Growing your own food, such as fruits, vegetables and herbs, is one of the most rewarding things you can do in your backyard. You – literally – get to eat the fruits of your labor!
The benefits of backyard gardening are plentiful. Tending to your plants is relaxing for green thumbs, while beginners feel closer to the environment and their food as they get their hands dirty. You’re honing a new therapeutic skill, getting your fill of vitamin D and making the most out of your home’s outdoor space.
And let’s not forget the bounty of produce you’ll bring into the household. With your kitchen stocked with a hearty harvest from your very own garden, you’re cutting back on grocery bills while putting together fresh and healthy meals.
Whether you’re in the countryside with vast space for vegetable beds and orchards, or you’re in suburbia ready to transform parts of your backyard into a personal farmer’s market, here’s what you need to know to get started with gardening.
Before you know it, your home will be providing the freshest food you’ve ever had, straight from your backyard to the table.
Find the Perfect Spot
Just like the inside of your home requires some interior design and planning, so does your outdoor space. Take some time to visualize and map out your garden and where certain crops will grow.
Across the board, for your garden to thrive, your plants will need:
Plants are sun lovers, requiring about six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. This means you’re better off avoiding spots around your home that are constantly shaded – although there are certain plants that fare well with less heat and sunlight.
Leafy greens like Swiss chard, salad leaves and kale, for example, do better when they’re in the shelter of taller crops or in the shade. But overall, your best bet is to choose a sunny spot for your garden.
Access to Water
If you’ve marked a sun-soaked spot in your backyard, now’s the time to run your garden hose over to make sure your garden is close enough to a source of water. Your crops will need to be watered on a regular basis to keep them healthy, hydrated and growing, and you’ll need to make this a convenient step.
It’s worthwhile choosing a spot that’s within view from inside your home, especially your kitchen. As you’re preparing meals or tidying up, peeking out the window will remind you to check on your garden, watch out for pests or bad weather and even pop outside to grab a handful of herbs for cooking.
The Right Soil
Soil completes the trifecta for your garden’s basic needs. You’re looking for soil that’s rich in organic nutrients and while compost can help you achieve this, you’re also scoping for space to create raised beds.
A raised garden bed is an area where the soil is higher than the ground level by about six inches – it’s easier for you to nurture the soil in these raised areas. It will also create proper drainage so your plants aren’t in drenched soil. A raised bed ensures it is separated from the rest of your backyard, such as where your kids will be playing. Raised beds warm up faster as they’re higher off the ground so you can sow your seeds earlier. Most gardeners will set this up with a perimeter around the garden.
If You Don’t Have the Space Outdoors
Apartment-dwellers and homeowners with smaller abodes can still get crafty with growing a small indoor garden in a bright windowsill, on a balcony, or in hanging crates.
Crafty homeowners can even dress up their drainpipes with pipe rings that hold terracotta pots, which you can plant with a few of your favorite crops, too. If you live in a tall building, you’ll need to protect your garden from windy weather.
You can even find special gardening kits specifically for plants that will be grown indoors at local nurseries and online. While you can’t grow a bounty, a small herb garden or a few vegetable plants can go a long way.
Decide Which Veggies You Want to Grow
Now that you’ve sectioned off your garden space, have some fun with your family in planning out what you’d like to grow. Plump tomatoes, ruby red raspberries, and crunchy cucumbers – if your family loves their share of fresh produce, this will be a hard decision.
Think strategically – if you’re in a rural community where farmers next door are growing corn and cauliflower, you can strike those off of your list; they’re covered locally and they take up a sizeable portion of home gardens too.
If you’re hoping to see quick results, easy-to-grow vegetables that you can harvest within weeks after sowing your seeds include salad leaves, like arugula, lettuce and baby spinach. Simply plant your seeds, water your garden and within a month of some TLC, you’ll have some fresh leaves to trim and eat. Baby carrots, tomatoes, radishes and cucumbers also round out the list of easy to grow crops. A crunchy salad is in the works with this roundup!
When thinking of how to make the most out of your garden, potatoes, runner beans and tomatoes yield the most food per square metre.
Of course, consider which veggies your family eats the most of – you won’t grow eggplants or zucchini if no one in the household likes them.
If you’re starting small, limit yourself to just a handful of plants, and focus on vegetables with a longer harvest, including beans, tomatoes and lettuce so you’ll have fresh food growing for stretch of time. Overall, a garden is easier to maintain if you have more plants of a few varieties than to have just a few plants of many types of vegetables.
And if you’re working with a blank slate altogether, head over to the garden center and read the plant labels, making sure to pair up three to five plants that you’re excited to grow.
Add Berries and Fruit Trees
Now it’s time to think of what will be on tap for a healthy sweet treat. Thankfully, you don’t need an entire orchard to grow fruits; strawberries can grow in hanging pots for those stretched for space. Homeowners with suburban backyards and countryside homes can dream big with fruit trees bearing apples, pears, peaches oranges or lemons, depending on where you live across the country.
The United States is actually one of the top five world producers of lemons, and they’re most commonly grown in states filled with sunshine and hot temperatures such as California, Arizona and South Florida. That’s because they’re subtropical – they need the warm climate and are highly sensitive to frost. This rules lemon trees out for states that bundle up in the winter seasons.
Apples, on the other hand, grow in all 50 states, but are most popular in Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and Virginia. There are literally thousands of apple varieties to choose from – you’ve likely bit into a few of them: Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, McIntosh and Pink Lady are the most common in the grocery store produce section.
If you love the look of fruit trees and want them in your home garden but just don’t have the space, look into dwarf fruit trees. They’re easier to prune and harvest because they don’t grow as tall.
When it comes to growing smaller scale fruits, your options are plentiful, too. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are relatively easy to grow, either on the ground next to your vegetables, in fruit containers or in hanging baskets. Gardeners with experience often recommend keeping these plants in fruit cages or surrounded by netting to shield your little gems from hungry birds.
Whatever you pick, you’re headed for a bounty of antioxidants and vitamins!
Don’t Forget Your Herbs
Fitting your outdoor space with an herb garden is worth your while. Mint, thyme, rosemary, sage – not only do these fresh herbs elevate your cooking, but they smell amazing in your garden. They are extremely versatile and can be used for everything from air fresheners and wellness to making cocktails, steeping in tea, infusing in honey or oil, or even as an addition to jams.
Herbs are some of the easiest plants to maintain and having a fresh batch just steps away from your kitchen will save you quite a bit with your grocery bill.
Mint is, hands down, one of the easiest plants to grow. It grows so quickly, gardening aficionados often recommend plotting mint separately so it doesn’t overrun your garden. You can grow many varieties too, including French peppermint, strawberry mint and even chocolate mint for baking.
If you’re a lover of pesto and caprese salads, Basil grows in abundance, too. A single plant yields ½ cup of leaves a week, and its maintenance requires that you keep clipping its leaves. The same goes for rosemary – gardeners need to trim the leaves as stems can grow up to four feet in height. For this reason, it’s also a great plant for shielding others in the outdoor sun.
Sage is robust – its fuzzy leaves keep pests away. It grows quickly and is resilient to heat and frost.
Finally, oregano is another low-maintenance herb that acts as a universal companion plant, nurturing the other greenery around it.
Our favorite tip? When you’re housewarming, pluck a few sprigs of various herbs from your garden so your guests can smell the unique aromatics for themselves.
Get to Planting
Remember, whether you’re growing vegetables, fruits or herbs, you can start with seeds or you can start with already-grown shrubs to insert into your garden. In some cases, gardeners start with seeds grown indoors during wintertime, and then transfer their small plants into their outdoor gardens when the weather warms up.
Here are some key factors to keep in mind while you’re planting:
- Don’t stress or overheat your plants on moving day: water your plants in their pots before planting and try not to plant them on a blistering hot day, or leave them in the sun in their pots in case their roots dry out
- If the plants’ roots are densely packed, try to tease them apart so they have the opportunity to stretch out and grow further in the soil
- Your plants should be transplanted as deep as they were in their pots. If you’re working with seeds, use a garden cane or a shovel to make shallow lines in the soil, sprinkle your seeds across the line and then top them off with soil so they’re covered.
Make sure to label your plants just in case you forget what’s growing while they’re still in the early stages. You can also hang onto the labels they came with at purchase to better understand their care instructions.
Some gardeners even keep a garden journal or photo journal, documenting how their little plants are growing, when flowers bloom, and how successful the harvest was. You may decide some plants were family favorites – if so, hang onto the seeds from that specific fruit or vegetable and replant more next year.
You can even keep some seeds to share with neighbors or family members.
Keep Them Watered and Supported
Once your plants are in the ground, water them to help them settle in. After that, they’ll require one inch of water per week, at the very least. If you’re dealing with a hot and dry summer, they’ll need more. You can tell when your plants need a drink, as they will wilt.
Pulling out weeds is another task you’ll need to take on as caretaker of your garden.
Some plants gain height as they grow. In this case you’ll need to add a stake to support the stems and leaves as they grow upwards.
It’s Time for Harvest
Within a few weeks of watering, monitoring and looking after your garden, you should be ready for harvest.
Most of the time, you’ll know your fruits and veggies are ripe. Tomatoes, peppers and soft fruits like strawberries, will change color upon ripening, while other vegetables like zucchinis, cucumbers and eggplant can be cut when they reach your desired size.
When it comes to salad leaves, you can keep cutting them as you need for your meals, and they’ll replenish on their own.
Carrots can be picked out of the ground at any size too, so you could have baby carrots to full-sized ones depending on when you decide they’re ready for picking. With potatoes, it’s their stems and leaves that turn yellow that indicate the crop is ready. But if you aren’t sure, you can gently loosen the soil to check on how big your potatoes have grown.
With a big bounty of fresh produce, some gardeners end up with more than they need. This is where preservation techniques kick in so you can enjoy your harvest well into the winter months.
You can transform fruits into jams and jellies, while vegetables can be cooked into tasty sauces or even pickled, canned or frozen for later use.
Herbs can be dried and used as spices, too. Fresh herbs make a great gift; if you have an overflow of herbs in your garden, you can assemble a mini herb garden in a medium-sized terracotta pot as a useful present for any loved ones who like to cook.
Upgrade to a Greenhouse
If you’re ready to take growing your own food to the next level, you can invest in constructing a greenhouse if you have enough space on your property. A greenhouse can help you grow your crops all year round, without any concerns about outdoor weather, pests and other environmental factors.
It even hands you the keys to growing vegetables and fruits you wouldn’t otherwise be able to in the United States, such as tropical fruits, obscure chili peppers and exotic flowers.
With these tips in hand, you’ll be well-equipped to grow your own food. Happy gardening and harvesting!
Carmen Chai is an award-winning Canadian journalist who has lived and reported from major cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, London and Paris. For NewHomeSource, Carmen covers a variety of topics, including insurance, mortgages, and more.