The benefits of eating organic, locally grown fruits and vegetables are well known, and the home garden is making a comeback. In generations past, even families in cities as big as New York almost always had some form of home garden. Tomatoes, squash, peppers, and many other adaptable crops can be grown in a wide range of environments. While much of what can be grown depends on where in the world you live and your growing conditions, there are some universal things to know in order to successfully grow your own seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Decide whether you can grow in the ground, or whether you'd like to grow in raised beds or containers. There are benefits and drawbacks to each system. If you have a yard available with enough space to map out a small garden, it’s a good idea to test your soil before going too much further. Though several soil testing kits are available at any nursery or home improvement store, a reliable and professional test as a baseline is generally recommended. Check with your local cooperative extension office for available soil testing services. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, along with many other micro-nutrients, are essential to a successful harvest. Balancing these elements before planting is crucial to achieving the best results. Once you've obtained the proper balance, you're ready to plan your garden.
Container gardening can be done almost anywhere. There are many different containers to choose from. Browse online, or visit your local nursery to view all the options available. Be careful to choose containers with good soil drainage. One of the more obvious benefits of container gardening is the control you have over everything from where your plants will be located to how much water you will use. Unlike in-ground gardens, you'll be able to use different soil mixtures for different plants and controlling weeds is a breeze.
Once your soil is ready, planning is key. There are some online planning templates that take garden planning to a whole new level. Once you've got your parameters set, the online tool can tell you where the best location is in your garden for each thing you want to plant and exactly when to plant each variety. If you're not feeling particularly tech-savvy, a pencil and paper work great. Make sure to use accurate measurements in your plan. There's nothing worse than squeezing all your plants onto a paper map only to realize during planting that you didn't leave enough actual space for your plants to grow. Make sure to leave plenty of space for each type of plant you plan to grow. Crowding to much together will not only reduce overall yields, but also encourages pests and disease.
What you can grow and when you should grow it will depend on a number of factors including what zone you're in. You can use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to determine your growing zone in the United States. Their interactive map can be especially helpful to narrow down your specific zone. For optimal results, take some time to research varieties that are best suited to your growing conditions and climate. For example, determinate tomato varieties are often best suited for container gardens due to their smaller size and lower nutritional needs than indeterminate varieties.
Whether you decide to start your seeds inside or sow them directly in the ground will also depend on where you live. But no matter where you live, once your plants are established, ground cover is crucial to not only retain moisture but to help control the growth of weeds. Using mulch or wood chips is recommended. These can sometimes be obtained for free from a local tree trimmer or green recycling center. Try checking your city or county website for information on green recycling. In many larger cities, organic compost is also available to home gardeners for free or for a small fee.
Joining a local gardening club can be an amazing source of information. Many gardening clubs have been operating for years. Having an experienced urban gardener to turn to for advice on regional pests and diseases can save your entire crop. If you can't find an established gardening club in your area, consider starting one of your own. As an added bonus, most gardening clubs have a crop-sharing program. Gardeners plan their entire gardens for each season so that they can coordinate, help each other and share in the harvest.
Harvest time has traditionally been a time of celebration. Knowing how to properly preserve your bounty will make the celebration even sweeter. Canning, drying and storing are all worthwhile skills for the home gardener to learn and cultivate. Whether you plan to stock food for winter months or create homemade jams and relishes to give as holiday gifts, there are plenty of ways to use your harvest.
Urban gardening not only provides healthy meals but can help ease mental stress and provide a worthwhile and rewarding hobby for anyone, including children, teens and retirees. Some people view urban gardening as a revolution of sorts, while others view it as an inexpensive way to put the healthiest produce on the dinner table. Whatever your motivation, welcome to the world of urban gardening, enjoy the view.
If you're still not sure where to start, there are a number of great books centered around urban, small space, and container gardening available at your local library or purchased online. Here are just a few of our favorites.