Growing Your Own Food

Growing your own food is a hands-on way to lower your foodprint.

When you are growing your own food you are in 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.

Gardening 101

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.

1. Understand Your Space

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.

2. Think About Your Gardening Goals

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.


3. Choose Your Seeds

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.

4. Make a Map

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.

More Gardening Resources for Growing Your Own Food

The best gardener is a prepared gardener. Here are some of our favorite websites and books to help you get started.

Gardening Websites

  • Gardener’s Supply Company: Here are some helpful tips for first-timers, including the best type of plants for beginners and how to time your efforts to maximize your transplanting success.
  • Mother Earth News: Check out these tips about which seed starting mix and containers to use and why, how much light and heat to give your seeds and what to expect from your seedlings as they progress.
  • New York Botanical Garden (video): Follow along as Sonia Uyterhoeven from the New York Botanical Garden shows you how to start seeds indoors.
  • Smart Gardener: This online garden planner is a great resource to map out your garden. Their database of 3,000 organic, non GMO plants will help you decide what to grow, plot out how much space you need to alot for the plants you’ve chosen and make a helpful garden to-do list and schedule.
  • American Horticultural Society Gardening Resources: If you are looking for more books, tips, or information, this list of gardening resources from the American Horticultural Society (the experts when it comes to gardening) has you covered. They also have tons of information in their The American Gardener, a bi-monthly magazine that covers a variety of gardening topics.
  • Farmers’ Almanac: A classic farming hand book, the website edition of the almanac has a U.S. Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which can help determining which plants are suitable for which areas as well as a gardening calendar with dates to do certain tasks by.
  • National Gardening Association: If you are looking for my educational resources, the National Gardening Association has online gardening courses along with robust guides for gardening a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • Cornell University Garden Based Learning: These educational resources from Cornell University are garden-based activities that can be used for a short or longer term project. designed to target ages 6-14, although they are adaptable for other ages.

Gardening Books

  • The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch: This classic gardening book with an emphasis on sustainable methods is a user-friendly gardening encyclopedia jam-packed with gardening facts, helpful hints, landscape design advice, tips on gardening gear, how to buy plants and specifics for individual plants.

Growing Your Own Food in Small Spaces

Think a cramped apartment means you can’t grow your own food? 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.

Maximizing Indoor Space

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.

Maximizing Outdoor Space

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. 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.

Join a Community Garden

If you 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 gardeners, 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.

Top photo by Money Business/Adobe Stock.