Growing your own food is a hands-on way to lower your foodprint.
When you grow your own food you take control of every step of the growing process — from seed selection and soil and pest management all the way to harvesting and composting. Plus a garden can provide a relaxing way to connect with nature and work with your hands.
And while a home garden might sound intimidating, gardening can be done on any scale, from a windowsill of kitchen herbs to a backyard vegetable plot. With the right plan in hand, a home garden can easily fit the demands of busy lives and tight budgets.
Ready to get gardening? We’ve got plenty of resources to get you started, including a step-by-step gardening guide and seed selection information, plus lots of resources for making best use of your fresh produce.
The idea of growing your own food can seem intimidating: you need a lot of space, sun and great soil for that, right? But gardening can be anything from a windowsill herb garden to a few pots of cherry tomato plants on a small patio or ledge. The rewards of daily plant care – watering, weeding, harvesting – are fresh, home-grown foods that really can’t be beat.
In order to do gardening right, you just need a plan. And lucky for you, we’ve got a step-by-step guide to get you from zero to full grown garden plot. So take some time this winter (it’s best to start early, before the gardening season actually starts) to map out your plan, and come summer time, you’ll be swimming in veggies — or have an apartment full of herbs — whatever works best for you.
The first step of successful garden plan is understanding your space. Although you might want a full-fledged garden, does your backyard get good sunlight, have steep slopes or have areas with lots of tree roots?
There are a lot of things to consider when picking out a garden space. The ideal garden has great soil, gets six to eight hours of sunlight a day and is spacious enough for the plants growing in it. Conducting a soil test beforehand is also a good idea; these tests can help make sure the soil will provide the essential nutrients and isn’t contaminated. Soil test kits can be purchased online, and may also be offered at agriculture colleges.
Once you evaluate your space, you’ll also want to consider your gardening goals. Think about how much, time, effort and money you want to put into your plot. Some plants take more maintenance than others; first time gardeners might decide to start small and can always add in more later if things are going well.
Once you have an idea of your goals and garden size, it’s time to pick your seeds. A guide like the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help determine what plants will thrive in your area and will make it easier to choose the right plant varieties. There are a number of organic, non-GMO seed companies to choose from that offer heirloom, vegetable, flower and herb seeds.
Visit our Sustainable Seed Resources page to find the best sources for heirloom and sustainable seeds.
Next you’ll need to map out your garden. Seed packets often include spacing in terms of traditional, farm-based row cropping, so using a plant spacing chart can help determine how much space you need to leave between your seeds for ideal garden growing. Creating a calendar and to-do list for your garden — with tasks such as planting seedlings, setting up your outdoor space and transplanting seedlings — will also set you up for success.
The best gardener is a prepared gardener. Here are some of our favorite websites and books to help you get started.
Think a cramped apartment means you can’t have a home garden? Think again. Depending on your living situation, urban dwellers can grow food both inside and out, utilizing whatever space might be available. From windowsill baskets to stairway pots, urban gardeners have a wide variety of options using several different techniques.
The key to urban gardening is taking advantage of opportunities to maximize vertical space. Using window sills and edible hanging baskets are easy options, but there are plenty of great DIY ideas for bringing plants inside. Use a steel mesh, wood trellis or other wall rack to create an indoor garden wall.
If you do have some outdoor space, such as a rooftop, side yard or small balcony, establish your plants in a raised bed or large containers, and then maximize the vertical space with a trellis system for plants that vine, such as tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumbers, beans, peas, etc. For balcony gardens, you can grow plants such as tomatoes, peppers or eggplants upside down in hanging buckets to make the most of the space.
If want to expand beyond the limited space of apartment gardening, you might also consider joining a community garden near you. Not only will you gain the space to have a full garden set-up, but you’ll also have access to a community of other gardners, including those with years of experience who are likely to be willing to share tips on the growing conditions of the plot and other advice. For additional resources on city garden projects, check out Urban Organic Gardener.
Whether working indoors, outdoors or both, you’ll find that small city spaces can have a great deal to offer for growing food.