Starting a garden at your home can be a process that can be as simple or complex as you’d like it to be. However, with some level of uncertainty in today’s market caused by disease and civil unrest, it’s more important than ever to be able to secure even a small portion of your food supply chain. Your garden can be as simple as tossing a couple of pre-potted tomato plants out onto your patio or as complex as a market garden with regular soil tests, automated irrigation and maximizing your harvest. The level of commitment and involvement can be based entirely on your preferences, budget, lifestyle and time constraints. Here’s a look into how to successfully start a home garden that will provide you and your household with fresh produce for many months to come.
How to Start a Successful Home Garden
Consider the Garden Type
A garden no longer needs to be a patch of tilled earth, with no-till gardening providing plenty of opportunity for easy gardening. You can choose to work with raised beds to make it easier to reach the plants if you have bad knees. Interested in growing fish alongside of your vegetables or want to take the garden inside? Aquaponics may work well for your situation. If you just want a few plants on your balcony or patio, a container garden can provide you with plenty of options.
Take an hour or two to look at the different types of gardens, then consider which one will be the best fit to your home, lifestyle, budget and family situation. Once you find one that is a good fit, do a little more research on that specific type of gardening so that you can go into the rest of the process knowing what you’re looking for and how to go about it.
Finding the Right Location
Generally speaking, garden plants will want a lot of sunlight. In most situations, if you plant your rows north to south, your plants will get equal access to sunlight. In some situations, such as with slopes, this can actually be problematic if that alignment goes straight down a hill, causing erosion. In this situation, you can plant east to west rows, just be sure that your tallest plants are planted on the north side of the garden, so that they won’t overshadow the other plants you’re growing, which can limit their growth.
What about access to water? Consider not only where you’ll get water in to your garden, but also where water may drain out of your garden. Is it close to paths of travel but not blocking them? It can be easy to fail to consider that many plants get larger as they grow and not provide enough growing space, making it hard to get through and easy to damage your plants. Can you easily get material to and from the garden? If you’re planning on having a particularly large garden, you’ll want to be able to easily get soil, plants and produce where you need them without a lot of extra work. Are you planning on growing trellis plants, such as pole beans, climbing peas, cucumbers or other plants that will grow tall? Make sure you can get proper support into that area of your garden, or consider bush-habit forms of these vegetables.
Preparing the Soil
The way that you prepare the soil will depend on the type of garden you’re creating. If you’re going with a no-till system, you’ll want to take the time to sterilize the weed seed bed that lies beneath the surface. This is easily done by spreading black plastic over the surface of the area you’re planning on gardening and leaving it in place for a week or two, which uses solar heat to bake the seeds and leave them unable to germinate. After this point, you’ll want to topdress the soil with any amendments that you’ll need to boost your soil nutrition.
If you’ve chosen to till your soil, make sure that you’re adding the soil amendments that you’ll need prior to your final tilling, to ensure that the nutrients and amendments are distributed throughout the soil. In either situation, consider adding extra calcium for heavy feeders, such as tomatoes and other nightshade-family plants such as peppers, eggplant and potatoes. This will help prevent blossom-end rot in these plants.
Seeds or Plants?
Another option to consider is whether you should start with seeds or plants. Seeds provide an economic option to raising a wide range of different vegetables. However, it can also have its issues, such as keeping up with weeds until the plants are growing and well-established or finding an area in your home where tender seedlings can grow without the predations of your dog, cat or kids. At our place, it’s usually the cats, because the seedlings are up high.
By comparison, purchasing plants to start your garden provides you with well-established plants that are ready to start producing. This allows you to avoid the perils of late frosts, damping-off disease in seedlings and similar issues that can sometimes arise. Generally speaking, if you’re able to find plants in multi-packs that produce fruit, such as tomatoes or peppers, you’ll be able to save money as compared to cabbage, lettuce or other one-off plants that have to be used all at once.
Once you’ve established your garden, you’ll need to protect it. Adding mulch around your seedlings can help keep weeds to a minimum, but especially as it rains and starts to get hot out, you may find yourself dealing with weeds more and more. Pulling weeds directly after a deep watering or heavy rain can be a bit muddy, but a farmer’s trick is to wait for these times, because the soil will loosen up and the weeds will be much easier to pull at this time. Try to get as much of the weed out as you can, so that it won’t grow back up from the roots underground.
Insect pests come in all shapes and sizes, and in many cases can be very destructive to your garden. Keep a look out, checking the undersides of your leaves and areas near the ground where insects like to hang out, especially during the hottest parts of the day. One option for flying insects that lay eggs for destructive caterpillars on your plants is to add floating row covers, which are made up of lightweight fabric that prevents the insects from laying eggs on your plants in the first place. If disease pops up in your crop, remove the damaged tissue and treat it as needed for that specific disease.
The Down Low on Watering
Questions about watering have plagued gardeners since the dawn of time, but they have a relatively easy answer – you should water enough that your plants thrive without drowning or wilting. If you hit the point that the soil is staying saturated, back off. If the plants start to droop, add more water. For the average spring and fall, you’ll want to put an inch of water per week on your garden, increasing to two in the summer. The easiest way to measure this is to put down a tuna or cat food can when you’re watering. When it’s half full, stop. You’ve just put a half inch of water on your garden.
Keeping Up With Nutrition
It’s important to keep track of the nutrients that are available to your plants. You can do this with a simple soil test, or by watching when plants show specific signs of nutrient deficiency. Though there are too many nutrients to cover in this article, we’ll cover the basics of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium deficiencies, as well as how to handle a calcium deficiency.
Nitrogen deficiency shows up in poor plant growth and yellowing leaves, especially in the older leaves as the plant shifts priority to the more important young growth. Though it can be tempting to go overboard in nitrogen supplementation, it’s a bad idea – you’ll end up with strong growth on your plant tops, which will whither whenever it’s hot and dry, because the growth of the top outpaces the root growth that’s needed to keep up with it. Adding a quality compost, feather meal or blood meal to your soil or interplanting with nitrogen-fixing legumes such as beans or peas can make a huge difference in your garden’s nitrogen content.
In a phosphorus deficiency, the leaf’s tips will look burnt, after which the leaves themselves will take on a deep green or even a red-purple tone. It doesn’t dissolve much in water, but your soil’s pH can drastically impact the plant’s ability to take up phosphorus, so if adding it to your soil doesn’t seem to help, it’s important to take steps to increase the pH with hydrated lime or lower the pH (more common in western states) using sulfur. To get phosphorus into the ground quickly, calphos is one of the best organic supplements available.
Potassium deficiency can be determined by looking at the old growth first, as the leaves will begin to yellow between the veins and a burnt appearance will start to appear at the edges of the leaves. Because potassium or potash can be easily leached into water, this deficiency may show up after the soil has stayed wet for a while and then run off, such as a garden located on a slope after a week or two of heavy rainstorms. Kelp meal and powdered seaweed can do a great job of increasing your soil’s potassium levels to keep your plants growing productively.
Calcium is mentioned because it is one of the nutrients that can be the most problematic in the garden. If you’ve noticed that your tomatoes or other fruits are forming brown spots on the blossom end of the fruit, an issue known as blossom-end rot, your plants have a calcium deficiency. You can quickly treat it by pouring milk into the soil at the plant’s base, then adding hydrated lime around the plant. This allows calcium to quickly get into your soil, but the fine particle size means it won’t stick around for long. Add another layer of crushed oyster shell to keep the calcium going through the end of the growing season.
Enjoying Your Harvest
Now that you’ve raised some produce, what’s next? For fruits and leaves that grow above ground, a good rinse in cold water as well as a few moments spent making sure you’re not getting any bugs or dirt into your dinner is all that’s required before you start cooking. Trim away any damaged areas that you wouldn’t want into your food and use it like you would most other produce.
For root vegetables, however, a little more work is required to get it ready for the table, but this farm wife’s trick will help keep the mess down to a minimum. Once you’ve dug or pulled the root from the ground, allow it to sit for 30 minutes to an hour so that the dirt on the surface of the root can dry. Then take a scrub brush and lightly scrub the surface of the vegetable, which will make most of the dirt fall off outside, rather than clogging up your sink’s plumbing. After all the roots have had an initial cleaning, give them a good scrub in the kitchen sink to get rid of any remaining dirt.
By starting a home garden, you’ll be able to better weather the challenges life throws at you this year. If you’re ready to get started, why not take a look at some of the high-quality gardening supplies Redbud Soil Company has to offer? When you’re ready, our experienced team can help ensure that you’re making the right choice for your home, lifestyle and situation. Please feel free to reach out today for more details, with any questions or to place an order.