Grow Your Own Food: Tips For Beginning

Even before food prices rose, I've been interested in investing more time and money in growing my own foods that would at least supplement my cooking/diet. Trend or not, I think it's an important thing to know how to do. I'd be interested to see/hear from folks who are already doing this with success or failure. helps locate "farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area."

(Elementary Chef) I grow SOME food. Not much. Tomatoes and herbs. That’s about all I have in me! I’m a city-dweller, and what I do grow, I grow in pots. But this news release inspires me!

Locally grown foods are the next and hottest consumer food trend. In fact, a national poll says 75 percent of consumers believe it’s important to know whether food is grown locally or regionally. What many consumers don’t realize is how easy it can be to grow their own fresh produce right in their own backyard.

Growing fruits and vegetables does not have to be a monumental task. Dr. Calvin Finch, a master gardener and expert on produce production, offers these easy tips to help jump-start your home garden.

1. So many choices — Choosing what to grow may be just as important as how you grow it. Consider what you and your family like and how much you wish to grow. In addition to your food preferences, your decision should be based on sunlight availability and space and time constraints. The important thing to remember is it only takes a plant or two to make a “garden.” You don’t have to plant a large area.

If sunlight is limited, you can grow vegetables that are grown for their fruits or seeds in pots. These vegetables include, corn, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, beans and peas. When space is limited, the following are recommended: bush snap beans and lima beans; leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, mustard, and turnips; green onions; tomatoes; sweet peppers; and eggplant. As space becomes available, you can add broccoli, cabbage, hot peppers, okra, summer squash, southern peas and pole beans. It is also a good idea to plant vegetable varieties that are most suited to your geographic location.

2. Plan before you plant — Before you commit to a garden site, consider the sunlight availability, soil conditions, and proximity to water. A healthy garden needs at least six hours of sun each day. Soil should be very fertile, although fertility can be enhanced, and have adequate drainage. Avoid rocky areas and those that puddle after a rain storm. It is also a good idea to be close to a water supply to avoid the hassles of long water hoses.

3. Test your soil — This test determines if your soil has the proper nutrient balance to support a garden. Farmers perform soil tests every few years to ensure their fields have the right balance of nutrients to produce healthy, high-yield crops, and home gardeners should do the same. Measuring the nutrient levels in your soil is easier than you might think thanks to do-it-yourself home testing kits and your local cooperative extension service. Pick up a testing kit at your local home and garden store, or contact your local extension service for assistance.

4. Feed the plants that feed you — The soil test results will show what nutrients are lacking and explain what nutrients should be added. Commercial fertilizers are generally the easiest to use and allow for greater accuracy. They are labeled with three numbers, which provide the proportion of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium — the three essential elements required for plant growth. For example, a bag of fertilizer labeled 8-8-8 contains 8 percent each of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. What many consumers don’t realize is that the essential elements of fertilizers are naturally occurring in the environment.

5. Time to Plant — Planting and spacing depths are critical, so make sure you read the recommended depth requirements on the seed packets. You should plant extra seeds in each row to allow for failed germination, and for thinning. Cover the seeds with fine soil, then firm the soil over the seeds to hold in moisture. Water with a gentle spray, careful not to disturb or uncover the seeds. Once seedlings have emerged and developed their second or third set of true leaves, thin them as needed so that you keep the strongest plants and maintain proper spacing.

6. Ample water and fertilizer makes bountiful produce — Growing plants draw their nutrition from the soil, depleting the soil of important crop nutrients when the produce is harvested. To get the healthiest, most nutritious produce, replenish with a water-soluble fertilizer three to six times after planting, following label instructions. Fertilizer should be applied more frequently when the plant is growing rapidly because plants are removing high levels of nutrients from the soil to sustain their growth. Plants need to be “fed” just like people. Healthy soil produces healthy, nutritious fruits and vegetables. Regular watering is also important. Mature plants need about an inch of water each week from either rain or watering.

7. Keep the weeds out — Don’t invest your time and money in weeds. Pull weeds regularly, and be sure to get the root. A light layer of mulch can help deter weed growth.

Don’t have the time or space? — Container gardening can be quick, easy and delicious. Key tips to growing a successful container garden include choosing a rot-resistant pot that allows adequate drainage, using a quality potting mixture, placing pots where they get at least six hours of sunlight per day, and apply water and fertilizer regularly. Don’t hesitate to grow a variety of produce in one pot if space permits. You can create a salsa or pizza container garden by growing your desired vegetables and herbs in one container.