Andy Fleming writing on homesteading

Food production is an important aspect of self-sufficiency, and certainly an easy place to start reclaiming your independence. Remember, you don’t need a lot of room to start a garden. Herb gardens can thrive in the space of a windowsill and allow you to grow tasty additions to any meal.

First, you’ll want to decide what you’re going to plant and where you’re going to plant it. A good rule is to pick fruits and veggies you like, there’s nothing better than being able to pick and munch on your favorite produce while you stroll through the backyard.

Check to see if the types of produce you buy most often are viable to grow in your local climate. You can plug your zip code into this chart to determine the optimal times for planting specific crops.

1. Plan Your Garden

You’ll want your garden to receive at least six hours of direct sunlight per day – ideally morning sunlight, with some shade in the afternoon. Afternoon tends to be the hottest part of the day, and too much sunlight can dry out your plants. If you live in the northern hemisphere, plant your garden facing south or on the south side of your property. A south-facing garden receives the most sunlight as the sun passes overhead. If this isn’t possible, the east or west side of your property should also provide adequate sunlight.

Run the rows of your garden north-south. This way, each row should receive an equal amount of sunlight. If you’re growing tall plants like Brussel sprouts or climbing beans, make sure they’re adequately spaced to avoid casting shade on smaller plants. First time gardeners often neglect to take all sources of shade into account when planting their garden, and become confused when sections of it start to wither.

Make sure the area drains properly. Take a look around your yard after a big rainstorm and take note of areas where puddles appear. These spots are not draining properly and should be avoided. If you don’t have access to an area with good drainage, you can mitigate the problem by building raised garden beds.

If possible, plant in an area with easy access to your kitchen. If you can get to and from your garden quickly, you’re more likely to use it often and your ingredients will be as fresh as can be. This is why mini herb gardens located in your kitchen are a great choice. It’s hard to forget to add chopped cilantro to a dish when it’s hanging right in front of you. Hanging planters can be made easily and quickly from mason jars and are perfect for herbs.

2. Prepare the Land

Once you’ve picked a spot, decide whether you want to build raised beds or sow directly into the ground. If you’re planting on a slope or in an area with poor drainage, raised beds are ideal. Garden beds are one of the easiest and most versatile DIY projects and make use of a multitude of recycled materials. Old wine boxes, cinder blocks, even used tires work perfectly. Check out this list of tutorials to get started, but don’t be afraid to get creative! The best garden is one unique to you.

Weather you decide to use planters or not, consider removing the topsoil (sod) from your garden area and replacing it with planting soil. This certainly isn’t necessary, but it will save you work down the line by limiting the ability of grass and weeds to grow in that space.

At this point, you’re basically ready to go. Till the soil, sow some rows of seeds, water them daily, and wait. As a first time gardener, don’t expect things to go smoothly. Every local climate is different and you’ll discover certain plants require special attention before they’re ready to thrive. Keep these tips in mind throughout the season:

3. Start small

The more you try to take on, the more chance you’ll forget crucial steps or make mistakes. Start with a few crops that are easy to grow and move on once you get the hang of things. Salad greens like lettuce and kale make for good “beginner’s plants”, just be sure to choose varieties you personally enjoy.

4. Experiment

Don’t get into a rut with your planting. Every time you get comfortable with a crop, add something new. At the very least, try to experiment with one or two new crops per year. Not only will you expand your skill library, but your palette as well.

5. Use Mulch

Almost any organic material that hasn’t gone to seed can be used to increase the yield of your garden. Grass clippings, pine needles, shredded leaves. and dead weeds all make for good mulch. You might end up with a few new weeds, but as long as you pull them up early they shouldn’t be a problem.

6. Practice Succession Planting

Don’t try to plant your garden in one weekend, space it out over the course of several weeks if possible, and immediately replace plants you harvest. This way, you’ll have a steady supply of food coming in over the course of several months.

7. Build a cold frame

Want to continue growing into the fall and winter seasons? Turn your garden into a cold frame as the temperatures start to drop. South-facing cold frames act like mini-greenhouses to trap sunlight and moisture and allow hearty plants to thrive long past their normal growing seasons. As you can see from this design all you really need is some glass (old windows and storm doors are perfect) and a few bricks, cinder blocks, or hay bales for support.

Image: ©iStock.com/valentinrussanov

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