Spring is here, and if you did not already start a vegetable garden while you were stuck at home for the last year, now is a great time to do so. Food you grow at home is fresher and more nutrient dense than grocery store produce. Plus, you cannot get any more local than your backyard, which means you can reduce your carbon footprint while enjoying the added benefit of knowing exactly how your food was grown and what products were used to grow it.
If you are interested in growing some of your own food but have not yet dabbled in backyard vegetable gardening, here are six tips to get you started.
1. Choose the right spot.
Most food plants do best with at least six hours of sun each day. It is best to choose a spot that receives morning sun but has a bit of shade to protect your plants from the afternoon heat. If possible, also choose a spot that is protected from the wind.
2. Choose your garden format.
Choosing raised garden beds or container gardening allows you to better control the structure and content of the soil. These options generally also mean less weeding and may make gardening a little easier on your body. Or, if you have furry family members like mine, growing in raised beds and containers will keep your dogs from peeing on your food plants all the time. Alternatively, growing in the ground does not require purchasing planters or materials to build beds and may ultimately allow for more gardening space.
3. Determine what to grow.
Growing food in a typical backyard garden is not going to replace trips to the grocery store or farmers market to stock up on produce. So, the best plan for beginner gardeners is to grow something that you eat a lot of or that is more expensive at the grocery store. For example, I like to grow some foods that are significantly more expensive when buying organic, since I can grow everything organically in my backyard. If you have never grown food before, start with something easy, like tomatoes, peppers, radishes, carrots, or just about any herb.
For each of the plants you grow, you will need to research common pests and diseases, how best to care for them, what kind of support or protection they need, and whether it is best to start that particular plant from seeds or opt for seedlings. Therefore, it is best to start with just a few varieties while you are learning the basics of vegetable gardening.
4. Put it on paper.
Making a garden plan helps you determine which and how many seeds and plants to purchase and where you are going to plant them. This is an opportunity to research which plants grow well together, how much space each plant will need, and the best time to plant different types of food plants. You can also use this planner to record planting dates and can refer to it next year to make sure you are rotating your crops properly.
5. Label the rows.
Labeling your plants or rows of the same plant will help you easily identify them, know how much water each row needs, know the planting date, and know when it is time to harvest. I use paint stir sticks for this, since they are biodegradable and you can purchase them inexpensively in bulk. Write the type of plant, planting date and prospective harvest date on the row marker, and then stick it in the soil to mark the row.
6. Learn from local gardeners.
As things begin to open again, keep an eye out for local gardening classes and workshops offered at the Ojai Community Demonstration Garden behind City Hall, Ojai’s Center for Regenerative Agriculture, Quail Springs Oasis & Permaculture Farm in Cuyama Valley, UC Hansen Agricultural Center at Faulkner Farm in Santa Paula, or Ventura College. You can also call the local Master Gardener Helpline at (805) 645-1455 with gardening questions and to learn about available gardening classes and resources.
AimeeJo Davis-Varela is a freelance writer specializing in real estate, sustainable home improvement, eco-friendly landscaping, green living and travel writing. She is also the owner of Mind Your Manors, which provides second home management services.
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