I want to eat more fresh vegetables.
I’d like to spend more time outdoors.
Maybe it will save me some money.
It seems fun and relaxing.
I just want to learn something new.
There are boundless reasons to grow your own garden. Regardless of what appeals to you, growing a garden is good for the soul and invigorating for the body. It’s a journey that connects you to the land—one that transports you back to a time when bell peppers didn’t come with a sticker on them.
Whether you live in the cold north or the warm south, in a city center, surrounded by suburbia, or on the outskirts of town; whether you want to grow enough nutritious veggies to feed a family, or would just like a single pot of tomatoes—you can start your own garden this year. And here are some simple steps to get yours up and growing.
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Step 1: Know Your Land
I was born and raised in Utah surrounded by green thumbs. My grandfather was a farmer and my mother is a master gardener. Growing up, I spent many Saturday mornings in the family garden. And now, I grow my own garden in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains.
A lot of quirks come with growing in this dry, ancient lakebed known as the Salt Lake Valley. Annual precipitation is low—humidity is even lower. Our soil can be quite clayish and the summer heat reaches 100° F. The growing season is already quite short, but (to everyone’s frustration) nearly every year a late-winter storm blows through the valley in April, or even May.
Knowing all this is very useful if you plan to grow a garden in Utah, but what about starting a garden where you live? Take time to do some research on your local climate and soil and get to know the land you live on.
A great way to start is to search online for a climate map or hardiness zone map of where you live. A hardiness zone map is essentially a map created by farmers and gardeners to determine which plants will thrive in a specific location. You can find one for the United States here.
Soil type maps can also be found online. Or you can perform some simple soil tests on the dirt you plan to plant. For most vegetables, you’ll want to plant them in loamy soil that is neither too sandy nor too clayish. If you’re considering a non-traditional garden (using raised beds or containers), then your local soil type isn’t a major concern.
Step 2: Choose What Foods to Grow
Once you have a better knowledge of your climate and soil type, you can start to choose what nutritious vegetables and fruits you’d like to grow. This is the fun part! It’s also very important. When it comes to gardening, you literally reap what you sow. As you decide what to grow in your first garden, keep these points in mind:
Choose veggies/fruits you’ll eat.
Like most aspects of life, staying motivated is key to your success. If you plant fruits and veggies you’re excited to harvest and use, whether for eating fresh or preserving, you’ll be much more invested in nurturing the plant to yield a good crop.
Select plants that will grow.
Use the knowledge you’ve learned about your local climate and soil to help you decide what to grow. I would love to grow artichokes or blueberries, but they simply don’t grow well in our climate. Grow plants that will thrive where you plant them.
Avoid choosing too many plants.
A common mistake rookie gardeners make is to simply plant too many varieties of vegetables or fruit. Too large of a garden can be hard to keep up with the watering and weeding. And if you don’t harvest a good crop, you may be put off from gardening for a while. I recommend sticking with 2–3 of your favorite veggies or fruits your first year.
Start from sprouts or seedlings.
For your first garden, I recommend planting sprouts or seedlings instead of growing from seed. You can typically buy vegetable seedlings at any supermarket or hardware store with a gardening section, but I suggest purchasing from a local greenhouse or nursery.
Step 3: Prepare Your Garden for Planting
Now, you need to prepare a cozy place for your little seedlings to live. Most fruit and veggie plants thrive best in full sun (6–8 hours of direct sunlight a day). So make sure wherever you choose to put your garden it isn’t mainly in the shade.
There are few ways to prepare your garden, each with their own pros and cons. Take a look at the options below to decide which is best for you.
Traditional (or in-ground) gardening is as humble as it sounds. You simply till a section of your lawn and plant your seeds right in the ground.
- Pros: Cost effective and easy to start.
- Cons: Your local soil might be off balance or not nutrient-rich, you may have lots of weeds, and it can be wasteful on water.
Gardening with raised beds made from wood or brick is a great way for anyone to grow a good crop.
- Pros: Soil is elevated to allow better drainage, weeding is easier, and you can choose the soil you use.
- Cons: It can be expensive, and building/placing the beds is quite a commitment.
Growing a garden in containers is great for those trying to maximize the space they have. You can place them on a patio or balcony for a great garden experience.
- Pros: Great if you live in an apartment or condo and you can choose the soil you use.
- Cons: Pots tend to dry out faster and their size can limit plant growth.
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The End of the Beginning: Plant!
You know your land, you know what to grow, and you know how and where to grow them. Now, you just need to plant your seeds or seedlings by following the instructions they came with, or by researching the plant online. Make sure you know how deep to plant them, how much distance they should have from other plants, and how often to water them.
It may feel like the end, but it’s really just the beginning. You are now the sole protector and steward of these little green sprouts. The internet and local library are great resources if you have any questions or concerns as you nurture your new garden. Later this summer, I’ll also be back to discuss some common obstacles new gardeners may face as their gardens grow. So stay tuned for more gardening info.
Not only does tending a garden give you greater access to fresh, nutritious fruits and veggies, but recent studies have shown it may even have positive effects on mental health. Whatever you plant, I wish you good luck and may your harvest be plenty.