Want to eat healthy and potentially save money? Start your own vegetable and herb garden!
Growing your own vegetables and herbs at home is a great way to eat healthy and potentially save money. Lots of people are considering starting to grow their own food at home now, but aren’t sure where to start. This is a brief consideration of the most important factors when planning a vegetable and herb garden.
Location, Location, Location
Choosing an appropriate location to plant your vegetables and herbs is the first important step towards success. Vegetables generally need between 6 and 8 hours of direct sunlight in order to flower and produce good vegetables, so choosing a spot that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight gives you the greatest chance of success. Herbs typically do not require as much direct sunlight, so they can be put in places that get a little more shade. Less sunlight will slow the growth rate, so you may need to plant more plants to meet your culinary needs. If your location has direct sun exposure all day, it may be necessary to provide some shelter from the intense UV rays in the afternoon. This can be accomplished by making a simple shade structure with a few sturdy stakes, twine, and some shade cloth.
Start from the Ground Up
Healthy soil is just as important as appropriate sunlight. Without healthy soil, your plants may not survive let alone provide you with food. If you are planting in the ground or in raised beds, dig out your garden area to a depth of at least 8 inches (root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots need more depth), breaking up the big clumps, and work in a generous amount of organic material. This can be compost, fertilizers, manure, or any combination. Adding worms to the mix is also a great idea. Keep the area moist to encourage the worms and soil microorganisms to thrive.
Doing this prior to planting allows depleted nutrients to be restored and made readily available for the new plantings. Planting cover crop, such as crimson clover, peas, and oats, will also help replenish some depleted nutrients. These plants take nitrogen from the air and make it available in the soil. If you are unsure of the quality of your soil or just want to know exactly what is in your soil, consider having it tested. Soil testers will analyze your soil in a laboratory, and they can tell you exactly what you should add for desired results.
Container gardens may follow these principles, but a high quality potting soil with mycorrhizae and/or other beneficial microbes is a great option. Special consideration should be given to tomatoes, as they are susceptible to a fungal disease known as fusarium wilt. One preventative measure is to plant tomatoes in a soil that drains well, but it is not a guarantee. Once the fungus is present in the soil, it takes about 5 years to dissipate. For this reason, it may be worth planting your tomatoes in containers to make dealing with contaminated soil easier should you encounter it.
If you choose to start plants from seed, it may be necessary or even beneficial to start them indoors. There are several methods to start seeds indoors; you should choose the one that suits you best. Once they have sprouted, put them in small containers with soil to grow in initially, and put them in a bright space. If you do not have enough natural light, you can easily supplement them with a simple compact fluorescent bulb. Starting seeds indoors allows you to start seeds earlier than outdoor conditions might allow, which gives the plant a huge jump start for the season.
Water is important as well, but it is mentioned here because many people forget to plan for how they will water if they go away on a trip or are very busy. This can be as simple as asking a kind neighbor to help, or if you are away a lot, setting up an irrigation system. Either way, the goal is to make sure that your vegetables and herbs get the appropriate amount of water on a regular basis whether or not you are home.
Have your Garden Fit your Tastes
There a few factors that should influence the plants you choose to put into your garden, chief amongst them is your personal taste. Choose vegetables that you enjoy and use frequently. If you don’t like eggplant, they will likely just become compost in your garden. You will be more pleased by a garden full of things you enjoy. Once you have chosen your favorite vegetables and herbs, you just need to choose varieties of those that do well in your climate. Local nurseries should carry season appropriate selections. Local agriculture departments are also a wealth of knowledge.
There are few experiences in food that give you as much satisfaction as eating food that you have grown yourself. With these considerations, you should have the confidence to start your own thriving vegetable and herb garden.
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Written by: Andrew Easton