Growing your own food is a fun, satisfying, and rewarding experience. From caring for the plants and watching them grow to harvesting and eating the results, the whole process is enjoyable. If you’re ready to start your first edible garden, or want to expand on what you already have, here are some tips for how to start.
Consider a few important questions, first. What edibles do you love to eat and want to grow? How much sun and space do you have? Do you want to grow in containers, in raised beds, or in the ground? Just as important, how much time do you want to devote to growing edibles? Make sure you start with a reasonable amount of plants to fit your lifestyle. You can always expand later.
Decide where you’ll grow your new garden based on what you want to grow and how much sun is required. Most edibles and many flowers need full sun, but if you get at least 4 hours of direct sun it’s possible to grow leafy greens and root vegetables, plus a wide variety of part-sun to shade annuals and perennials. Remember, it is OK to grow edibles in the same area as ornamentals. In fact, pollinators are better off when they have a large variety of flowers to choose from. The more blooms the better.
Make Your Mark
Mark out where you want the garden to be. If it’s in-ground, you can make it any shape, but be sure to keep in mind ease of mowing and trimming. A garden hose is a great tool for shaping a future garden bed, especially if you’d like it to be round or some irregular shape with rounded edges (kidney bean-shaped gardens are popular and attractive). Wooden stakes and garden twine are perfect for sketching out raised beds. Keep in mind lumber only comes is certain lengths, so it’s easiest to stay within those parameters, or just plan to make some cuts and adjustments.
If you want to start growing in a new in-ground garden this season, remove grass or sod before beginning. A spade or sod cutter will work well. An easier way is to cover the area with several layers of newspaper topped with about 3 inches of compost. This will smother the grass and weeds but will take a few months before it’s ready to plant.
After grass is removed, rough up soil with a large garden fork or other sturdy tool. Amend the soil with organic matter if necessary. Some soil will not need amending, but most soil will benefit from the addition of composted organic matter. If the soil is heavy clay, compost will improve drainage. If the soil is sandy, compost will improve water retention. And if the ground is in a new housing development, it’s likely very compacted and low on nutrients, and compost will help with this, too.
Raised Bed Garden
Raised bed gardens can be quickly started with no need to dig. Choose your location. Choose lumber and build the bed. Important: do not use green-treated lumber as it contains chemicals that keep it from rotting but will leech into your soil and plants. Place several layers of newspaper along the bottom to cover any grass or weeds. Fill the bed with soil. Plant plants or seeds. Ta-da! Advantages of raised bed gardening include quicker soil warm up in spring, easier to pull weeds and amend the soil, excellent drainage, and it’s easier to control fertilization since it doesn’t spread into the surrounding ground as quickly.
Containers are one of the simplest and easiest ways to get started with edible gardening. Containers are perfect for balconies, small patios, and anyone who just wants to grow a few crops with minimal input. If you choose containers, keep them to a minimum at first. Containers have their own level of upkeep (potting mix is well-drained and dries out quickly which requires frequent watering, lots of drainage require additional fertilizer, etc.) and the fewer there are, they easier the time requirement.
Whatever and however you grow, most edibles will prefer a minimum of 50 degree temperatures. If you’re looking to get a head start, cool season crops include peas and lettuce. Otherwise, now is the perfect time to plan and prepare so you’re all set to plant, eat, and repeat!