So you’ve decided you want to start growing your own food. What Next?
If you don’t come from an agricultural background or even have experience with a garden, this might seem like a daunting task. Many folks won’t even know where to begin.
If this is you, don’t worry! You’ve already begun and you’re on track! That’s why you’re here!
Do Your Homework!
Before getting your hands dirty you’re going to want to do some research. By working smart you can make sure all your hard work PAYS OFF. Too many amateur gardeners end up failing or having to redo their work because they didn’t know what they were doing. This can certainly be unmotivating. This is why I’m writing this text. I want to help YOU and YOUR gardens flourish. I’ve designed this following text to be an easy-as-pie introduction for those who aren’t exactly sure where to begin. We will start with the 5 essentials you need to consider when starting to grow your own food!
Whether it’s a small backyard in the city or an acre of land in the countryside, growing food needs land.
Alternatively, it CAN also be possible to grow a decent amount of food in containers on a balcony or inside, but this guide is not about this. Nor is it about hydroponics, aquaponics, or other alternative cultivation methods.
We are talking about real land, with real soil, and real food, grown the good ole’ fashion way.
Whether you’re buying land or working with what you have, below are some of the things to consider about the land before a seed is even planted.
- How is your soil? Is it dark and fertile? Or rocky? How far are you from bedrock? Is it different on different sites?
- How much water do you have available?
- What is the climate? How many frost-free days do you have? When is the growing season?
- Do you have microclimates?
- How accessible are different parts of your land?
- What is the history here? Was there conventionañ agriculture before? Any potential contaminants?
You can do a TON with your hands, but some basic equipment can go a long way. Having the right equipment for the job not only makes it easier, but it usually allows you to do a much better job.
The Absolute Basics
- Shovels – Pretty self-explanatory. These help you move dirt, dig holes, loosen soil, and are an essential tool. There are different types of shovels to choose from, the best to start with is a round-point digging shovel.
- Wheelbarrow – This helps you move things. Whether it’s loose soil, soil in bags, compost, seedlings, potted plants, or other tools.
- The Hori-Hori – This is a Japanese tool that has become popular worldwide for its multipurpose abilities. It’s a small hand shovel with a serrated knife on one edge. It’s great for planting, weeding, and tons of other small jobs.
- Gardening Gloves – While it can be nice to work some callouses into your hands, gloves will help protect them from long laborious days.
Other Recommended Tools
- Pick Axe
- Snow Shovel
- Hand Plow
#3.Enriching Your Soil
More likely than not you will need to improve the fertility of your soil. Some crops work well in infertile soils and make a great option while you work towards improving your soil. Over time as you work your soil and continue amending it, it will become more fertile and allow you to grow a different set of crops.
Adding organic matter to your soil is the #1 key to increasing its fertility. It not only adds nutrients but also helps hold moisture and feeds the soil microbiology that brings fertility. Soil organic matter is primarily added as compost but can also be added by mulching, growing cover crops, and adding any form of biomass.
Compost is the key ingredient to ensuring success in your efforts. It comes in a variety of forms but all is essentially finely broken down organic matter. High-quality compost should be dark, homogenous, and not contain large pieces of undecomposed materials.
Types of Compost
- Hot Compost
- “Humanure” from Compost Toilets
- Cold Compost
- Leaf Compost
- Fungal Compost
Mulch is essentially any form of organic material that is laid above your soil. The most common forms of mulch are wood chips, hay, and leaves. Alternatively, some people grow specific types of grasses or other plants that can be used as mulch.
Benefits of Mulch
- Helps Retain Water
- Prevents Erosion
- Feeds Soil Food Web
- Regulates Soil Temperature
- Protects Soil from UV
- Reduces Growth of Weeds
#4.Irrigation and Water Systems
Having water is ESSENTIAL to growing food. In many cases, the quantity of water you have access to will greatly affect the types of crops you can grow. Water is also highly tied to the types of soil you have and your topographic position.
Don’t be mistaken, TOO MUCH water can also be an issue! In seasonally wet climates or areas that are natural wetlands, too much water can cause serious issues. If this is your case you may have to find ways to improve drainage and move water away from your zone of cultivation.
Types of Irrigation
- Drip Irrigation – Uses little water and can be easily installed for automation. The downside is that plant roots don’t develop properly and salination can be an issue.
- Sprinklers – Great if the water supply is not an issue. Can also be automated.
- Flood Irrigation – In some climates you may want to occasionally flood your soils. This will promote the growth of deep roots and more resilient crops.
- Manual Irrigation – Can be tedious but allows for smart water usage and better observation of your plants.
Earthworks are large topographic alterations made to your land. These are things like artificial ponds, berms, swales, dams, and drainage canals. These are great to do if you have the capabilities and space.
Last but not least you need the actual plants themselves! You will have to investigate what grows good in your climate and when to plant them. One of the best ways to do this is by visiting local farms and gardens!
Perennial Plants – These are plants that live for several years, like different types of fruit trees. Some may be short-lived perennials (3-10 years) while others may be long-lived perennials (10+ years). These are often great to plant as soon as possible! Many perennial plants will provide the greatest amount of food for the least effort!
Annual Plants – Annuals only live for one growing season. They most often grow in a vegetative state, produce fruit, become weak, and eventually perish. These take a bit more effort but can be a bulk of what you produce, especially in the short term!
Propagation is essentially the reproduction of plants. There are many different ways to do it, some of which are more viable for specific plants. These include direct seed, cuttings, air-layering, ground-layering, and transplanting. For starters, it may be best to find a local nursery that provides plants for your climate!Every Plant Is UNIQUE! Do your research on every plant you are growing, they require different care and needs. This is ESSENTIAL to ensure they grow well.
This is just the BEGINNING
But don’t be intimidated, the fun part of gardening is you will learn as you go! No matter how much research you do there will be failures. These will make you a better and stronger gardener in the long run. Learn the essentials and you will have a good foundation for what’s to come!