Home Gardening 101

Along with other homesteading activities like baking fresh bread and regrowing scallions in water, home gardening is having a moment. And whether you’re looking for a relaxing hobby or a way to supplement your groceries with fresh fruits and vegetables, most anyone can start a garden at home. Here are the basics:

Assess your plot (or patch) of space: What you can grow depends on several factors: how big your available space is, how flat it is, and how much sunlight and wind it gets during the day.  

  • Sun: Almost all vegetables and flowers need 6 to 8 hours of sun every day. When you’re shopping at your local garden center or online, make sure to check the tags attached to the plant or ask a staff member about light requirements. For example, if you’re planning on planting in a shaded area you won’t be able to grow tomatoes, but ferns will thrive. 
  • Wind: Strong winds can harm plants, so make sure to find a protected space to plant. Alternatively, set up a box or raised bed: in addition to protecting smaller plants, the walls of raised beds keep nourishing soil inside the bed.
  • Slope: You need a flat piece of land to plant a garden to make sure that when you water your plants, the water doesn’t roll down the hill and pool at the bottom instead of being absorbed into the soil. If your yard is sloped, you might need to create terraces to help make it flat. An easier option is to use a raised bed or small planter box; this is called container gardening. Both of these choices are easier to tend to and keep your seedlings contained and tidy. 

Amp up your soil: Most soil can use a boost to facilitate plant growth. To ensure that the soil in your backyard is fertile, you’ll need to fortify it with organic matter. Start by spreading a layer of compost, manure, or a fertilizer along the top of your garden bed. Then, use a spade or spading fork to turn the top 10 inches of soil, distributing the top layer down into the earth. If you’re using a raised bed or box, look for bags of soil at your local garden center that has fertilizer mixed in to fill your container. Most of them are labeled specifically for the types of plants you’re tending to and whether you’ll be growing indoors or outdoors.

Choose what you want to plant: Are you looking to casually snip some herbs or flowers or would you like to pull seasonal vegetables out of the earth regularly? Are you willing and able to invest time into tending to a garden or are you busy and looking for  something lower maintenance?  Most professional gardeners recommend first-time green thumbs start small to get a real sense of the amount of work it takes. You can always plant more! In addition to your commitment level, you need to choose plants that work for your weather, soil, and amount of sunlight.

Plant at the right time: When you choose your plants, you need to make sure to plant them at the right time of year. Hearty greens like kale can handle cold temperatures so you can plant them in fall. On the other hand, tomatoes, lettuces, and most flowers are warm weather plants, so you’ll need to wait until spring to put those seeds in the ground. You can also choose to plant from seed packs or starter plants. If you’re low on patience, small plants (called transplants or seedlings) provide instant gratification and make it visually easier to spread them evenly into rows in the ground. If you choose seeds, you can start them inside in a sunny place. The easiest way is to use an empty paper egg carton: fill each well with soil and dig a few seeds into each space. You can set them inside a rimmed baking sheet and slowly pour water into the sheet. The water will absorb through the paper carton and keep the seeds hydrated and happy.  Once the weather is right, you can transfer them outside. And speaking of watering…

Water the right way: Seeds and transplants need to stay moist until their roots take hold, so make sure to water them every day to keep the soil moist. Once they are rooted, you can taper back. Check the soil about 4 inches below the top. If it’s dry, it’s time to water. Weather, humidity and your soil type all play a role in your watering schedule. When watering, use the shower setting on your hose nozzle and slowly move the hose around so the water seeps into the ground and doesn’t blast your new plants. First thing in the morning is a great time to water, before the sun heats up the day and can evaporate all your watering efforts.

It’s all about maintenance: So your plants are sprouting and you’re seeing progress. Now is the time to start tending to your garden! To ensure that you get maximum benefit from your efforts, there’s several key actions that will make a big difference:

  • Set up a watering schedule that works for your plants and your environment.
  • Pull weeds and any dead plants.
  • Be on the lookout and get rid of any garden pests.
  • Support plants that are flourishing with stakes or a trellis.
  • Harvest your vegetables when they’re ripe and trim herbs and flowers for use.

Planting and tending to a garden can be a relaxing and rewarding way to get outside and provide a mix of healthy fruits, vegetables, and herbs in your kitchen. If you follow these steps, you’ll be on your way to growing a garden that works for your climate and lifestyle. Start small and grow big!  

Have any garden tips or tricks? Let us know in the comments!

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