Homegrown Produce: Choosing What to Grow in Your Garden
A journey toward self-sufficient living often begins with one of our most basic needs: food. By now I’m sure you are well aware that growing your own food has numerous benefits. It’s a wonderful way to encourage healthy eating while saving money. Growing your own food benefits our earth by keeping your food consumption local and creating a food source for pollinators. And if you have children, gifting them with gardening experience is an excellent way to share where our food comes from and the importance of our outdoor environments. There are endless ways growing your own produce can foster healthy living, compassion, and exploration in young and old, alike!
If you are anything like me, you dream of abundant, aesthetically-pleasing gardens that will provide your family with all the nutrients needed to grow happy, healthy people. You dream of not needing to go to the grocery store weekly. Although that is possible, it’s not realistic for most of us. (For inspiration on complete local-eating, check out Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.) I usually start out thinking about a small, manageable garden, but when I get to the farm and home store to pick up seeds and plants, I lose all sense of time and practicality. I want to grow everything! I turn into a seed and plant hoarder.
So how do you decide (and stick to) what you should grow? One of the biggest mistakes made in gardening is being too ambitious about how much time and energy one has to accomplish all the work needed throughout the entire growing season. I’m definitely guilty of this. It’s easy to become discouraged and lose hope in ever having a green thumb when that happens. A little thought and preplanning can help to set us up for success in our gardening ventures. This will keep us coming back season after season to reap all of those benefits of growing your own food.
The following questions are meant to help you choose the plants to include in your garden that will work best for you and your family’s needs.
- What produce do you purchase weekly from the grocery store or farmer’s market?
I like to start by thinking of the snacks and meals enjoyed in my home on a regular basis. We love making veggie-stir fry. It’s a go-to, quick and easy. Having bell peppers, garlic, and onions on hand will take care of a good portion of the ingredients we need to make this. We are also heavy salad and sweet potato eaters. It may not seem like growing these staples will make that much of a difference financially, but when you think of each supermarket stop that includes these purchases, it really starts to add up.
- How much time and energy do you have to invest in gardening?
Be honest because this makes a huge difference. Think about your various responsibilities and determine when you will take the time to prepare and maintain your garden. Vegetables and fruits require different levels of attention throughout the growing season. Think about your level of energy before and after work. Will you have the drive to go out and work on big plots to keep the weeds down and pests at bay? If not, maybe a few tomato plants in pots near the house is what you should focus on. Remember to be realistic in order to set yourself up for success-no matter how big you envision your dream garden.
- How much room do you have for growing?
My favorite food is watermelon. I could eat it every day without get tired of it. My favorite summertime activity is going to the farmer’s market and seeing which watermelon has been reserved for me by the best watermelon grower around. That being said, I will not be planting watermelon in our garden this season. They require too much land and water to be a financial benefit to my family. It’s better for us in the long run to plant more of another fruit or vegetable and leave the watermelon growing to the professionals.
- Is your garden spot sunny or shady?
Go back to your list of vegetables and fruits eaten regularly and consider your growing space. Determine which items on your list are cool and warm weather crops. Then focus your efforts on what your garden space allows. It won’t do much good to plant a bunch of tomatoes (because you love them) in a garden that is completely shaded. Instead, focus on dark leafy vegetables for which you can grow a bed to place tomatoes (from the farmer’s market)-making a delicious salad.
- Don’t forget to include the kids!
If there are children in your home, or who play a major role in your life, think about what they would be excited to grow. If you aren’t sure, just ask. They will be happy to give you some suggestions, I’ll bet. It’s a most rewarding process getting children involved in gardening and growing their own food. There’s no doubt you will learn more along the way, too! If I had left out this step in garden planning we would be without strawberries this year, which seems like a no-brainer to include now.
If you are new to it, home gardening may seem like an overwhelming task. Quite honestly it can be if you let it. But with a little thought and consideration, you can choose to grow produce that makes the most sense-economically, time and energy wise, and based on how much and what type of space you have available. Make a list. Do a little research. And know, if you forget something or find something new you’d like to try growing, there is always next year!