Now more than ever, people are interested in growing their own food. Whether they’re interested in becoming more sustainable, avoiding chemicals and pesticides used in commercial food production, or just trying to be prepared for the next grocery shortage, producing your food has never been more popular.
One in three U.S. households grows at least some of its own food. And the average garden yields $600 worth of produce every year! As if that’s not impressive enough, cultivating your garden is a great way to get kids interested in eating healthy. Research has shown that children are more willing to eat vegetables if they’ve helped to grow them.
But the benefits of gardening go well beyond cost savings and nutrition. Growing your own food is also good for your mind. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people retreated into their gardens and spent much more time planting, nurturing, and cultivating their food. Gardening is a great way to connect with the Earth, give your mind some space, and temporarily depart from worldly cares.
No matter what motivates you to produce your own food, it’s easier to start than you think. If you’re new to growing your food or just curious about how to get started, here are five simple steps to produce your food.
Step #1: Research
Whether you’re interested in planting fruits and vegetables or want to install a mobile range coop for chicken eggs, you need to understand what grows where. Fruits and vegetables thrive in various climates, as do chickens.
For plants, consult the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) hardiness zone map. The USDA maintains this map based on the lowest temperature in any given area. When looking at a map of the U.S., the zones change as you go farther south or north. Take note of the zone where you live to ensure you only plant things that will thrive in your climate.
For example, the suggested zone for planting an orange tree is 9 to 11. However, you shouldn’t plant an orange tree if you live in Virginia, which has zones 6 and 7. It won’t survive the winter!
You’ll also need to consult a planting calendar to determine when you should plant what fruits and vegetables. Again, this is based on your hardiness zone, so check before deciding on your planting dates. The Farmer’s Almanac has an excellent resource for this—you simply type in your zip code, and the website provides a planting calendar customized to your zone.
The rules are a little easier if you plan to raise chickens for eggs. Chickens thrive at most temperatures above freezing, although they prefer the 70s the best. If the temperature rises above 90, you’ll want to take precautions like ventilating the coop, providing cold water, freezing feed, and even offering them a baby pool to cool off. When temperatures get into the 30s and below, add a fire-safe heat source to their coop to keep them nice and warm.
Step #2: Prepare the Ground
To start a garden, you’ll need to prepare the ground for plants. Usually, this involves tilling up grass or existing plants, adding topsoil, and mixing fertilizer or plant food, as desired.
When creating a garden, many home growers choose to make a raised bed. Raised beds are built up with wooden planks or beams, so they’re lifted off the ground. Raised beds work well because they can keep out rabbits and other pests if they’re tall enough. Their height also makes it easier to work in the garden.
Step #3: Plant the Fruits and Vegetables
This part of the process can vary because some people prefer to start their plants from the seed inside and then transfer them to the garden once they mature. Other gardeners like to plant seeds directly in the garden and thin out the weak plants as they develop. And some people buy mature plants at a nursery and transplant them into their garden.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this; it simply depends on how much work you want to do and whether or not you wish to cultivate your plants from the ground up (literally). Buying mature plants and transplanting them into your garden is the easiest choice, but it’s not for everyone.
When you put your plants or seeds in the ground, read the label with your seed packet or plant. It will tell you everything you need to know about plant spacing, sun exposure, and watering. Heeding this advice could make the difference between your garden dying or thriving!
Step #4: Nurture Your Plants
Every variety of plant requires slightly different care. For example, vine plants like cucumbers and peas need a trellis to maximize production. You’ll need to train the plants to grow up the trellis daily by tucking in new shoots and leaves. Other plants, like tomatoes, do well in cages to support their large fruits once ripe.
These are just a few examples because every type of plant requires slightly different care. So hold onto those care instructions from the previous step and ensure your plants don’t need special attention outside of routine watering and weeding.
Step #5: Cultivate Your Crops
The instructions that come with your plants will tell you how many days until the fruits or vegetables are mature and ready to eat. Unfortunately, one of the biggest mistakes a gardener can make is picking things before they’re ripe.
You work so hard to plant and grow your garden, don’t waste all your hard work by picking things before they’re ready. It’s hard to wait, and the excitement of homegrown fruits and vegetables makes it all too easy to pick early. But resist the urge!
Producing your own food is a great way to get healthy, help the planet, and do something good for yourself and your family. With these simple steps, anyone can start growing their food and reaping the benefits.