Sustainable living is more than just a buzzword or a trend. As more and more people are finding ways they can practice a sustainable lifestyle—one that prioritizes the use of natural and renewable resources rather than producing excess waste and using up environmental resources, growing one’s own food has become more popular.
You don’t need a lot of land to grow your own food either. As long as you have a container or a small space outdoors, you can start your own garden. Growing just one or two of the items you usually buy at the grocery store can have so many health benefits and have an impact on the environment. There’s nothing more satisfying than making dinner for your family with fresh, seasonal produce that you’ve planted and grown yourself.
Benefits of growing your own food
Growing your own food is not only great for the environment, but it’s also fun! Home-grown produce is fresher and more flavorful, as well as much more cost-effective than buying produce at the store, especially organic produce. Organic produce is more expensive because it costs more to grow commercially. When you grow your own food, it’s much easier to do it organically using all-natural ingredients like compost or manure as fertilizer, and you can avoid using toxic pesticides and choose other natural ways to control bugs.
As far as sustainability goes, growing your own food benefits the environment because you are omitting the entire process of the food needing to be brought in from the farm, then transferred to the plant for processing, then transferred to the store, thus reducing your environmental footprint. Plus, gardening is good for you: tending to a garden keeps you active and burns calories!
Getting started with a garden
If you’ve never grown anything before, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with where to begin. There are several easy steps to follow when planning your own vegetable garden. You can start slowly and add more produce as you learn.
- Decide what you want to grow. Think about what fruits, vegetables, and herbs your family eats the most. Then make sure that your choices are appropriate for your location, such as figuring out first and last frost dates in your area. You can use this online tool for determining your plant hardiness zones and microclimate.
- Choose your garden space. You can grow a garden in containers on your porch, in a small patch of land in your backyard, or in larger spaces if you have the acreage. Based on your available space, find an area that will get plenty of sun. Most fruits and vegetables need full sun for five hours or more, while herbs, greens, and root vegetables can grow in partial shade.
- Plan the size and type of garden beds. Raised beds are most common because they look nicer and make it easier to work in your garden, but they also tend to dry out more quickly. Instead of single rows, it’s best to plant your garden in blocks or beds of plants that are 3-4 feet across, and no more than 10 feet long. Place plants in rows or a grid pattern to minimize walkways. Start small and make sure each plant has room to grow.
- Buy the correct gardening tools. Having the right gardening tools can make tending your garden easier and more enjoyable. The basic tools you’ll need include a garden hoe, scuffle hoe, dirt rake, leaf rake, garden shovel, and hand tools. Invest in quality tools rather than cheap plastic tools. You can often find metal gardening tools at bargains at yard sales or estate sales, or check your local garden centers.
- Check your soil. You’ll need to determine if your soil is acidic, alkaline, or has a neutral pH, and what type of soil you have such as rock, sand, clay, or a mixture. Most fruits and vegetables need soil with a pH of 7, which is neutral, although some produce (such as potatoes) prefer more acidic conditions, and others like more alkaline conditions. You can use home testing kits or simple home methods to test your soil.
- Build your soil. The best time to prepare your garden is usually in autumn, although you could also start in spring depending on the area where you live and the type of soil. If you are beginning with sod, it will need to be cut into clumps, then tilled in, or you can put down wet newspaper or cardboard to build a bed on top. To produce good quality vegetables and fruit, you’ll need deep, fertile soil rich in organic matter.
- Choose your seeds. Once you’ve determined which plants you want to grow, most seed packets include basic growing information, or you can check seed starting charts.
- Plant your seeds. Follow the instructions on the seed packet when planting your seeds. Be sure to plant seeds at least three times as deep as the diameter of the seed, unless the packet instructs otherwise. For plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers or okra, wait to plant until the last frost of the season in your area.
- Tend to your garden. Make the time to care for your garden daily. Depending on the size of your garden, tending can take a few minutes a day to several hours. Water your garden regularly; usually plants need about one inch of water per week during growing season. Over-watering can be just as detrimental for your garden as not watering it enough, so be sure to check your soil before watering. Use natural methods for keeping away pests rather than pesticides.
- Enjoy the fruits (and vegetables!) of your labor. As your garden grows and matures, always harvest it right away to get the best quality foods. Crops like lettuce can be clipped, and leaves will regrow for another harvest. Crops like beans and peas need to be picked every two or three days, while corn should be picked when the cobs are well filled out, and you notice the silk is dark. For tomatoes and peppers, let them ripen to full flavor and sweetness before picking.