Even if you've killed every houseplant you've ever had!
Growing your own food is a great way to be a bit more self-sufficient, save money on organic veggies, and reduce your carbon footprint.
Plus, you may find that your homegrown veggies just taste better than the ones you can get at the grocery store!
You can even customize your crops to fill your need for obscure, hard to find, or expensive vegetables to ensure you always have a ready supply.
It all sounds good, right?
But when it comes to actually, you know, starting a garden you may find yourself hesitating.
I’ve been there.
There’s so much to know and do and what if you don’t water it enough or too much and everything dies? All your hard work and investment will be down the drain.
You can do this.
I’ll show you how.
Why Should I Grow My Own Food?
If you’re not totally convinced that the benefits of growing your own food will be worth the hassle, let me throw you some facts.
Did you know that 8% of the average person’s total carbon footprint comes from the food they eat?
A lot of this comes from just moving the food around from farm to store to your house.
That’s not to mention the excessive amounts of water that’s used to grow commercial crops or the synthetic fertilizers that may be used on them!
Growing your own food cuts transportation down to the few steps from your garden to the kitchen, and you’re in total control of what fertilizers and pesticides you choose to use on your plants. If you’re already composting your household food scraps, you’ve got a great, natural fertilizer on hand. If you’re not composting yet, now’s the perfect time to start!
You can also conserve water through careful planning of the crops you choose to plant in your garden. Native crops are well adapted to the climate in your area and better able to thrive on the amount of sun and rain that occurs naturally. You can also start collecting rainwater and storing it to be used on a sunny day when your plants need a drink.
Ok, I’m Convinced...But How Do I Do This?
Great! Once you’re committed to starting your own garden, it can be tempting to just dive right into the deep end.
But to achieve optimal results (and avoid getting discouraged midway through) I’ll advise you not to bite off more than you can chew.
For your first food garden, start out small. Remember, you can always scale things up later!
Read through each of these gardening styles to get a feel for what each one entails, then choose the one that seems right for you.
Style 1: The Black Thumb Approach
For the absolute beginner or someone who’s tried and failed at this whole gardening thing before, we have Level 1.
If your plant-growing instincts aren’t as finely tuned, you can often fill the gap with technology. Moisture sensors, watering reminders, or even fully automated systems can keep track of your plants’ needs when you have other things on your mind.
There are a variety of products aimed at black-thumbed apartment dwellers that allow you to grow your own herbs, food, or flowers indoors. High tech hydroponic all-in-one devices with grow lights and Bluetooth that sends an alert to your phone if something goes wrong can really take the guesswork out of gardening.
If you haven’t had any success with gardening on your own, you have an extremely busy schedule, or you just like to have the latest gadgets, these types of systems may be the perfect solution for you.
Often, all you have to do is choose the plants you’d like to grow, pop them in the device, and maybe top it up with a little water every now and then.
Your plant choices may be limited by the seed pods that are available for your specific device, but there are some that allow you to plant your own seeds. Typical offerings include a variety of herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, salad greens, peppers, and sometimes even flowering plants.
It couldn’t be simpler!
Style 2: Easy and Inexpensive
Of course, the problem with high tech garden gadgetry is that it tends to inflate your startup costs quite a bit.
There are ways to DIY your own automated systems for less, but I think that falls a bit outside of the “beginner” spectrum.
So, if you want to grow your own food while keeping your costs low, you’re going to have to get your hands dirty!
A windowsill herb garden is the perfect first foray into growing your own food. Keep it on a sunny kitchen window, and you’ll always have a bit of fresh basil on hand to jazz up your marinara.
Start with mature plants so that you won’t need to worry about germinating seeds and transplanting seedlings. When you start with healthy, grown plants, all you need to do is keep them that way!
The most critical part of a healthy herb garden is choosing a good spot for it. Most herbs are sun-loving, so make sure you set them up in a nice, bright spot.
The next step in starting your herb garden is choosing which herbs you want to grow. This will largely be based on what you use frequently in your cooking, or even what you like the look or smell of. Just make sure that all of the plants you choose need the same level of light, and that it matches the spot you have available to plant them.
Basil, sage, parsley, cilantro, thyme, dill, chives, oregano, rosemary, mint, and even catnip are all good choices for a beginner.
There should be a little tag by each plant that gives you that information, but if you don’t see one, you can always ask a garden center employee or do a quick search! Pick up a bag of potting soil while you’re there, as well as a small trowel, some gardening gloves, and a small container (with drainage) for each plant.
Once you get your plants home, you’ll need to transfer them from their plastic pots into their new containers. It’s pretty easy, just put a little soil in the bottom of each container, gently pull the plant by the stalk out of the plastic pot, pop them into the new container, and cover over with soil, pressing down gently. Once you’ve done that, give them all a good drink and set them up in their new home.
As far as maintenance goes, it’s important not to overwater your plants. More water is not always better. You should only water them when the soil feels dry about an inch or two down, which can happen at different rates depending on the temperature, humidity, and other factors. Unfortunately, setting up a recurring reminder in your calendar won’t produce the best results. You have to actually get hands-on and stick your finger down into the dirt on a regular basis to know when your plants need watering.
Now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor!
To harvest your tasty herbs, prune back no more than ⅓ of the plants overall foliage. For most plants, they’ll grow back quickest if you snip right at the intersection of two stalks.
Congratulations, you’re growing your own food!
Style 3: Grocery Store Gardener
If you want to keep your expenses to an absolute minimum, or don’t want to make a trip to the garden center, you can still start growing your own food.
In fact, a lot of the everyday items you buy at the grocery store can actually be regrown at home from practically nothing.
This is one of gardening’s best-kept secrets, but knowing how to get a few extra servings out of your produce can do a lot to stretch your grocery budget, and it gives you the satisfaction of growing your own food at home with minimal effort.
So, what can you grow?
Actually, lots of stuff!:
You can regrow green onions just by sticking them in some water and letting them get a little sun. When you want some for your tacos, just snip a bit off the top and let them regrow again. They’ll keep at it time after time. Plus, they stay fresh this way instead of going all limp and slimy in the fridge drawer.
If you’re a garlic lover, you’ll be pleased to know that you can grow an entire new bulb from just a single clove of the old one. If you notice a clove starting to sprout, it’s the perfect time to try out this technique, though it will work either way.
Prop the clove root side down in shallow water for a day or so, until a green shoot starts to emerge out of the top. Once you see the shoot, it’s time to plant the clove in soil, leaving nothing visible except for the little green shoot.
Water it occasionally, and after a few months, the green shoots on top will turn yellow and start to wilt. That’s how you know it’s ready. Dig your garlic out and you’ll find that you have another full bulb, ready to eat!
Ginger, celery, bok choy, leeks, heads of lettuce, onions, potatoes, fennel, lemongrass, turnip greens, and even citrus fruits and avocados can be regrown in this way (though, realistically, you’ll be waiting several years for the fruit trees to mature enough to bear fruit.)
Grocery store gardening is a simple way to reuse food scraps that may otherwise go to waste and offers the perfect introduction to growing your own food.
It’s something virtually anyone can do, so why not give it a try?
A freelance writer working with bighearted businesses who want to better our world.