So you have decided to make a change in your lifestyle and start growing some or all of your own vegetables and fruit. Some careful planning now will save you money and effort in the future.
Many new gardeners begin in the springtime with a hiss and a roar. They plants lots of seeds and seedlings and enthusiastically set to weeding, hoeing, and digging.
The first time a garden is weeded the sense of achievement is palpable. New gardeners know they are getting more fit and their aching muscles are helping to improve their health. By the third weeding, caring for the garden has become another chore. Many give up. By harvest time, their weed choked beds and tiny harvest convince them they just don’t have a green thumb and perhaps growing food just isn’t for them.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
With a little planning, anyone can enjoy growing at least some of their own food. Planning a garden can be divided into three categories: where, what, and how much.
For some reason many people seem to find the sight of their vegetables to be less than aesthetically pleasing. We have been conditioned to believe ideal beauty is a “clean” lawn surrounded by geometric beds of perfect flowers, no matter how unproductive and ultimately pointless it is. Too often vegetable beds are stuck up at the end of the yard, away from the house and the water supply. These gardens are usually ignored, infested with weeds, and full of slugs, spiders, and snails.
To make the most out of your garden you need to position it with three things in mind: sun, water, and access.
Plants need at least six hours of sun per day; many types will need more than that. Watch your garden and work out which areas get the most sun. Many houses are built to take advantage of the sun so that the best place for your garden may well be right next to the house. This is ideal as you will then have a close supply of water for your plants. You’ll find weeding is much easier. Just stop and remove a couple of weeds each time you pass by and you won’t even notice the aches and pains. And come harvest time, you will spot the ripe fruits before the birds do.
I grew zucchini in my first year of gardening. I realised about halfway through the summer as the first fruits were coming ripe that no-one else in the family would eat them. The compost pile did very well that year. A little planning would have saved me the wasted effort. Have a look at what vegetables and fruit your family eats regularly. In terms of saving money, it may well be that your favourites will be cheapest in the shops at the same time as you harvest at home. Never mind. Home grown will always taste better.
If you are a complete beginner, start with the easier plants. Carrots, radishes, tomatoes and potatoes do well for many beginners. Of course, it will depend on your climate. If there is a little bit of shade, lettuces and salad greens will probably be good for you. You have to realise, though, that for most of us gardening is not an exact science. You will go through a bit of trial and error before you get things right for your patch. It is probably best to concentrate on doing a few things well at first rather than spreading yourself too thin and growing lots of things poorly. Build your skill set one step at a time.
This part of the planning can be further divided into two parts: how much food do I want to grow, and how much time can I spend in the garden? If your lifestyle is frantically busy and you really don’t think that you can commit too much time to your garden, it may be best to grow a few herbs and maybe a tomato plant or two in pots.
I am a firm believer in the nudge form of change when it comes to lifestyles. So, if you are too busy to run a full garden, start small. Those few pots will almost certainly grow into more and more. Gardening is like that—it’s addictive. If you try to make huge changes all at once, you are less likely to succeed. A few herbs and a tomato this year, some salad greens next year to go with them. Make the changes small and you can live with them more easily. Set yourself smart goals for each year.
How much produce you actually grow is a little more complicated. It is likely that you will have at least one crop that does much better than expected and provides quite a surplus of food. Once you have been through every recipe for cooking and preserving and find that you still have some left, it’s time to appreciate the community of gardeners. Give some away to friends and family. The fine flavour of home grown food may wellencourage them to take up growing their own, too. Swap some with other gardeners. Don’t forget to swap your tales of success and failure too. Most gardeners love a good chat over the fence.
Look at your garden. What do you eat? How much can you grow? How much time do you have? Plan for your success.
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