In the United States it is estimated that 36 million households have a vegetable garden and the average garden grew a whopping $600 in produce! More important than the total dollar value of the home garden is the reduction of carbon emissions from eating super local foods. It’s estimated that every bite of food you eat travels 2,000 miles to reach your plate; imagine the environmental impact if you reduce those miles to just a few feet!
Growing your food is easy and rewarding and anybody can begin, no matter where you live. From a tiny apartment in the city to a backyard in suburbia, as long as you have sunlight you can grow. When considering a garden it is wise to make a plan. You’ll need to evaluate your space and your eating habits and plant accordingly.
You need to take a careful look at the available spaces for your garden area. You want a sunny location with easy access to water and hopefully no history or contamination. You sure don’t want to plant your garden and find out somebody used to dump motor oil in that location. It might be a good idea to get a soil test if you aren’t sure of the history of the plot you choose. This can be done by submitting a soil sample to a local university or through a commercial tester (try searching online for one in your area), you can find out more about soil testing by clicking here.
You’ll also want a spot free from many stones, and a good sandy loam if possible, with lots of organic matter. You could even start composting your food scraps and using the finished product as fertilizer or new top soil for your garden. Additionally, do not get caught up in the traditional square or rectangle plot garden. Try mixing vegetables in with your already established landscaping; tomatoes along your porch or strawberries lining your walkway. Your garden can be any shape; make it fit your home, space and style!
Once you have found a suitable location in your yard, next is the decision of how to grow. Raised bed, containers, wide rows, narrow rows or square foot…there are a multitude of ways to plant so you’ll want to find out what works for your particular climate and space. You can also grow your plot using multiple forms of spacing because some crops lend better to rows or blocks. For example, try planting your lettuce in the square foot style and your carrots in rows. Experiment with different designs, styles and trellising to find what works for you. Remember, your garden area is always a work in progress.
Choose your plants wisely. You’ll want to grow crops that you and your family love and will get the most use of. You wouldn’t want to grow golden beets to find out everybody in your family hates them…so choose carefully. You also want to make sure your growing the right amount. Take a look at some online calculators to find out how much each plant will produce on average and figure how many plants you’ll need to fill your family’s wants and needs. Also, when choosing different varieties it is preferable if you can grow heirloom’s that are accustomed to your climate. Talk with your local UC Extension (or other local university) or try to find an “old-timer” that has been growing in your area and can offer advice. Your best resource in planting your garden is local gardeners that have like-minded ideas.
Finally, enjoy your garden and the bounty it will provide. You’ll be amazed at the ease of maintenance and harvesting when you have taken the time to thoroughly plan out your garden area. Get your family involved to share the workload and reap the rewards!
Additional Resources for Urban Residents:
San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance
Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter, also read about her recent struggles and accomplishments regarding permitting here
“The Impact of Home and Community Gardening in America.” The National Garden Association, 2009. Web. 19 July 2011