Growing your own food at home is one of the most rewarding and healthy things you can do. There is no better feeling than being able to stroll out into your garden, pick some home-grown produce straight from the ground and eat it right away. If you have not yet joined the grow-your-own revolution, now is a great time to begin! This guide will help you get started with growing your own produce in your garden. Read on to discover just how easy, affordable and rewarding it can be.
Why Grow Your Own Food At Home?
Growing your own food is good for you and for our planet. It is one of the first, best steps to take if you want to live in a more ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly way. Here are just some of the many reasons why you should consider growing your own food:
To stay healthy. The non-organic food we buy, laced with pesticides and herbicides, can have a detrimental effect on human health too. Eating your own organic, fresh produce is great for your health. Gardening can also help keep you fit, make you happy, and keep stress-levels in check.
To reduce your carbon footprint. Growing food takes energy. Transporting food takes energy. Growing your own food reduces the fossil fuels burned in your name.
To reduce environmental pollution. Mono-crop agriculture and factory farming cause huge pollution problems. By growing your own you can begin to remove your support for these damaging systems.
To reduce plastic waste. When you grow your own, it is easier to avoid plastic packaging and keep plastic waste to an absolute minimum.
To protect the world's wildlife. Wildlife is harmed by non-organic farming practices. By growing your own organically at home you can protect the bees, the birds and other wildlife.
To save money. Food prices, and particularly vegetables and salads items, keep going up. Growing your own has all of the benefits of above and can save you money.
Are you convinced yet? It's almost time to get started!
What You Need To Know Before You Grow
Growing your own food is easier than you may imagine. Anyone can do it! It also costs less than you might think to get going and to maintain your garden over time. But before you get started, it can be helpful to get a clear idea of what you are going to do and why you are going to do it. Having a clear idea of your goals and motivations can help you to be successful in your gardening endeavours.
Many organic home growers are inspired by a design philosophy and series of practical solutions called 'permaculture'. Permaculture is all about working with nature to achieve our goals. It emphasises that in everything that we do, we should care for our planet, care for other people, and ensure a fair share for all. Keeping those ideals in mind as you work to create your garden should help you to create a green, sustainable garden that you and your household can enjoy for years to come.
A little bit of preparation up front can save a lot of time and effort correcting mistakes in the long run. Before you begin, take some time to understand some of the basic principles of organic gardening. These include:
Catching and storing energy & making the most of renewable resources (sunlight, rainwater, biomass etc...).
Reducing waste (by composting, reducing, reusing and recycling etc...).
Using and valuing diversity (choosing a wide range of plants, encouraging wildlife etc...)
Observing, and learning from nature.
Making the most of your space and obtaining tangible (food, compost etc.) and intangible (fun, relaxation etc.) yields.
These are just some of the principles that new home growers should bear in mind as they begin to prepare for their new gardening endeavour. The principles give a framework within which to work.
What You Need To Get Started
You don't need a lot to get started growing your own food at home. Even a complete novice will soon be able to grow a range of delicious fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs. All you will need are a few basic tools and a few basic materials. Even with a very limited budget, you can still achieve great things in your garden.
While you can get by with very little in terms of gardening tools, there are several items which are generally considered to be indispensable. You will need at very least a hand-held trowel and fork. Larger spades and forks will be invaluable, for turning compost heaps, spreading mulches etc... A rake can be useful in order to create a fine tilth on seed beds, while a hoe can be handy for weeding between your plants. A pair of secateurs are needed for pruning/ trimming in more mature gardens. Most gardeners will also choose a good pair of garden gloves, to protect the hands when dealing with plants and soil. While not strictly essential, a wheelbarrow can also be extremely useful for moving materials around your garden.
In might seem like a lot to buy, but you can pick up all these items, often second-hand and sometimes even for free through Internet sites such as Freegle or Freecycle. You could also ask around friends and neighbours, to see if anyone has spares they are willing to lend or give away. Things like plant pots and seed trays can also often be sourced for free. You can also make your own using household waste such as yoghurt pots, packaging trays and toilet roll tubes, which is kind to the planet as well as keeping costs down.
Setting Up Sustainable Systems
Before you create your actual growing areas, it can be a good idea to set up several systems that will help you garden effectively and successfully over time. The first of these systems involves composting. If you do not compost kitchen waste already, you should definitely do so. Create a heap or bin where you can 'recycle' the nutrients from garden and kitchen waste for use on your growing areas. You can buy ready made plastic composters but also get more aesthetically pleasing wooden beehive style ones and DIY composters are easily made from old wooden pallets as well.
The second of the systems that you should set up, if you have not already done so, is a rainwater harvesting system, to collect the water that falls on your home, shed, garage or any other garden structures. Connect a barrel or butt to the down pipe on your guttering to catch and store water for use on your garden.
The third thing that all organic gardeners should do is set up a system to attract beneficial wildlife to your garden. Wildlife can be beneficial in a number of different ways. Bees and other insects help pollinate our crops. Many creatures eat pests and help to keep problem species in check. Having a diverse population of wildlife in our gardens helps to keep the system stable and makes your garden more sustainable and resilient. You can attract wildlife by creating a range of habitats, such as garden ponds, brush piles, bug or bee hotels, bat or bird boxes etc... You can also attract wildlife through providing food sources, and through your planting choices.
Locating & Preparing Your Growing Areas
Once your sustainable systems are in place, it is time to create your growing areas. You can grow directly in the soil, create raised beds, or even create a container garden, depending on where you live and how much space is available. The key thing to remember when creating a growing area is that you should choose the location and method carefully, basing your decision on the conditions in your garden, as well as personal preferences.
It is important to take some time to consider the factors acting on local conditions, including sunlight and shade, wind, water, and soil quality and condition. Think about how your garden changes throughout each day and throughout the year.
In organic gardening, taking care of the soil is one of the top priorities. A 'no dig' system is one in which the soil ecosystem is disrupted as little as possible. Rather than digging over beds and digging in organic matter, mulches are laid on top of the soil. Building fertility by top-dressing, with layers of cardboard and green and brown compostable materials and topping with a thin layer or compost, is a good way to make new beds, fill in existing raised beds and is also a good way to maintain and even improve soil quality over time.
You may like to consider permaculture bed-creation techniques such as 'lasagna' beds or hügelkultur, or making raised beds from straw bales, all of which help to protect and enhance the soil. In smaller areas, think about vertical gardening techniques, and gardening in recycled or upcycled containers. Before selecting and placing growing areas, it can be a good idea to read up on some of the many techniques and practices commonly used in organic gardening.
Deciding What To Grow
Once your systems and growing areas are in place, it is time to start sowing and planting! It is time to make some final decisions about what to grow. Here are some of the things to think about when choosing what to sow and grow:
Sowing from seed? Growing plants from seed is usually cheaper than buying plug plants. Seeds are available from most garden centres, supermarkets have increasing ranges, hardware stores, seed suppliers own websites, we have always found Suttons direct very good especially as a quick google search will normally uncover at least a 10% discount, and sometimes from other gardeners, particularly for readily varieties.
Heritage or hybrid? Do you want to save seeds for next year? If so, choose heritage varieties -hybrids, though they can offer superior pest or disease resistance, will not come true from seed.
Annual or perennial? Perennial crops come back year after year, annuals must be sown each year. Perennial gardens take less effort to tend, though you may want to grow some of your favourite annual vegetables too.
What do you like to eat? When deciding what to grow, think about what you and your household actually like to eat.
Trial and error – don't worry about getting it all right first time, especially when it comes to how much of each crop to grow. Take note as you go of what you'd like more or less of and change your plans accordingly for the following year.
If you are a complete beginner follow the planting guides and care guides on seed packets and plant labels. Don't worry about making mistakes. In organic gardening, there is lots that can go wrong. Diversify your plantings, and don't put all your eggs in one basket, and you are sure to have plenty of successes. Everyone has green fingers – it's time to put yours to work!
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