You Don’t Have to Know a Thing About Gardening to Grow Your Own Food

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Gardening is one of my favorite pastimes, and as a budding herbalist, it's one of the most important skills you can learn! Today I have a fantastic treat for you! One of my favorite blogging friends, Susannah Shmurak is an avid food gardener, sharing her wisdom on her awesome blog, HealthyGreenSavvy, and she is here to share her wisdom with us today, on getting started gardening! After you read her post, don't forget to check out her blog! -With love, Christina

Never grown your own? You can start RIGHT NOW.

Do you love all things green but think vegetable gardening might be more than you can manage? Don’t let that stop you from growing your own food! Here’s the deal: gardening can be complicated and time-consuming, but you don’t actually have to “garden” to grow your own. Many people don’t grow food because they find all the gardening info out there overwhelming. And it can be!

My advice: Don’t bother trying to learn it before you jump

I’m a firm believer in “good enough” gardening, and think everyone should just try growing something and see what happens. It doesn’t have to cost you a thing, so if one of your experiments doesn’t work out, nothing lost. Why not give it a whirl and see what happens? Here’s how I suggest you start, with a tiny investment of time, and little or no money:

Call your local Freecycle for some extra seeds

Most gardeners have waaaaay too many seeds and are often digging up plants that they’re happy to see go to someone else, especially someone trying gardening for the first time.

  • Seeds: Ask for lettuces or other salad greens, which sprout easily and grow quickly. Radishes are another quick-growing option, though not everyone likes them. (Save trickier stuff like tomatoes, eggplants, and broccoli for when you’re a little more advanced.)
  • Plants: See what perennial food plants gardeners in your area have to divide. What you can plant depends on your climate, so if a gardener has something that’s been around awhile, you know you’ve got something that likes it in your climate. Ask for things you think you might actually use in cooking, like oregano or thyme, or other herbs you can use in Hippy Homemaker natural remedies.

When you go get your plant, ask the gardener for any tips they have about that particular plant and you’ve found yourself a teacher. (For example, they may warn you about mints, which like to take over, and should be planted in pots or areas you don’t mind them overrunning.) Alternatively, if you don’t mind spending a few bucks, get a plant at your local garden center and pump the staff for information that you might need.

When you’ve got your division or seeds, decide if you’re going to tuck your first edible into your landscape or would rather plant in a container. You need at least 4 hours of sun, but more is better. The advantage of pots is that you can move them around to get more sun. The disadvantage is that you need to buy soil for them and they need more frequent watering.

Planting instructions:

In your landscape:

Plants: Dig a hole about twice as deep and wide as your plant, and fill it back in. You want those roots to have an easy time getting comfortable. If your soil is very dense, it’s a good idea to mix in some sand and/or compost. (If you purchased a plant, be sure to pull apart the roots, which get what’s called “root bound” in a nursery pot. You can either pull them apart with your hands or make some cuts with a utility knife.)

Plant your division so the roots are buried just below the level of the soil. The depression around the plant will help catch water, which means you’ll have to water less and it’ll make your plant happy. Press the soil down gently so your plant is nicely tucked in and water it thoroughly. Check the soil about an inch down every few days and give it another good soaking if the soil’s dried out. Better to water less often with more water than vice versa to encourage roots to grow down deep.

If you’re planting seeds: dig up a small area and mix up the soil to make it good and loose. It’s helpful to add some compost if you have it to give the seeds some nutrition, but you might get by without.

You can follow the planting instructions on the seed packet, but ignore the part about rows, since you’re not doing a whole row garden. If the spacing says 2” you can just put in each seed two inches from any other seed. Feel free to mix and match so you can enjoy a variety of yummy greens.

Water well and be sure to water often enough that your soil and seeds stay moist or your seeds won’t sprout. Rain might do a lot of it for you. Check your soil every couple days it doesn’t rain till the seeds start sprouting, and every 3 or so days thereafter.

Putting down some sort of mulching material will help keep the soil moist and prevent weeds from invading. Food plants don’t like the shredded wood used in other parts of the home landscape, so look for some grass clippings, straw, or shredded leaves a neighbor might be getting rid of. (Whole leaves form mats that block water, so best to avoid piles of them.)

In a container:

Upcycle any kind of container, from a recycling bin to a cut-off milk jug. (Some people even plant in old shoes!) Just drill a few ¼” holes in the bottom if your container doesn’t already have them. Alternatively, find planters cheap at garage sales, or even borrow one). Get yourself a bag of potting soil from a garden center, hardware store, or see if a generous neighbor has some to share if you’re just planting a small pot.

A plant division can also be tucked into a container; bigger plants will need bigger containers. Instructions for planting seeds are the same as above. You should be enjoying your very first greens or herbs in a matter of weeks. Yum!

Get Growing with my FREE e-book!

I love getting newbie gardeners on the road to growing their own food. My FREE e-book, Get Growing! has more details on planting these and other edibles, as well as some sneaky ways to save yourself time and money in the garden. Head on over to my website and check it out.

If you’re ready to take on some more complicated projects, check out Angela England’s inspiring new book, “Gardening Like a Ninja,” which has tons of sneaky ways to incorporate fruit, herbs, and veggies into your yard design.

Photo credits: Kate Bolin, Thomas Kriese, Woodleywonderworks via Flickr

Susannah Shmurak is an avid food gardener whose blog, HealthyGreenSavvy, offers practical, money-saving tips on gardening, food, and low-impact living. Growing some of your own food is just one of the strategies for eating well on a budget shared in her free guide to making healthy food affordable.

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