Growing your own food is not only a vital component of self-sufficiency, it saves you money on the grocery bill. There is also a distinct sense of satisfaction when you sit down to eat a meal comprised of food you produced yourself.
It doesn’t matter what your living situation is: apartment, homeowner, condo, whatever. There is always a way to grow something. Maybe the garden can’t be quite as extensive as you’d like but anything is better than nothing.
This is the time of year to begin planning your garden. If you’ve had gardens in the past, look at your successes and failures to determine what you need to work on this time around. On the other hand, if you’re new to gardening, it is high time to get going on planning one.
If you don’t have a large yard available to you, options would include container gardening and square foot gardening.
Container gardening is simply growing your plants in pots on your patio, porch, or driveway. Obviously you are somewhat limited in what you can grow as it’ll all have to fit in pots. But there is such a wide range of pot sizes, odds are you can find what you need to grow almost any common garden vegetable. Potatoes can be successfully grown in barrels, for example. You start with a layer of soil and compost. Plant your seed potatoes and cover them with another layer of soil. As the plants sprout, keep all but the green plant covered, adding more and more soil as you go. At the end of the season, just tip over the barrel and harvest your taters.
Square foot gardening is a little more complicated but still very doable for even the newest gardener. There are many books and websites out there that discuss this method in great detail. Essentially, it involves building raised garden beds, filling them with prepared soil, and growing your crops in a grid pattern. This is an excellent approach if you have poor soil in your yard or if you have limited space. Square foot gardening allows you to grow quite a bit of vegetables in a small area.
However you approach the problem of space, begin by sketching out your proposed garden, with dimensions of length and width noted. Doing so will give you a good idea of what you have to work with as you plan your crops.
The next step is to determine what you want to grow this year. Again, if you’ve been through this particular rodeo before, you’ll have a reasonable idea of what works in your area and what does not. If this is your first time around, consider getting in touch with your county extension office. They have Master Gardeners there whose primary mission in life is to help folks like you.
Make a list of the vegetables you and your family enjoy. See what varieties you can grow locally. Don’t forget fruits like strawberries either. Consider trying new things too. For example, I’ve managed to live forty years without ever trying eggplant. No real reason for that, just never really came up in my life. But this year, we’re going to try growing some.
Unless you have unlimited space, you’ll probably not be able to grow as many different things as you want. You’ll have to prioritize. Consider concentrating on those plants that either historically grow tremendously well in your area or are the things your family particularly likes to eat.
Once you know what you want to grow, you’ll need to acquire seeds. Whenever possible, get heirloom seeds. The reason for this is heirloom seeds will produce veggies and fruit that are “true,” meaning the seeds from them can be planted next year to grow the same thing. Many, many seeds commonly sold in places like Walmart are actually cross-breeds and the seeds from your harvested crop will be sterile.
There are numerous stores online and otherwise that sell seeds. If you ask ten gardeners which places they like best, you’ll probably get ten different answers. Your best bet is to ask around to people in your area you know have gardens every year. You may luck out and they’ll even give you a few seeds to get started. It never hurts to ask, as long as you’re polite about it.
You also need to research the plants you wish to grow. Pay particular attention to things like plant size, best time to plant, and growing season. You need that information to best plan your garden. Look back at your garden sketch and start marking down where each type of plant will go. Balance out the plant sizes so you don’t end up with big, bushy plants crowding out smaller ones. If you have a plant you can start in April and its growing season is 70 days, odds are you can use that space later for a fall crop too.
Make no mistake about it, gardening is rather labor-intensive. The planning though is where you can have all the fun without getting your hands dirty.
Your assignments this week:
1) Research and plan out your garden for this year. Begin acquiring seeds and organizing them. Store them in the order you’ll be using them.
2) Give thought as to how you might be able to start the seeds indoors. Doing so can help increase your growing season as well as provide for healthier plants. Really, you don’t need much more than a table, plant trays, and a light.
3) Have you added to your food storage in the last week? If not, be sure to do so this week. Add a bag of rice, a couple cans of stew, and/or a bag of flour.