So anyone who follows me on basically any social media outlet knows that the husband and I spent this weekend installing this year’s vegetable garden. We have both made an effort to really focus on getting more vegetables in our diet, and sometimes that can get a little expensive so why not grow them in our own yard for pennies compared to the grocery store? I really believe in eating as healthfully and sustainable as possible without having to take out a second mortgage to fund it, so I will let all of my readers learn from our many failed attempts so hopefully you can enjoy the bounty of your garden (no matter the size).
Only Grow What You Like to Eat
I know many people enter the world of vegetable gardening are doing so to increase their own vegetable intake, and can sometimes try to do too much too soon and buy all of these exotic vegetables they’ve never tried because they thing it sounds like the healthy thing to do. While eating a wide variety of plants is always ideal, they provide you no nutritional benefits by sitting in your refrigerator or rotting on the vine. No one in our house is fond of eggplant or the more bitter greens, so they don’t make an appearance in our garden, but we do eat tomatoes on a daily basis (sometimes at just about every meal in one form or another) so we have 16 total tomato plants in our garden this year from tiny cherry tomatoes to giant beefsteaks. A productive home garden will likely overwhelm you with produce, so make sure you are picking things you already know you’ll enjoy. If you’re just getting on the veggie bandwagon and have no idea where to start, I highly recommend growing some tomatoes, zucchini, and strawberries to get you started. All of these can be enjoyed raw or cooked in about 1000 different ways and they’re all fairly easy to grow (and with some TLC, your strawberries will come back year after year).
Do Some Good Research
What zone do I live in? When are my frost dates? How many hours of sun will my garden get? These are three questions you’ll need to get answers to before you even begin to pick what you want to grow in your garden. We live on a mountain that keeps frost about 2-3 weeks later than the surrounding area, so we really have gotten the timing of our garden down to a science after having to run outside before bed to put buckets over the strawberries because we’ve gotten a freeze warning in mid-April, so I highly recommend doing all of this research well in advance (aka winter) to plan and time your spring garden well. A good rule of thumb is if you’re growing plants for the fruit or the root you’ll need a spot that gets full sun (8+ hours a day), but if you’re growing something for the leaves you can sometimes get away with partial sun (4-8 hours, ideally in the morning and evening). Once you’ve got your plants picked out, try to make sure you know how to keep them happy by doing a quick search for spacing, watering schedule, and what types of fertilizer it prefers. Once you get the basics down you can really get nerdy with this gardening stuff, and there are more gardening books, blogs, and articles than any master gardener could read in a lifetime.
Go In With a Plan
Draw yourself a little map of your garden and plan out what plants should go where, keeping in mind spacing needs and height differences. I recommend starting with a nice round square footage and creating a 1 foot by 1 foot grid for yourself within that space since most plants tend to be spaced out at pretty even fractions of a foot (12, 6, or 4 inches apart) this will made your spacing super simple and easy to translate once you get out to the garden. The plan you see above was based on two 4′x4′ plots, and divided each square foot up when I needed to. Once you have your layout complete, make a list of the plants and the quantities you’ll need, AND STICK TO THE LIST. It is far too easy to get overexcited when you get to the nursery and buy a whole farm’s worth of vegetables, which I promise you will only cause you heartbreak if you don’t have the time to commit to that many plants.
If you have never gardened before, and can keep the plants in your care healthy and happy, you will be blown away by the amount of produce you can get from just a few plants. Even keeping two or three tomato plants on an apartment patio could put a major dent in your weekly grocery budget with the additional satisfaction of growing them yourself. One of my all time favorite gardening books is (affiliate link) Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work and I still have the well loved, stained, paper back copy boasting “A Guide to Accompany the Popular PBS Show!” that my parents used to build their own gardens at every house we’ve lived in. This is where I learned how much you can grow in a tiny 4′x4′ space with the proper care and planning, and that even includes watering only 1-2 times every week!
Don’t Put Too Much Pressure on Yourself
We already have too much stress in our lives, don’t force gardening to be one of those stressors in your life. We bought our first house in 2011, and I have tried and failed to create a garden all three summers so far, but each time I got a little bit closer to the right answer. Use your garden as an excuse for some time away from all the screens we sit in front of, use it to teach your kids about where food comes from and get them excited about new foods, use it as a way to spend more time with your four legged friends (they love to… *ahem* help), but you are not allowed to use it as a reason to bite your fingernails, lose sleep, or beat yourself up. You are going to make mistakes, you are going to kill some plants, you are going to track mud in the house, and you are going to forget to water your garden, and it’s going to be okay. Master gardeners everywhere have gone through the same growing pains, and they are better gardeners for them. Through the trials and triumphs, keep in mind my absolute favorite gardening quote…
Have you ever planted a vegetable garden? What was your most successful year or favorite thing to grow?