You don’t need tons of acreage to grow food. Even a few containers and a bit of sunshine can make it possible to enjoy produce that is both fresher and far cheaper than what you’d find at a supermarket or even farmers markets.
The payoff can be significant.
For each $1 you spend on seeds, you can expect to harvest about $75 in vegetables, George Ball, chairman and CEO of seed giant Burpee told the Wall Street Journal. Even $1 worth of potato seeds will generate $5 in spuds, he said. Of course, there are many variables that figure in — including good soil, fertilizer and water — but you get the general idea.
The trick to make growing food pay off is to plan and maintain a garden that is right for you.
Consider your space
Start by evaluating your space and top picks for crops.
Some plants (corn, lettuce) take an enormous amount of space and may crowd out anything in their path. Others, such as tomatoes or radishes, don’t require much room at all. Note that some plants need full sun, while others need a break from the heat. And, of course, you don’t want to garden on top of tree roots. Better Homes & Gardens has a terrific starter guide to help you plan your garden. It even has a “gardening where you live” guide that will help you choose the right plants for your weather.
Need to keep your garden in containers? You have plentiful choices, all of which are based on the type of container, drainage and other specifics. Rodale Organic Life has a container garden guide that offers step-by-step guidance and reminders, including how to make sure you add the proper amount of soil without ruining your floors.
Choose your plants strategically
Whether you have an expansive yard, or just enough room for a few containers, it’s a good idea to prioritize which plants you want and to learn how they grow best. A guide to small-space gardening in Mother Earth Living magazine explains it this way:
Which crops are at the top of your list and which will you squeeze in only if you have the space? As part of that process, you’ll want to take a close look at how much room each plant requires for healthy growth. Armed with this knowledge, you may choose to grow more plants that require minimal space per plant (salad greens) and fewer plants that sprawl (squash).
Think about which fruits and vegetables you enjoy.
Sure, some vegetables, like lettuce, are fairly easy to grow. If you and your family don’t eat lettuce, though, there’s no point in growing it. You can just browse the seed racks, of course, but consider researching before you buy.
As we have reported in the past, plants that yield the most bang for the buck — again, depending on your climate and conditions — are:
- Salad greens
Sunset.com also has a terrific starter guide of options for your edible garden.
It’s tempting to just buy the seeds, put them in a pot or plant them in your outdoor garden, and hope for the best. But that will backfire if you plant at the wrong time. Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers won’t do well if they are planted in cool, spring soil. Refer to GardensAlive for a handy guide that tells you which plants do best in cool weather, warm weather or even inside.
Keeping your garden growing
Once your garden is started, you will want to plan how often to water, fertilize and harvest. Many of those particulars depend on the size of your garden, its location and the type of plants grown. Eartheasy offers practical tips on choosing soil, checking pH levels and more.
Herein lies one of the biggest challenges — persistence. If you want your garden to pay off, you need to stay with it. As Ronald Wolford of University of Illinois Extension told the WSJ:
“I get a lot of calls in the spring from people who want to start gardens and can’t wait to get started. But when it comes to July and August, and it’s 95 degrees, and there’s insect problems, it just goes to pot.”
Preserve the bounty
Sure, you want to eat as many of the fruits and vegetables you grow. But what about extras? You can take some to neighbors or co-workers, but leave enough for yourself to enjoy in the fall and beyond.
University of Minnesota Extension provides a guide on how to best store and preserve your bounty. Eating Well also provides tips for the best ways to lock in the flavors of fresh produce and freeze them. Want to go the way of previous generations and use canning to preserve your bounty? It is an option, but it’s important to carefully follow steps to make sure home-canned food remains safe. The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers guidance.
What do you like to grow for yourself? What have you learned about raising food plants in your area? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.