There are many great reasons for growing a family garden.
Growing a garden has many benefits well beyond just producing food for your family to live on.
Working in your garden will expand your appreciation of nature and will make you more aware of what the world offers us. Having a garden will teach your family to work together. A major benefit is when you have a garden that produces much of what you eat, you are not entirely dependent on others to provide you with food. Another important benefit is that you can actually grow and produce those fruits and vegetables that your family enjoys and will eat. You can select crops that will provide a nutritious diet for your family members to enjoy. Growing your own food will give you a satisfaction in being able to provide for yourself. Having a garden will save money over having to purchase produce from the grocery store, and it can give you the opportunity to share with those in need as well as being able to trade with others for items you might need but can’t afford.
Begin Your Garden With a Plan
Before you will be able to actually plant your garden you will need to make some important decisions.
- Where to plant your garden. Your garden deserves the best location possible, as it will become a valuable source of food for your family. It will become an important part of your backyard. Choose a sunny location with at least six hours of sunlight every day. Check the soil in the location you have chosen. If the soil is sandy, that will make it so it cannot retain water well. If the soil is full of clay, the water will collect in puddles on top and runs down through the ground very slowly. You will need to compensate for poor soil by adding compost or the opposite kind of soil to improve your growing conditions. Make sure you have a good water source nearby. In most climates, you cannot depend of rain for enough water for your garden. You should plant your garden fairly close to your house if possible. You will want to work in it regularly and the nearer to your home, the better. Choose a place that is as level as possible. If it is too steep the water could wash away the soil and the seeds. If you do have to plant your garden on a slope, make the planting furrows running across the slope rather than up and down. If you live in an apartment, you can use pots and planters for your garden.
- Determine the size of garden spot that you want. This will be determined by the size of your family, what fruits and vegetables you want to plant in your garden, whether you are planting enough produce to bottle and can for the winter season, and how much space can be used.
- What to plant in your garden. If space is limited you should choose crops that grow upward, such as berry vines, pole beans, or tomatoes that can be staked. Choose seeds that bear heavily, such as squash and tomatoes, rather than crops from a single seed such as radishes. Be sure to choose foods that your family will eat and enjoy and that will provide the nutrients they need. It is a good idea to map out your garden while you are doing the planning. The same plants should not grow in the same spot, year after year. Plants should be alternated on a regular basis to keep them healthy. Choose healthy, fresh seeds and seedlings.
- When to plant your garden. Knowing when your crops will grow to the best advantage takes planning. Each food grows under different favorable conditions as some crops grow best in cooler weather, while some grow during the dry season, and others prefer more water. Cooler weather crops include beets, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, onions, peas, and spinach. Crops that grow best in warm weather include beans, corn, melons, squash, and tomatoes. You will also need to plant according to the length of your season. Do your research, visit a local garden center or nursery, and read on the seed packages to learn what will be the ideal time for planting.
Prepare Your Garden Site
A month or so before planting time, clear the site of trash, weeds, twigs, rocks, and other debris. Loosen the soil with a shovel or have it roto-tilled so that the water can go through easily. You will want to have the soil soft and crumbly with no clods for planting. Now is the time to add compost or well-rotted plant and animal waste. This will improve the soil texture and will help produce better food crops because it adds nutrients to the soil. The compost should be made four to six months before applying to the garden site. You can make your own compost heap during one summer and then add it to the garden for the next year.
Plant the Garden
If your growing season is short, you might want to start your plants inside to have seedlings to plant out in the garden. Seeds all vary in size and will need to be planted at different depths and ways. Read the packages for instructions on how to plant each crop. Be sure to leave enough room between the garden rows so that you can loosen the soil around the plants while they are growing. It is very important to keep the ground moist after planting the seeds. If the ground dries out, the seeds will not germinate.
Tend the Garden
All of the planning, preparing, and planting will not do any good if you do not care for your garden while it is growing.
- Water: Water your garden heavily about once a week if there is not enough rainfall. The soil should be wet to a depth of about seven inches after you have watered. Always water when the sun is not hot so the ground doesn’t become baked.
- Cultivate: Weeds will rob the water and nutrients from your plants. Pull them by hand or dig them out with a hoe. A thick mulch may prevent weeds from growing but you still need to loosen the soil with a hoe.
- Mulch: When the plants get several inches high, pull all of the weeds. Then you can put sawdust, shredded newspapers, grass, leaves, or straw two to three inches deep around the plants and between the rows. Mulching helps prevent losing moisture and keeps the soil from drying out. You will also find it helps keep the weeds down.
- Control Insect Damage: Insects damage crops and ruin plants. There are many different ways to control insect including washing the plants and applying insecticides. Always follow directions found on the package and then wash food well before using.
- Harvest Your Crops: Always pick right before you want to use your fruits and vegetables. This will give you best flavor and nutrition. Some crops will need to be harvested (picked) often when they are in season such as beans and peas. Check your produce regularly so you aren’t wasting your efforts.
Plan now to begin or improve your family garden. Remember that the whole family can work together and then benefit greatly from having a successful garden.