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Today we are going to talk about food gardening for beginners, covering all the basics from types of vegetable gardens, to seed starting basics and all my tips to make gardening easy and fun!
Vegetable Growing for Beginners
Even if you have never planted a thing, or if you think you have a black thumb, you CAN grow food! Food gardening and planting your own vegetables is the best way to ensure food security in this crazy time the world is going through. So today I am going to share all my tips for food gardening for beginners to help you learn how to grow food.
Types of Vegetable Gardens
The first thing you must do as a food gardening beginner, is to decide what type of food garden you are going to grow. Below I go over some of the options.
The most simple vegetable garden is a container garden. Just try and grow a few things in containers and you will be amazed at how easy it actually is! Consider growing some herbs in a window box, or using a few containers to grow a salad garden with lettuce, a cucumber and some cherry tomatoes.
See my article on Best Vegetables for Container Gardens for more information.
Square Foot Gardening:
Square food gardening is another simple method of gardening that is very suitable for beginners. The only caviot with this method, is to be careful about planting things next to each other that don't do well near each other. Because the different crops or so close together in this method, the rules of companion planting really come in to play here. However, it is also an excellent way to grow a lot of food in a small space!
Raised Bed Gardening:
Raised bed gardening has many many advantages over traditional in the ground gardens. The soil warms faster, drains better and the gardens are easier to access. If you put hardware cloth on the bottoms of your raised beds before filling with soil, you keep out those pesky ground dwelling pests like moles, gophers and voles that not only eat your veggies, but like to burrow under them and push all the seedlings out.
There are some downsides, and some of those are the expense at putting them in, and that they dry out quicker in warm weather so watering needs to be something that you cannot ignore. I do think the benefits outweigh the negatives especially as I age, and easy access is becoming more desireable. When we downsize one day, I will be going with raised beds for sure in my next garden!
Traditional In Ground and Wide Row Vegetable Growing:
The book I will share below, is the book that I started my vegetable gardening learning from. It has loads of important information, including info on wide row vegetable gardening. Wide row vegetable growing is a concept of growing your vegetables more densely packed together in wide rows, instead of one single long row. The benefits are that you get more food in a smaller space and the plants shade the ground and prevent weeds from growing.
The downside of the traditional in ground vegetable garden, is that many will rototill their garden each spring. Tilling destroys the soil health, and it brings up millions of weed seeds. I have since moved on to a no-till garden method, but I do still use the wide row method, and feel it is a system every vegetable gardener should know about.
No-Till - Back to Eden - Lasagna Styles of Vegetable Gardening:
These methods of gardening, are my preferred methods in my vegetable garden, with a little wide row sowing thrown in. The idea behind all of these methods, is that you treat the earth, or the soil, as it would be treated naturally. You layer organic matter, and as it decays, it feeds the soil.
Soil is the key to success in vegetable gardening, that many people don't quite understand. Yes, you can go buy some bags of potting soil at your local big box store, and grow in that. It will work. But, if you plan to be involved in growing your own food for the long term, in the same space, year after year, build the soil!
The other key element in these style of gardening is, no weeds! As you layer on the organic matter, you cover the weed seeds that may have blown in. When they are covered, and not exposed to sunlight, they won't germinate. Bare exposed soil, is a weed seeds favorite place to grow. So cover the soil and smother the weeds!
To get the full understanding of the Back to Eden method, there is no book that is as good as this documentary. The Back to Eden Film, visits the founder of this method, Paul Gautschi in his own garden, and it is well worth watching.
If you are not religious, a warning that Paul is. He considers this God's way of gardening, but I highly recommend you watch it anyway and disregard his religious references. There is still so much to learn here! The movie is about 1 hr and 45 minutes, so kick back and enjoy this beautiful documentary when you have time, or pin this article down below to come back and watch it later when you have the time.
Even if you have a small outdoor space such as a balcony, deck, small patio, or even a rooftop area, you can still grow your own food in containers. See my article on the Best Vegetables for Container Gardens for some great ideas and tips!
Perhaps vegetables aren't really your thing, yet you would still like to grow food. Food forests are an excellent way to do that. They include fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and more. Check out my Food Forest Inspiration article to get some great ideas!
Give your kids their own little plot of land to grow what they like! See more ideas in my article Vegetable Gardening with Kids!
Yes, you can still grow vegetables even if your yard is very shady. See my article 30 Vegetables that Grow in the Shade for a good list to go by and tips for growing veggies in the shade.
Free Garden Planners
See my friends over at An Offgrid Life where they have an article on 10 Free Garden Planners for more help in planning your garden!
Seed Starting and Seed Saving for Beginners
I have a Seed Starting 101 series, that I hope you will check out here on the blog. In it, I go over the Essential Seed Starting Equipment for starting seeds indoors, how to start seeds frugally outside using the Winter Sowing method (which works really well for cool season crops like brassicas and greens), how to start onion from seed indoors, how to start pepper seed indoors, how to start tomato seed indoors and how to plant peas outside.
Learn how I like to Store and Organize My Seeds and how I keep a Homestead Garden Harvest Tally Spreadsheet to keep track of how much food I've grown, which is a great family project that teaches STEM concepts so be sure to include the kids with this idea!
I hope to continue adding more information into this series as time goes on! Please let me know in the comments below, if you have a particular crop you would like me to address in detail for this series!
Saving seeds is also a step worth investigating more as you grow in your vegetable gardening confidence. When you save seeds from your own crops, those seeds have adapted to your growing climate and growing conditions. When you save them year after year, your vegetables will do better and better. And easy place to start, is saving your own tomato seeds.
Keeping a Garden Journal
As you begin your first vegetable garden, it is a really good idea to also start a garden journal. Keep notes in it such as what seed you sowed when, when you harvested each item, what did well for you, what did not, and what you might do differently next year. It is the most excellent teaching tool you can have, and you can look back at your notes each year and learn from them.
I just keep a simple sketch book for my gardening notes, however, you can also use some of these garden journal planner books if you like. Many of them have good prompts for things you should take notes on, as well as area's for planning your garden layout.
What Foods Should You Grow
When thinking about what foods you should grow, think about what you and your family like to eat. If you are not a fan of brussel sprouts, don't plant them! If you love tomatoes, plant them! If you like salad, plant what you would put in salad.
If you are a prepper, survivalist or just want to plan for some hard times, think about food security crops to grow. Some crops store really well, and can do well to feed your family for a long while if need be. Check out my Food Security via Vegetable Gardening or Fastest Growing Vegetables for more information
Some of the easiest things to grow if you just want to feel accomplished quickly are radishes, zucchini and lettuce and other greens. When you plant radish by seed, you will have radishes in hand to eat in 30 days. One zucchini plant can produce dozens of zucchini, and they are pretty easy to grow. Lettuce and other greens are also easy to grow, but they don't like the hot sun of summer. So better to plant them in fall or spring or in a slightly shady area.
Cool Season Crops vs Warm Season Crops
Most folks think that vegetable gardening is only a summer time activity. When in fact, it is most definitely a 3 season activity and can be done year round in many places. Knowing which foods to plant in which times, is also a keep factor in having success in your garden.
See my article Grow More Food with Fall and Winter Crops for more information on what veggies do well during cooler seasons.
Check out my friend Joy's excellent article on When to Plant What Vegetables-The Best Time to Plant Your Garden.
Tips for Easy Food Gardening
Gardening isn't supposed to be hard, it is supposed to be fun! Really, all a plant needs is some dirt, some water, some sun and the right temperatures and it will grow.
However, there are things that can make it seem like too much work, such as weeds. If you are not doing the Back to Eden-No Till-Lasagna style gardening method, consider mulching to reduce weeds. Mulching is the simple act of covering any bare earth with some type of organic material that will naturally break down over time, such as straw, cardboard, newspaper, leaves, bark chips, saw dust, etc.
Remember how I said all a weed seed wants is some bare earth and some sun? Don't let the weed seeds win and cover them up! Even if it is a plastic sheet, it is better then letting all those little weed seeds grow.
However, slugs love mulch! Here in the PNW slugs and snails are a huge problem, and they need to be dealt with year round. Check out the Natural Slug and Snail Control Methods so that they don't ruin all your hard work.
Remember that old saying, use the right tool for the job? This also comes into play with gardening. Check out my Favorite Tools for Vegetable Gardening article. You can also check out my Best Gardening Shoes post while you are at it! Trust me, after year's of dealing with plantar fasciitis, I know it is no fun gardening when your feet are killing you!
Last, every gardener should be making their own compost. Compost is how you build up that soil and feed it. Healthy well fed soil, feeds your plants. So check out my Easy Simple No Work DIY Compost article and start doing that today!
Garden Failures - What to do
If you have some things go wrong in your vegetable garden, it is ok. We all have them. They may vary from year to year, but each one is a learning experience! No one is born an expert at food gardening, it is a process in learning to be successful at it!
I love this quote from this article:
“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.”
See my friends article for tips on how to deal with garden failures.
Garden Failures - What To Do from Suzan at It's My Sustainable Life
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