Food gardening is an easy-t0-start creative and frugal hobby. Pretty much anyone can grow something inside or outside the home whether it’s herbs in a pot on the window sill or a small patch of tomato plants.
Food gardening combines both frugality and creativity to provide families with fresh produce for pennies on the dollar. According to the National Garden Association, food gardening is on the rise in America, with an average well-maintained garden producing a $500 return on the investment of time, supplies and yard space.
Our Food Gardening Story
My husband and I started our first food garden in my in-law’s back yard the first spring after we met. About a year later, we asked our landlord for permission to turn our tiny front yard in front of our West Philly row home into a vegetable garden. We had 5 raised beds with lawn between and a compost bin in the middle.
When we moved to our current home, we initially set up a vegetable with 8 beds, and expanded it the following year to 12 beds. Since the soil in the lawn was in terrible shape, we, meaning me, hauled many truckloads of free leaf mulch to build our vegetable beds. To maximize our yield and spread the harvest out over time, we learned how to companion plant and plant crops in small amounts in succession.
This spring we’re changing up our vegetable garden by switching to fewer vegetable beds as built permanent raised beds. While we love the fresh vegetables coming from the garden, in this busy season of 5 kids ages 17 down to 5 on the go, we have less time.
Benefits of Food Gardening
- gentle exercise
- vitamin D exposure
- reduces stress
- teaches patience
- digging in dirt strengthens immune system
- can stretch food budget a little farther during the summer
- easy way to be creative when you add in annuals, vegetables and herbs every year to your yard
Getting Started with Food Gardening
The easiest way to be overwhelmed is to start big and not have the time to take care of your garden. Be realistic about the time you have and the amount of space you have for gardening. If your yard has lots of trees, you may not have enough sun for sun-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers. Don’t forget about the wildlife which can wreak havoc on a garden.
Start with a few containerized plants or a few plants installed in existing flower beds. Another option is to clear a 4 x 4 foot space in your yard; use the lasagna gardening method to create a no-dig bed. Lettuce and other greens can be grown in hanging baskets on the back porch. Herb plants are easy to grow in containers.
Get the Kids Involved
Getting the kids involved in your gardening efforts makes the project a family affair. Kids love to dig in the dirt. Growing plants is an exercise in patience, learning, and wonder. Just as kids learn responsibility by helping with chores around the house, they’ll learn about responsibility and community when outside helping in the garden. If you can, give them space for their own vegetable garden. A one foot by one foot space gives kids enough room to plant a few easy-to-grow plants like lettuce and beans which they can share with the family.
Share and Barter with Your Neighbors
A friend of mine can’t grow tomatoes in her yard due to a lack of enough sunlight. Her next-door neighbor grows them and shares them with my friend who loves to make them into yummy dishes. Depending on our harvest, my neighbor and I will exchange veggies during the summer. She doesn’t have the space for zucchini, and I like a fresh slicing tomato in our salads. If you end up with too many vegetable plants and not enough space, pass a few along to a neighbor. Raspberry and blackberry vines, grape vines, and strawberry plants are easy plants to share if you need to prune a patch of fruiting plants back to a manageable size.
Keep A Gardening Journal
Keeping a garden journal each year helps you remember which varieties you planted and which ones worked for your yard. If you encounter a bug that devastates your broccoli crop, make a note about the bug and what measures worked to stop the bug. Don’t obsess over maintaining the gardening journal. A simple notebook kept near your gardening stuff where you’ll have it at hand for jotting notes is perfect. Tech gardeners can jot notes on their smart phone in an app like Evernote.
What’s your favorite vegetable crop to plant?
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