As more people become educated about their health care, commercial food production, and overall food costs, many are starting to look for alternatives. Maybe this is you, and you’re looking for a way to bring healthier food into your house, or trying to reduce your carbon footprint. Whatever your reason, starting your own food garden is within reach, even if you’ve never gardened before.
You can grow your own food by starting with a few easy-to-grow plants, a small garden bed or container, and seeds or seedlings. By starting small with 3-4 types of plants, you will be able to slowly learn the skills needed to expand your food-growing operation with confidence.
The most challenging aspect for most people who want to grow their own food is knowing where to start, especially if you have never been much of a gardener.
You don’t need to have any previous experience or the so-called “green thumb” to grow food successfully. A few key pieces of information will get you started on the road to healthier eating with your first garden.
Let’s dig in!
Can you grow your own food?
Not only can you grow your food, but you also should!
Commercially produced food is grown on a massive scale, where the primary focus is on profit rather than the health benefits to the end consumer, you.
The recent increase in public knowledge and understanding regarding personal health has prompted many food growers and producers to adjust some of their growing practices to consider public health. However, these food producers still use pesticides, fungicides, and genetically modified plants to grow food.
These practices offer short-term benefits for the commercial growers but produce long-term problems for the people consuming the food and the environment.
Homegrown food in your backyard puts one of your food sources back in your control. It makes your garden produce as local as possible and reduces your carbon footprint, which is the distance the food has to travel to get to you.
Many people would like to grow their own food but are not sure whether it is possible. Some of the primary concerns people have regarding the possibility are as follows.
- Not knowing where to start. Most first-time growers simply do not know how to get started.
- No gardening skills. The skillset necessary to grow any crop is basic and easily learned with this and other articles on this blog, even if you think you have a “black thumb.”
- No growing space. This is a common concern for apartment dwellers and renters, but you will be surprised how little space you need to grow a portion of your own food and what you can accomplish in an apartment!
- Lack of time. A small food garden is not a time-consuming activity. The highest time investment is getting the garden started. Maintenance and growing your food require very little time if you’re consistent. Gardening hacks such as using mulch and drip irrigation can also reduce the time you need to spend on weekly chores.
Is it legal to grow your own food?
In general, it is legal to grow your own food on your property. Specific city regulations or Homeowner’s Agreements (HOAs) may prohibit front yard gardens or limit the size of visible structures such as hoop houses or greenhouses, but backyard gardens are generally permitted.
It’s worth doing your own investigation with the authorities where you live regarding the legalities of a vegetable garden, especially if you want to grow in your front yard.
If such ordinances restrict you, you can still grow food by getting a little creative with where you grow your vegetables, such as in pots along your driveway or on your porch or deck! A grow light indoors can even stretch your growing capabilities further to include fresh greens and herbs.
7 steps to get started growing your own food
People who have not had any exposure to growing plants, and gardeners who have never grown vegetables, often don’t know where to start.
As with any new venture, success comes with having a plan. The best way to plan for growing your food is to include the following steps.
1. Start on a small scale
When you plan out your first food garden, start small. Don’t be too ambitious and initiate a project beyond your time commitment, skills, and resources. This is a sure recipe for becoming discouraged before you even open any seed packets!
Start small with your food growing project and increase its size as you become more familiar with the process and gain confidence. Once you get some experience growing a few easy plants, you can experiment with more challenging varieties or plant types.
2. Analyze your food growing space
Take a look at your available growing space and decide on the best approach for you. Will you create a vegetable patch in your garden outdoors, start a container garden with pots or plants, or establish an indoor food garden?
Your available space will be the most significant contributor to this decision, but you should also factor in time and cost.
Limited space doesn’t mean you can’t grow fresh produce. If anything, it will help you focus on what’s a priority for your time and resources.
Even if you have ample outdoor space available, start on a small scale and increase capacity as your experience, confidence, and knowledge grows.
3. Decide what foods you want to grow
Many first-time growers want to grow everything at once and plant too much too soon. The best way to figure out what you should start growing is to look at what you currently eat.
Start with examining what vegetables typically include in your daily diet and start with some of the easy-growing plants in that group before you try growing food you have never eaten before.
To help jumpstart your plant selections, I include a list of food plants you can grow at home and which ones are easiest to start growing as a beginner in just a moment.
4. Select and source high-quality seeds
Growing your own healthy and nutritious food starts with selecting the right seeds to plant. As you look through seed catalogs or the seed rack at your local garden center, you’ll see labels like “heirloom” or “hybrid” on the seed packets. Here’s what they mean:
- Heirloom varieties have been around for a long time. These varieties tend to highlight flavor and nutrition over yield and uniformity.
- Hybrid varieties are created by crossing two parent plants to create a new plant with the best characteristics of both parents. These varieties are often higher-yielding and more disease-resistant than heirlooms.
- GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are plants that have been genetically engineered in a laboratory to have certain traits, such as resistance to herbicides or pests. These varieties are created for large-scale commercial growing operations and aren’t the best for home gardens.
You can buy your seeds from several places, including seed catalogs, big box stores, and online retailers. You can also learn how to save seeds from your own plants to replant next season.
Some of my favorite companies to buy seeds from online are listed in this article, 10 Best Places To Buy Quality Flower Seeds Online. Even though I’m writing about flowers, all of those companies also sell a huge variety of vegetable and herb seeds.
5. Get just a few garden tools
You will need some basic, easy to source gardening tools to get started. These tools do not need to be expensive, and you do not need many.
- Garden hose
- Watering can
- Trowel or hand shovel
With this small collection, you can do every garden task, from creating new beds to watering and weeding. If you’re growing a container garden, you could even skip the fork, which is generally used to turn over patches of dirt. Instead, invest in some pots or planters from your local garden center or nursery.
6. Decide on a food growing method
Several growing methods can enhance the nutritional value of the plants that you grow. Some methods limit the impact on the natural environment, and others help improve it.
Options such as permaculture, no-till growing, raised bed gardening, and hydroponics benefit both the gardener and the environment. Choosing one of these methods will also help you eliminate the need to use pesticides and chemicals to control plant pests and diseases.
No-till gardens make it easy and quick for beginner gardeners to get started without the hassle and effort of tilling. You can learn more about no-till gardening from Charles Dowding, an expert on the topic:
The best food crops to start with
One of the questions frequently raised by people beginning to grow their own food is which foods can they grow? The food plants you can grow will primarily be determined by the available space for your food garden.
- Green and yellow melons
- Fruit trees of various kinds, depending on your local climate and space availability. Many fruits trees like figs and dwarf varieties can even be grown in large pots.
Grow food without a garden
Space is a problem for many city dwellers, and some suburban regulations may limit growing your own food. You can use several food-growing strategies to grow your own food if you don’t have a garden.
The methods will vary depending on your particular space limitation but can include any of the following methods or a combination.
- Grow food in pots. The greatest benefit to containers is you can situate them in the ideal location. They can be located on a balcony to get sunshine and be brought indoors in inclement weather. They can be positioned on a deck or porch or line a driveway to get the most sun possible. Depending on the pot size, you can grow everything from a few herbs to a large tomato plant.
- Vertical grow systems. Vertical gardening uses vertical space to grow food, which minimizes the footprint space needed to grow the plants. Trellising, staking and netting all minimize ground use and maximize space.
- Indoor unit with grow lights. Growing food indoors typically yields good results, but it can be expensive if you go with a premade kit. You can build your own setup on a budget and harvest fresh produce in your kitchen.
- Hydroponic food growing systems. Hydroponics grow systems come in various forms with different levels of complexity and methods, but they essentially use water and fertilizer to grow food rather than soil. They can be set up on a porch, balcony, or even indoors.
Many of the costs for indoor food growing have reduced dramatically with the development of new technologies. LED grow lamps, improved methods, and greater demand have reduced the costs of growing plants indoors. Lack of garden space is no longer a limiting factor to growing your own food!
If your space is limited (or nonexistent), check out this article for some ideas to work with what you’ve got: How to Grow Food Without a Garden (4 Creative Ways).
The easiest foods to grow
Beginners starting to grow their own food are usually advised to start with easy-to-grow food plants. This is good advice, and it is recommended that you start your food growing project on this basis.
Growing easy plants will give you a feel for the process without the added complication of growing difficult plants. As your food-growing growing skill level and confidence improve, you will be better positioned to try growing some of the more challenging food plants.
Fortunately, some of the easiest food plants to grow include many of the most commonly eaten food crops, so you should find something on this list that you like to eat!
- Lettuce: Leaf lettuce is one of the easiest food plants to grow, and it produces over a period of weeks if you harvest the outer leaves and leave the inner leaves to continue growing. Head lettuce is also easy to grow, such as Romaine, but once you harvest it, you have to replant.
- Spinach and other greens: Spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are easy to grow and reward well with bountiful crops. Swiss chard comes in various colors and can also be decorative.
- Radishes: Growing radishes make anyone feel like an expert grower. It is almost impossible to mess up growing these plants.
- Green onions: Green onions, also known as spring onions or scallions, are easy to grow, and if you harvest the green leaves, your can harvest from the same plant multiple times.
- Mint: Mint is easy to grow, but the biggest challenge for the grower is keeping them under control! The roots spread vigorously, so the standard advice is to plant mint in a pot to prevent it from becoming invasive.
- Basil: A summer staple in the kitchen, basil grows easily and pairs well with many other easy-to-grow plants. Use your bumper crop for pesto and salads!
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes grow very easily with little care, and even a single tomato plant can provide plenty of tomatoes for a small family for the entire growing season. Look for “indeterminate” varieties that will pump out the tomatoes all summer, rather than “determinate,” which produce and ripen all their tomatoes at once.
Growing your own food is not difficult, but it is a step into the unknown for most people who have never done any gardening before. Getting the right start and having a solid plan is the key to successfully growing your own food and enjoying the benefits of gardening.
Once you get started, I’m willing to bet that you will quickly expand your growing space and the crops you choose to grow! The satisfaction of growing your food, besides the health benefits, will soon make this activity a top priority for you!