast. That’s probably a great area to begin your first vegetable growing project.
#4. Work together with your local climate
Different areas are more suitable for different crops due to the climate. Visit your local garden center and chat with your neighbors who grow food to learn what fruits and vegetables grow best in your area.
The optimum times of the year for planting and harvesting also vary significantly by area and climate. Don’t ignore the knowledge available on the internet or in local minds. If you work together with your climate, you will benefit from healthier plants, larger vegetables, and a larger harvest.
With a greenhouse, you can grow plants that require a warmer climate than where you live. You can also control the humidity and “rainfall” within a greenhouse environment, so you can broaden the range of fruits and vegetables you are capable of growing.
#5. Plan and journal/blog
Fruits and vegetable plans have growing patterns specific to your local climate. There will be ideal times to sow and optimum times to reap. You need to research what these times are where you live. However, you should also keep your own record in a diary or blog.
Your garden may be at a higher or lower elevation than others in your area, or you may receive more or less sunlight. Each yard is unique. When you come to harvest, you may find that your carrots are disappointingly small.
Learn from your experience and plant earlier or harvest later to ensure you maximize the potential of your own little patch of ground. Record what you see so that you do better year after year.
#6. Five a day
They say that a mixture of 5 different fruits or vegetables a day keeps you healthy. Similarly, your garden will benefit from growing a variety of plants rather than just one kind. If you grow rows and rows of the same crop, there are multiple disadvantages.
If you only grow one crop, you have to do all the work at the same time. Sowing and harvesting both become labor-intensive experiences. And planting all the same plants close together attracts crop-specific pests.
For example, if you plant multiple rows of carrots, you will attract carrot flies that soon destroy the fruits of your labor. However, if you grow leeks alongside carrots, the leeks deter carrot flies while leek moths hate carrots. This is called “companion planting”.
Plant a variety of crops that mature at different times. Also, plant the same vegetable at different times in order to benefit from fresh vegetables at different times of the year.
You can have an early potato crop and a late potato crop. Sometimes different varieties of the same vegetable have different planting and harvesting times, so you can benefit from fresh potatoes almost all year-round.
#7. Prepare the ground well
Ground preparation is crucial, especially for root crops. If your soil isn’t sufficiently broken up and stones removed, your root crops will come out stunted and deformed. The most efficient way to break the ground and ensure you grow long and straight carrots is by using a rototiller.
While you’re digging, clear out any roots and stones you come across. Turning over the topsoil makes the nutrients in the ground more accessible to the crops you plant.
The type of soil in your yard will determine how much extra preparation is required. A pH test using paper strips or a pH probe will tell you the acidity of your soil. Ideally, you require an acidity between pH 5.5 and pH 7.0.
If your soil reads over pH 7.0, use sulfur, iron sulfate, peat moss, acidic fertilizer, or pine needles to increase acidity. If your soil has an acidity below pH 5.5, add crushed limestone, crushed dolomite, bone meal, or compost to make it less acidic.
Squeeze clumps of soil in your fingers to determine whether your ground is sand, loam, or clay. Carrots, potatoes, and onions do well in sticky clay soil, but strawberries do better in looser soil. Check the preferred soil for each crop you consider planting and consider whether to use a container or raised bed for planting instead.
Utilizing a compost or fertilizer can help nourish your fruits and vegetables. When starting out, seek out organic varieties from your local garden center. But once you’ve got your garden going, you can use a compost bin to create your own compost from the weeds and waste vegetable material you remove from your garden.
If you’re truly dedicated to a sustainable lifestyle, consider investing in a composting toilet. This further reduces your processed water use and generates compost you can use around fruit trees.
However, do not use this compost created from human waste to enrich the ground where you are growing root crops or leafy greens because this can transmit infectious diseases.
#8. Set out your rows
It’s easiest to plant your seeds or plug plants in rows. Mark the rows out with strings and use a hoe to create raised beds in the loose soil. Cut a shallow groove into each raised bed.
When setting out your rows, don’t be tempted to place them too close together to maximize the number of plants. If your shoots are too close together, there will not be enough water and nutrients for each plant to reach its full potential. Also, you need space between rows for weeding and watering.
When you’re weeding, you need to be able to get close to the ground on your hands and knees. If you haven’t got space to do this, you’ll be crushing the plants behind you as you’re weeding those in front of you.
#9. Sow your rows
Planting is not always straightforward. Each crop requires a slightly different approach. Some crops are best raised from seeds or bulbs planted straight into the ground while others are better started out in seed trays and later transferred as shoots.
Some plants you can buy partially grown, such as onion sets. Partially grown plants are sometimes referred to as plug plants. They are much easier to grow than plants from seeds, so novice gardeners may wish to start with those.
If you grow vegetables from seed, you will usually need to thin them out after they begin to sprout, so many seeds are wasted. Also, when you’re new to gardening, it’s difficult to identify which shoots are your crop and which are weeds. Weed shoots and crop shoots can be pretty similar and difficult to tell apart.
When planting, different seeds and plug plants require different depths of soil. The packaging with your plug plants or seeds should tell you the best time to plant, the optimum distance between seeds and rows, and the optimum depth.
Make small holes with your fingers or an old screwdriver and drop 2 or 3 seeds or a single plug plant in each hole.
Cover over the seeds with dirt and gently tap down the soil. This is essential to prevent birds from getting at the seeds and to retain moisture. In some cases, you may need to place netting over plug plants to keep off the wildlife. Check the packaging that comes with your plug plants and seeds.
YouTube can also be an invaluable resource to learn the optimum techniques for each type of fruit or vegetable. However, beware of regional differences.
Just because it’s a great idea to plant potatoes in March in Ireland, it doesn’t mean you should follow this same advice in Wisconsin, where mid-April is a better time to plant your seed potatoes.
#10. Water is essential for life
Plants cannot grow without water. Not only does it make up much of their composition, but they also require water for photosynthesis. However, different plants require different amounts of water, so you have to do your research to avoid under or over watering your fruits and vegetables.
It is especially important to water your plants in summer. You will require a sprinkler or garden hose with a sprinkler attachment to ensure you can deliver water to your plants in an efficient and timely manner.
When the temperature rises above 900F, it is necessary to water your plants twice a day. The best time to water is first thing in the morning or last thing at night. This enables water to soak into the ground before it evaporates away in the midday heat.
In smaller areas, where you don’t need to use an irrigation system, you can collect rainwater in a rain barrel and use a watering can to water your fruit trees and vegetable patch. Your local water company wastes a lot of energy cleaning water so that it is potable that you will be pouring onto the ground, so collecting rainwater significantly reduces your carbon footprint.
#11. Weeds kill your plants
While you may be invested in creating a natural habitat in your back yard, be aware that weeds will quickly and mercilessly murder your fruits and vegetables.
Weeds are plants that are perfectly adapted to your climate, which gives them a significant evolutionary advantage. Given the chance, they will outcompete your domestic vegetable varieties and take all the nutrients and moisture from the ground and hog the sunlight, growing twice or three times as fast as your crops.
You must weed every day and be ruthless. If you leave it for a week, you’ll suddenly find weeds overshadowing your vegetable shoots. Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between weed shoots and vegetable shoots, especially for a novice gardener.
Watch YouTube videos, consult images on the internet, and visit experienced gardeners to see what your vegetables should look like when they first poke out of the ground. After a few years’ experience, you’ll know at a glance what should and should not be there in that vegetable plot.
If you want to encourage wild native plants, set aside a portion of your garden as a natural meadow. At least the flowers there will provide a nice variety for the bees in your beehives.
As noted before, birds and other wildlife can be a problem when you’re trying to grow food. Nets can be used to keep larger critters away from your nice ripe strawberries. Polythene tunnels offer some protection and have the added advantage of protecting your seedlings against harsh weather conditions, such as high winds or late snow and frost.
Larger barriers, such as chicken wire or fences, sometimes help to keep away larger animals that might cause problems in your garden, such as wandering sheep if you live in a rural area of Scotland or New Zealand.
Some pests can be deterred by natural sprays. You can make your own peppermint spray by stirring 2 drops of peppermint essential oil into 1 gallon of water. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and mist your crops at least once a day to ward away bugs.
#13. Reap what you have sown
When you are new to growing your own food, it’s difficult to know when to harvest your plants. Sometimes it’s quite a complex procedure.
For example, with potatoes, you harvest them in summer or fall depending upon the variety and when you planted them. The cue that tells you they’re almost ready to dig up is that the flowers turn into bulbs and the leaves begin to turn yellow and shrivel up. However, you don’t dig them up immediately.
First, you cut away the leafy growth above the ground. Then you wait for 2 weeks. After this wait, the potatoes below ground are ready for you to tease them out of the ground.
When digging them up, it is crucial not to cut into them because damaged potatoes will quickly rot. Instead, you use a fork to ease around where you know there should be potatoes and gently lift them.
Over time, you will gather more experience and learn how best to grow and harvest each kind of fruit and vegetable. Some crops can be left in the ground until you need them, like carrots. Others must be lifted when they are ready, such as potatoes.
And some vegetables, such as onions, must be hung to dry out for a few weeks before they are ready for the cooking pot.
When you are planting your seeds or bulbs in spring, look up everything you can about their growing cycle and harvest and record it in your journal. This will help you to prepare for the harvest later on in the year. Some plants produce fruit several times a year, such as strawberries, but most are harvested in the fall.
#14. Waste not want not
Don’t let spare food go to waste. If possible, preserve it in some traditional way, such as by using a dehydrator or making jam. Solar ovens often come with drying trays so they can be used as a dehydrator, and they won’t add to your carbon footprint. Some food can be frozen.
If you have no way to store the food, why not give away excess produce to your friends and neighbors? This makes you look like a great neighbor and also reduces their carbon footprint. You might even be able to work out arrangements with them.
For example, if your next-door neighbor doesn’t use their backyard much, they may be happy to let you use part of their yard for growing more vegetables. In return, you can give them some of what you grow.
#15. Invest in some small farm animals
If you have a large backyard, there’s nothing to stop you from creating a smallholding. (Unless you live in a built-up urban area and local government ordinances forbid it!)
It’s easy to install a chicken coup so that you can always have fresh eggs when you want them. Free-range eggs always taste so much better than factory-hen eggs and are a valuable source of protein. Plus, free-range eggs are much less cruel to chickens.
Remember that keeping chickens is a commitment. Just like your pets, they will require food and water. You’ll require chicken feed, shell grit, and water. Chickens will also eat some of your chicken scraps, such as leftover porridge or yogurt. Fresh water is essential as each chicken will drink between 1 and 2 pints per day.
If you have areas of long grass that you don’t plan to plant any crops on, consider investing in a few goats. Goats can provide you with fresh milk, and they’re pretty self-sufficient. They also make great “guard dogs”!
Geese also make great “guard dogs”, and they lay tasty eggs (though not necessarily golden ones). Animals in general also produce fertilizer for your garden, though you’ll have to develop your own system for storing the dung to minimize odors.
Be practical, though. Your neighbors won’t be impressed if you try to keep dairy cattle inside your 1-acre urban garden. Keep to animals that you can easily control, don’t create too much smell, and don’t make too much noise, and generally won’t annoy your neighbors.
#16. Make full use of the surrounding countryside with your own bee colony
If you live in an area surrounded by meadows or forests, you’re in a great area for beekeeping. Even if you’re in the center of a city, you may be close to a major park where flowers and flowering trees grow.
When you’ve decided to venture into beekeeping, the first thing to do is order your bees. You must do this first because they are only available once a year around April or May, and you need to get your order in during January to ensure you get your bees. Check your local beekeeping association for assistance with this.
Next, you need to order your beehive and ensure it is delivered before your bees. There are other supplies you will also need, such as protective clothing and beekeeping tools. Before your bees arrive, you should also brush up on your knowledge of bees by reading beginners’ books and researching on the net.
When your bees arrive, you will need to introduce them to their new home. After that, the bees become pretty self-sufficient. You’ll need to check on them from time to time, take steps to protect the hive over winter, and, of course, harvest your honey.
The Final Word
Nobody said gardening was easy. If you want to grow your own food, you will have to invest a lot of your time and some of your money into the project. However, growing your own food is a truly worthwhile project. You will become healthier, save lots of money, make new friends, eat tastier food, and live a more sustainable lifestyle.