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It may be a bit early to think of gardening for some of you and we know the groundhog saw his shadow and all that jazz, but here in California we are getting warmer and warmer everyday. Winter was very, VERY mild this year and never really held on. I’m sure this sounds wonderful to some, but we really missed the snow, rain, and chilly weather that reaches a lot of areas in our state. After that horrific, record breaking drought and wildfires, we hoped for more than just one wet year (2016-2017). It wasn’t meant to be apparently, so now it’s time to move on and be grateful for longer days, (and hopefully some spring showers!) Longer days mean there will soon be new fruits and veggies popping up in grocery stores, farmers’ markets and possibly your own back yard! Not sure why you should grow your own food? Check out our post about why you should consider homesteading and why its great for modern families.
“I’ve never grown my own food, what on earth should I plant in my garden?!”
One of the questions we get asked a lot is, “I’ve never grown my own food, what on earth should I plant in my garden?!” It’s a good question and super complex. Until we moved to the cottage, we always had limited space to plant or unique gardening circumstances like minimal sunlight, poor soil etc. As we’ve mentioned before, we both grew up with summer gardens that we loved, so we knew we just needed to work with what we had and figure out the rest. We learned that even a small deck can provide a good amount of fruits or veggies if you choose the right ones for you and your family. You may not be able to grow everything you want, but you’ll know what you can grow successfully and save yourself a ton of money and frustration.
So, here are some tips about what to plant in your veggie garden that we’ve figured out along the way. We hope they will point you in the right direction to decide what plants to get and what seeds to start. Keep in mind that every space is different and there will always be a little experimenting to do.
- KNOW WHAT FRUITS AND VEGGIES YOU LIKE This is probably one of the most common sense tips I have. There are a lot of gardeners out there who grow food that they really don’t care to eat. It’s a huge time waster and it can be completely avoided. For instance, you might know that you can grow tomatoes easily but if you hate the taste of them or the texture of the seeds, what’s the point? Make a list of all your favorite fruits and veggies and use it as a starting point. Focus your gardening space on foods that you or your family will eat and enjoy the most
- FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU SPEND MOST OF YOUR MONEY ON AT THE STORE This tip came into play after our Sprout was born. She loves fruits and veggies and has always been a good eater. One day I sat down with our monthly grocery receipts and totaled up what we spent on each produce item. I discovered that our little berry gobbler was devouring $40 a month in assorted berries. Last summer I purchased blueberry bushes that are conveniently potted near her play area. This year I’ll be adding strawberries and possibly another blueberry bush. By growing produce that you purchase frequently, you can reduce your grocery bill as well as increase the nutrition you consume. Nothing is fresher than right off the vine!
- KNOW YOUR SPACE I can’t recommend this enough. Do you have a 4′ x 8′ apartment patio or a whole back yard? Are you often blinded by all the sunshine your space gets, or are you begging for a little more light? By getting to know your space, you will be able to plan a successful gardening plot. When you know your space you will know exactly how many pots will fit, what growing conditions you can provide, and where to focus your attention. Get outside and make notes about how many hours of sun it gets, do you have space for planting in the ground or should you contain it to pots? Certain veggies, like tomatoes, love sun and can easily grow in the ground or in a pot. Others, like zucchini, love sunshine but require way more space than a pot or patio can allow. If you know the in’s and out’s of your space, you’ll have a lot of freedom to play around within those parameters.
- DO YOUR RESEARCH! One of our favorite books about homesteading and gardening is The Backyard Homestead. This book helped us crunch the numbers for whatever space we had to work with. It opened our eyes to the kinds of vegetables and fruits available as well as gardening techniques and layouts that maximize your large or small space. The Sunset Western Garden Book is another favorite. It gives lots of information about individual plants along with their needs and wants. If you’re totally new to vegetable gardening, there is no short cut to growing your food successfully. Borrowing books from your library and possibly purchasing the ones that resonate the most with your life will be the best option in learning and knowing what you should grow regularly. Also, talk to neighbors and local friends to see what they have had success growing in similar conditions. Your local farm bureau or university extension is another great resource for gardening information. Here in California we have the Master Gardeners Program through University of California. Doing research gives you a lot of info that you can then personalize to your family’s needs.
- SEEK ADVENTURE, TRY SOMETHING NEW This is more of a fun tip than always 100% practical. My bro-in-law (Dave’s youngest brother) is really adventurous when it comes to gardening. He does his research and loves to experiment. No plant is really off limits to him because he wants to try new things. I love how the world is totally open to him in the garden, but I also know that my budget is a little tighter when it comes to experimenting. So, I’ve started trying one or two new fruits or veggies each year. Maybe a new melon variety, or funky, fun heirloom peppers. I always choose something within the advice above. Something I have time and space to grow, something that we will eat, and something that will cut our grocery budget in some way. We’ve grown purple carrots, yellow watermelon, rainbow chard and more. (Picky Eater Bonus: purple carrots turn rice pilaf a great shade of violet…kids love bright colors!) Every garden should be fun and exciting!
- KEEP A JOURNAL Lastly, from the very beginning, write everything down. Everything you want to try, everything you did try and the results, EVERYTHING! Then you can easily look and compare from year to year. My two favorite journals are this one and this one. The first one has fun tips and facts about the garden that make your journal more interactive. The second one is a little more in depth and perfect for more detailed notes about each plant as well as multiple gardening areas. This will help you see your garden as more than just throwing some seeds around and hoping for the best.
So there ya go! These are some of the steps we include in determining what we want to plant from year to year. This year we know we will be growing chard, kale, blueberries, strawberries, carrots, green onions, micro greens, potatoes, beets, tomatoes and peppers as well as various herbs that we use regularly in cooking. We plant our garden in a combination of pots and ground. Our front yard has an abundance of sunlight and warm temps and our backyard has limited, filtered, sunlight which is often quite cooler than the front. This combination gives us lots of growing conditions for different plants and we work hard to utilize these spaces best.
What will you be planting? Do you have any tips about choosing what you grow? Share them with us in the comments below! Don’t forget to join the conversation on Instagram and Facebook! Go follow us on Pinterest to see where our minds are wandering these days.