With all that is changing and evolving in the world, growing your own food has become a rewarding and practical endeavor but also one of necessity. Regardless of whether you have a large outdoor space or just a small balcony or patio, growing your own healthy food can be an environmentally friendly and great way to feed yourself and your family. This ultimate guide will take you through the essential steps to start growing your own produce, regardless of your experience level.

Once you start your own garden using healthy soil and your own compost, you will provide organic vegetables and fresh fruit for your family. You will reduce your carbon footprint. It also allows you to get out in the fresh air too.

One of the biggest advantages, for both new gardeners and those that may be a gardening expert, is that this family-friendly activity allows for less food waste and a lower grocery bill. 

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Planning Your Home Garden

Before you start growing your own food, it’s a good idea to plan your garden:

Rototiller in front of a new garden
Rototiller in from of a new garden

Choosing the Right Location:

First, you should assess how much space you have and choose a sunny spot that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. If you live in a very temperate climate like Florida, early morning sun is better than afternoon sun. The afternoon sun may be too hot for many vegetable plants.

Next, you want to ensure you have access to water, as consistent watering is essential, especially for starter plants. Consider a rain barrel or another DIY watering method.

Once you choose a sunny spot with access to water, you must consider your climate and hardiness zone. Both of these will guide you in choosing the right food crops and  the best time for planting. 

Remember a garden does not have to be 100%outdoors! You can grow many herbs and even some fruit with an indoor garden too!

Read Self-Reliant Gardening: An Essential Guide for more information.

Gardening Quote

Gathering Your Gardening Tools:

Gardening can be hard work. You will need the right tools.

From simple tools such as shovels (pointed and straight edged), a hoe, a claw, a heavy rake and a pitchfork, to simple hand tools, you will want these to be ready to go. Start with these basics, you can always add to your tool arsenal as the need arises.

Basic gardening tools and a wheelbarrow
Basic Gardening Tools

Select Suitable Crops:

Once you know  your climate and growing season, it’s time to determine the kind of crops you wish to grow. The best way to start is with easy-to-grow options like tomato plants, leafy greens, peppers, green onions, and herbs if this is your first time gardening.

The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing crops is to start with food your family actually eats. There is no sense in growing green beans if no one eats them.

This is a great time to learn all you can about companion planting, crop rotation, and different types of gardening.

Tomato plants in the garden
Tomato plants

Prepare the Soil:

Very few people have perfect soil.  Knowing the soil type in your garden space is essential when growing your own food. Once you know the soil type, only then can you amend it to make it perfect soil. 

Test your soil by buying a local soil test kit. You can also take a soil sample to the local Agricultural Center in your town who should test it for free for you. 

Once you know the soil type you can then amend it with compost and organic matter to ensure good drainage and nutrient availability. The better the soil quality, the more your edible plants will thrive.

You can read Garden Soil: An Ultimate Guide and learn everything you will need to know.

Chart for comparing alkaline to acidic soil

Start a Compost Pile:

Once you know the type of soil you have you are ready to start amending it. An easy way to do so is with your own organic compost. This can be done in a compost pile or with a compost bin.

A compost pile does not need a lot of space and uses very little water. It takes a little bit of work to get it started in early spring, but once it is working, your young plants and the garden beds will reward you for your efforts.

A compost bin is a confined space and is usually used for smaller amounts of compost. A compost pile is usually used when larger amounts of compost will be needed.

You can read: The Ultimate Guide To Composting for more detailed, step by step information.

Compost bin
Compost Bin

Garden Design and Layout

Creating an efficient and appealing garden layout when growing your own food is essential. Will your vegetable garden be in the ground or a raised bed? Will you include fruit trees? Do you need more space for crops like root vegetables or sprawling plants like watermelon and squash?

All of these things need to be considered. There are great deal of options when it comes to gardening spaces.

Raised Beds:

Raised beds are a great option for a small garden space. They are great for the elderly or others with mobility issues. 

These types of beds require using untreated lumber or composite materials to build them. Remember that materials with chemicals within them can leach into the soil and into your plants.

See A Guide To Using Raised Beds For Gardening for more information.

Raised beds for growing vegetables and herbs
Raised Beds for vegetables

Container Gardening:

This type of gardening uses containers like large pots, buckets, or grow bags. Be sure that your chosen containers have proper drainage holes.

Container gardens are great for small spaces like decks and balconies. These plant pots are often used as the base for vertical gardening projects. 

See How To Start A Container Garden for more detailed information.

Container plants with tomato and pepper plants
Peppers and Tomatoes in pots

Companion Planting:

Companion planting simply means to group plants that benefit each other to help with pest control and improve growth. Planting basil near tomatoes will improve their flavor. Learn which plants combine well and which ones don’t.

Companion planting marigolds between vegetables to help with pests
Marigolds planted near veggies to deter pests

Starting Your Plants

Growing your own food can come from planting seeds, planting seedlings or planting plants from local growers that are already established and ready to go in the ground. You must determine the best option for you.

Seeds:

Seed packets are more affordable than purchasing starter plants and offer a wide variety. Seed packets can come from companies such as Bakers Creek Seed Co., Seeds for Generations, and Mary’s Heirloom Seeds. All of these companies have a seed catalog so you can order online.

As far as cost goes, the price of a pack of seeds is always less in cost than the harvest you will receive from the food that grows from those seeds.

Top seed resources

You can download a FREE Seed Resource List HERE.

You can start seeds indoors early or sow directly in the garden after a last frost date when the ground is warming up.

Be sure to research the difference between hybrid and heirloom seeds. It is important to learn how to read the back of the seed packet as all of its growing information is there. Beware though where the company selling the seeds is located. Farmers in Oregon have a much different climate than Florida. This means that some seeds may not thrive in a different climate.

To avoid those issues, always try to find a seed source more local to you. At least try and find one in your hardiness zone.

Woman holding seed packets
Seed packets

Seedlings:

Seedlings are also great for the beginning gardener. They can save a ton of time and provide a good head start towards a great harvest. And the best part is that you don’t have to wait for your seeds to sprout.

You can purchase seedlings from local gardening stores or through local farmers. You just bring them home and place your new plant right in your garden. 

Seedlings
Seedlings ready for planting

Proper Care and Maintenance

When growing your own food, you must provide the proper care. It doesn’t matter whether you have a short or long growing season. It also will require a bit of physical activity.

Of course the hard work is worth it when you see how much good food you will produce in your own yard. And you may eliminate a large part of your list of things to buy from your local grocery store.

Watering:

Always remember to water deeply and consistently, aiming for the root zone rather than the foliage. Plants don’t particularly like their leaves being soaked.

By using a soaker hose or drip irrigation, you will conserve water. Consider installing rain barrels or a DIY watering system also.

See DIY Watering Methods for more information.

Drip irrigation system
Drip irrigation

Fertilizing:

Whether it be a single tomato plant or a plot, try to apply organic fertilizers or compost to replenish nutrients to the soil. This allows the plants to take in all of the nutrients they need, as they need them. You can create and mix your own natural fertilizers too.

You can create a schedule based on your plants requirements. This way you can keep track of what fertilizer you used, when you used it, and any notes on issues or wins.

See 10 Natural Ingredients To Boost Your Garden for more information.

Fertilizing the garden by hand
Using Fish Emulsion is a great fertilizer for your garden

Pest and Disease Management:

It is important to regularly inspect your plants for pests and diseases. It is better to catch it early. One day of a pest infestation can ruin an entire garden.

Use organic methods like neem oil or companion planting to deter pests. Some pests and diseases can be controlled through companion planting, as in planting Marigolds, and crop rotation. Be sure to learn more about each of these.

See: Natural Pest Control on the Homestead for more information.

Ladybugs on leaves
Ladybugs on leaves

Harvesting and Storing

Harvesting your homegrown food is a rewarding experience. It makes for a happy gardening experience.

Harvesting at the Right Time:

Each crop has an optimal harvesting time. You should know what this optimal time is when you plant. You can get this information from the seed packets or the plant tags.

When harvesting, use sharp, clean tools to avoid damaging plants. And always have a basket or a container to gather you produce or fruit into.

Person harvesting vegetables
Harvesting vegetables

Proper Storage:

Where and how you store your freshly grown food is important. Be sure to store harvested produce in a cool, dry place or the refrigerator. A root cellar works well for this.

Consider canning, freezing, or dehydrating your surplus for later use. The extra food you grew that cannot be used immediately is a great way to start a prepper pantry! 

For more information read How To Start A Prepper Pantry: The Ultimate Guide.

Root cellar full of vegetables
Full root cellar prepared for winter

Going Forward

Growing your own food is a continuous learning process. There is always some new method of gardening to learn and try. Learning about which fertilizers and pest control methods work and which ones don’t can help.

Read: Attracting Beneficial Bugs To Your Garden for more information.

Try new crops and gardening techniques each season. Expand your garden as you gain more experience. Consider a medicinal garden, a kitchen garden, or even a survival garden.

Encouraging pollinators infographic

One area you may not have considered with your garden is attracting pollinators. From bees to ladybugs, bringing some beneficial insects to your garden can eliminate some of the upkeep for you.

For more information on attracting pollinators, see How To Attract Bees To Your Garden.

Bee on a squash flower
A bee pollinating a flower

Keep a Garden Journal:

The best way to record your successes, challenges, and observations when it comes to your garden is to keep a gardening journal. You can look back each year and see what worked or didn’t. It can be a great way to pass on your gardening knowledge to your family also.

A gardening journal can help you make informed decisions in the future, as well as avoid potential problems in the future. It can be a simple notebook, or a decorated journal, the choice is yours.

Click the image below to get your FREE Garden Resource Mini eBook!

Final Thoughts

Growing your own food is a gratifying and sustainable practice that allows you to enjoy fresh, organic produce right from your own backyard or balcony. By following this ultimate guide and continually expanding your knowledge, you can reap the benefits of a thriving food garden and savor the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor. Start today and embark on your journey towards a more self-sufficient and healthy lifestyle.

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