Nothing compares to the taste of a cucumber or tomato just picked from the vine from your own backyard. Gardening is a fun physical activity, providing you great tasting produce while saving you trips to the store. In addition, it’s a perfect way to learn about where food comes from and appreciate how much effort goes in to producing the foods we eat every day.
Here are a few easy steps to gardening and growing your own nutritious food:
Create your space. If you’re starting your garden on a patch of lawn, you can build up from the ground with raised beds, or plant directly in the ground. Building raised beds is a good idea if your soil is poor or doesn’t drain well. This approach is usually more expensive, however, and requires more initial work than planting in the ground. Before buying plants or seeds, calculate how much space you have (ground or container) that gets adequate sun. Most vegetable plants require at least six hours of light each day.
Know what grows. When buying your plants, ask what varieties will do best in the conditions you have to work with. For example, several compact tomato plants do particularly well in containers. If you are a novice gardener, consider buying seedlings. Doing so increases your chances of success, especially with crops such as eggplants, peppers and tomatoes which require a long growing season.
Check your soil quality. If you aren’t sure about the quality of soil in your backyard, use a testing kit to see if you need to reinforce it with any nutrients. After you’ve planted your plants, add some mulch. Just about any organic matter, such as straw or grass clippings, can be used as mulch. Mulch deters weeds, helps retain moisture, and adds organic matter to the soil as it decays
Start small. Your garden can be as simple as a potted tomato plant or a few herbs (see earlier post Five Herbs Worth Trying!). Here are some instructions on how to start an herb garden. All you need are some small pots, soil, seeds, and sunny spot in your house. Also practice patience when gardening. Rather than trying to plant your garden during one busy weekend, space your planting out over the course of several weeks by using short rows. Every time you harvest a row or pull one out that has stopped producing, try to plant a new one. This is known as “succession planting”.
Maintain your garden. Fruits and vegetables are made mostly of water, so you’ll need to make sure your plants are getting enough to drink. This is especially important for seedlings that haven’t developed a deep root structure. You’ll want to water them lightly every day or two. Once the crops are maturing, they need about an inch of water per week, and more in sandy soils or hot regions.
Learn more about growing you own food at the Resident Garden at Segundo: a space for all on-campus residents to learn about edible plants, how they are grown and cared for and how they can be prepared after harvesting.