Join me as I show you How to Grow Your Best Garden! Does starting a garden feel overwhelming? Not sure where to begin? Keep reading as I answer the top questions for growing your own food.
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What do I need to grow my best garden?
Growing a garden does not require much. There are so many ways to begin that do not require expensive gadgets or lots of stuff.
A good hand shovel, gloves, kneeling pad, a garden hose or watering can, and your packs of seeds or plant starts are what I recommend beginning with. From there you will gain a better understanding of things you need and things you don’t.
For instance, weeding may prove more comfortable with a small bench or chair instead of a kneeling pad. Or maybe you prefer a different style of gardening gloves or none at all. Take time to discover what type of gardener you are and then you will know for sure what items are essentials.
Below we will discuss soil amendments, plants, deciding on a location, and other helpful hints for getting your garden planned and planted.
What is my growing zone?
Learning about your growing zone is an important piece of information when planning your garden. You need to know what you can plant and when to plant it.
A growing zone will tell give you an estimate of when your first and last frost dates will be. This is important when deciding when to start seeds indoors and when to direct sow or transplant seedlings outside.
A great resource for this information (and lots of other helpful gardening info) is your local cooperative extension office. Another option is The Old Farmer’s Almanac or you can even just google “last frost date” or “growing zone.”
You will refer back to this information when starting your seeds and when you are planting both your spring garden and fall garden. This will ensure that you will have adequate time in your growing season for your plants to mature.
How do I know if I have the right soil to grow a garden?
Loamy, sandy, clay, mix? Unfortunately most soil type are dependent on your geographical location.
For instance, when I lived in Pennsylvania we had dark, gorgeous, loose soil. Perfect for just about any vegetable or fruit you want to plant. Now that we are in Virginia, our soil is a little more clay based and requires amendments to make it more fruitful.
Some plants grow better in certain types of soil. Will your soil need amended or supplemented with certain minerals such as calcium or potassium? Knowing what nutrients your soil is both deficient and proficient in is essential to growing a healthy garden that produces well.
Soil testing is a great way to determine what your garden may need. Your local cooperative extension office will often have kits for you to gather some soil and send it off for testing. You may also find such kits at your local garden center.
Healthy garden soil is essential because it will provide your plants with the nutrients they need to grow well and produce an abundant harvest.
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If you have thick clay, like I do, you may want to consider raised beds in the future if you decide gardening is a hobby you want to continue.
As someone who tried for many years to amend my soil without much benefit. I will sing the praises of my raised garden beds and how well they produce compared to my bare soil.
I give partial credit to the ability to craft your own soil in a raised bed and partial credit to the composted soil we added. But more on that later.
Soil amendment can be very beneficial for this type of dirt. Compost, manure from a local farm, or even natural fertilizers can work wonders to boost the nutrients and minerals in your garden.
On the topic of compost, one very strong recommendation I offer, is to check your local garden center and see if they offer compost for sale. Our local garden center has something they call Moo Poo.
Moo Poo is a combination of cow manure, leaves, and wood chips that has been heated and aged. It was incredibly reasonable for a pickup truck load, and has made a huge difference in the yield of my garden.
At the end of your growing season, cover crops are a wonderful way to prepare the soil for growing your best garden next year.
What are the best vegetables to grow in my garden?
The best vegetables to grow are the ones your family will eat.
Take inventory of what your family typically eats. You don’t want to grow banana peppers if no one will eat banana peppers. Also, you will need to check your growing zone to know what you can and cannot successfully grow in your climate.
If your garden will be in an area of your yard that receives full sun (6 hours or more), this is where you will want to plant fruit and root vegetables to have the tastiest crop and the best yield.
Planting in a space that only gets 2 to 4 hours of sun? This is where many of your herbs and leafy greens will thrive.
Mostly shaded areas that still receive some sun are best for leaf lettuce, spinach, some varieties of cabbage, radishes, leeks, and turnip greens.
Being able to utilize different locations in your yard for different plants will not only diversify what you can grow but it will give you the ability to maximize the space you have.
Space is also an important consideration. Not only how much space you have for your garden, but also how much growing space does each plant require.
When space is a concern, you may want to plant vegetables that are high yield and continue to produce through the growing season. You can also utilize succession planting.
In brief summary, succession planting is when you plant a crop and then again in a few weeks and so on. This allows for a higher yield because you continually have a new crop coming up.
Some high yield vegetables are leaf lettuce, cucumbers, kale, bush beans, chard, tomatoes, summer squash, peppers, and pole beans.
Vine plants such as peas or beans are another great solution when space is limited. Many plants can be grown vertically, especially plants that tend to vine such as cucumbers.
Do I grow from seed or buy seedlings to transplant?
Both. Depending on the particular plant and the length of my growing season, I start seeds inside and I direct sow some and transplant seedlings when the threat of frost has passed.
You can start plants from seed, or buy plants as seedlings directly from a local garden center or even your farmers market. Some of the big box home improvement stores have garden centers as well.
I personally recommend purchasing seedlings to start. The rate of success tends to be a little higher using semi established plants versus nurturing them to life from seed.
Starting from seed can be a bit tricky, at least at first. And putting forth all of that effort only to have your plants flop over can be quite defeating. Ask me how I know. As with anything, time and experience teaches many lessons.
But I will tell you there were many growing seasons in my beginning as a gardener, where my seeds never grew, or grew then got spindly and then wilted over. Which usually resulted in me purchasing plants to try to catch up but then being too late in my growing season to yield a harvest. Eek.
This is one of the main reasons it is so important to know what grows best in your climate, or growing zone, and when you need to plant in the ground to be able to harvest.
How much should I plant to grow enough food for me and my family?
The answer to this depends on your gardening goals. Do you want to grow what you want to eat during the summer?
Want to grow what you need to last you until the next growing season? Are you growing to share with friends and family?
Just like we discussed above, you will want to take inventory of what your family eats. How many times a week does your family typically eat corn? How much do you use for a meal?
Approximately 200 square feet is needed to grow a year’s worth of food for one person. However this is tricky, because each type of plant yields a different amount and that is something that needs to be considered when making these calculations.
Because I cannot give you an exact figure, I highly recommend using The Family Garden Plan by Melissa K. Norris as an essential resource to planning out what your family will consume and thus how much you need to grow.
Examples of Calculating How Much to Grow
For instance, this past fall I canned 2 bushels worth of grapes to make grape juice. We have already used it all. So I will need to consider expanding that amount next season.
Since we were on the topic of corn, I froze quart bags of cut from the cob corn. I used 35 ears of corn, and I think we only have about 4 or 5 bags left.
My ultimate goal is to grow what we will need for the year, but that is a tall order, and takes some effort to build up to.
I personally don’t recommend pursuing that right from the start, but I will not stand in the way of your dreams of a pantry full of mason jars.
How big should my garden space be?
It is so tempting to dive right in to gardening and plant those huge market gardens we see on some YouTube accounts. Trust me, I’ve been there.
And though it pains me to admit it, my pragmatic engineer husband was absolute right in suggesting slow growth (see what I did there?) in expanding my garden space.
My recommendation is to start small. I started with a 10′ x 10′ space, which worked out really well. It gave me enough space for trying a few different plants and some berry bushes, with room to grow (okay, I’ll stop with the puns.)
Don’t forget, the bigger your garden plot, the more weeds there are to pull.
This is definitely something to consider because when the heat of summer approaches, you will want to be some what strategic about your weeding schedule.
Don’t have enough space, or cant dig up your property? Try container planting. We will will talk about that below.
Also, you will need to take into account sun exposure, and how much your plants will require. But we will talk about that below also.
What is a good location for my garden?
Where do you have space that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day? Is there an accessible water source? Any large trees nearby?
Take a walk around your property. What will work best for your space, your needs, and the requirements of the plants you will be growing? For obvious reasons, flat ground is easier to work with.
But if you don’t have any flat ground, you can still make your space work. Just be aware of where the slope is in relation to what you have planted so that you can try to prevent as much run off as possible.
There are so many options when it comes to finding space for gardening. When all else fails, container gardening is an amazing way to still grow your own food.
Container gardening is also a great option for anyone who is renting, has to follow HOA rules, or just is short on space.
Additional Resources for How to Grow Your Best Garden:
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