Okay, so I’m not exactly new to gardening. I’ve been doing it my whole life. But the thing is, even if I devoted my entire life to gardening, I still wouldn’t feel like I know enough about it. Growing confidence is a big part of starting a garden. Gardening basics is a good place to start.
There are so many areas to focus on, and lots of ways to get involved.
In times where we have to maintain distance, how can we help support each other? Maintaining community, and still getting the food we need to stay healthy can feel like a challenge right now.
I’m going to go over the basics of what you’ll need to start a vegetable garden. I hope you’ll find at least one person to share this knowledge with, and hopefully your produce too.
Whatever your living situation might be, there are ways to get started with gardening. Anywhere from a windowsill box with spinach, to a backyard filled with rows enough to feed the neighbourhood.
Gardening is about community coming together to share knowledge, skills, and food. Its how we as social beings can connect in a universal way.
Starting your garden
Okay, first you need to decide what is reasonable for you, and where you live. If you have a yard available to you, is it something you can dig up, and grow vegetables in? Or is the soil potentially contaminated?
If you have contaminated soil, you’ll want to use alternative methods for growing. You can use raised beds for this, but another cost effective method is to use things like buckets. You can get fancier containers instead, but if we’re talking what is the nittiest grittiest way to get started on the cheap? My personal favourite is buckets.
Where are you growing?
If you know you will be growing in containers, or inside on the windowsills, how much sunlight do your windows get throughout the day. You need to make sure that you have enough sunlight to last 6-8 consecutive hours. This is considered full sun, and will be enough light for most vegetables to grow well. Afternoon sunlight is considered better in the summer months when the days are longer.
If you have a balcony, a great option is to use 5 gallon buckets filled with soil and compost (you can buy already mixed blends). The depth of the bucket will allow you to grow things like carrots, radishes, potatoes, and other root based vegetables. Buckets are also great for above ground things like tomatoes, herbs, climbers (like pole beans), and leafy greens.
Using a bucket is honestly one of the lowest cost ways to get started in container gardening. Best of all you can reuse the bucket for other stuff later. I would personally still use a bucket in a backyard, on a deck, or anywhere I can find reliable access to sunlight.
Grow vegetables in your front yard
I know this is a bit of a controversial one, but if you have a front yard with enough sunlight – grow in it!
I say this for a few reasons.
- its a viable location to grow vegetables, and makes an excellent use of space.
- It is an awesome conversation starter with your neighbours, and its such a great way to feel connected to your community.
The other major reason why I am a huge advocate of front yard vegetable gardens is because it models to others around you what is possible.
You might feel like you don’t know what you are doing yet, and you don’t want others to watch you learn. You will not have a Pinterest perfect garden, and that’s okay. Actually, I hope you don’t have a Pinterest perfect garden, because the whole point of gardening isn’t about how it looks, its about how it functions, and what it produces.
If at the end of the season all you have to show for it is more time outside, and meaningful connections with your neighbours, thats huge growth.
Gardens don’t just grow food, they grow people too
A front yard garden is an act of courage, especially if you have never gardened before. The rewards will far outweigh the negatives though.
Some people are very against front yard vegetable gardens. I think some of this comes from the idea that vegetable gardening is like a private look into what you might be eating. But honestly, being able to connect with your neighbours about gardening is one of the things that makes it so valuable as a community builder.
If your front yard garden is large enough, put a sign out for people to come and help you. They can share their skills and knowledge in exchange for sharing in the produce. You can even put together potlucks using your hard earned harvest.
I think backyard gardening is probably the most common place you will find vegetables. If you have access to a yard, this is going to be the place to experiment and have fun in the dirt.
Much like front yard gardening, you want to go where the sun is. If your backyard is shaded by trees, or by buildings, than you will have to find another location to grow.
If your backyard is the perfect growing location, but soil is terrible, or loaded with roots consider straw bale gardening.
A classic indoor growing spot. If you don’t have access to outside land, start a few pots of herbs, and leafy greens. It will be difficult to grow things like root vegetables, or larger plants like tomatoes on a windowsill. You can grow things like strawberries, salad greens, and peppers on a windowsill. If you have floor space with long sun exposure, you can use, that’s right, buckets!
I really like windowsill gardening for things like starting plants from seeds. In late winter when temperatures are still too cold, its a good way to get a jumpstart. You can also save money by starting from seed and extend the number of plants you can plant in spring.
Where I live we have relatively short summers, so maximizing growing time is key to getting the most out of certain crops.
What to grow
Now that you know where you are growing, its time to think about what you are growing.
Consider what type of things you like to eat, and determine if what you like eating is compatible with your growing area. I like avocados, but its not realistic for me to grow them where I live.
Tomatoes, green or yellow beans, and herbs are great starter plants for someone new to gardening. Cherry tomatoes are a pretty popular starting tomato, but if you have another variety in mind, just be sure to check the packaging to see what they need.
The package will tell you how big the plant gets, and help you figure out how much space it will need to grow. A variety like Tiny Tim for instance will not need very much space. Tiny Tim can probably be grown on a windowsill in a medium size pot. But a beefsteak will need a lot of space, and would be better in a bucket, or in the ground.
If you are not sure what you want to grow, start with plants zoned for your area. The best way to figure out what grows in your zone is to go to the hardware store, or an online seed catalogue, and look through all the different types of vegetables available in your zone. From there you should be able to narrow it down to things you like, and want to eat.
Seeds are typically sold based on zoning, which references the climate for your geographic location. The zoning chart for North America can be found here, and will help you know what to look for on packaging. If you don’t find anything labelled on the packages, ask the store what is rated for your USDA hardiness zone.
Typically stores do not stock things that will not grow in your zone though. People don’t want to buy things they can’t reasonably grow.
Browsing the available seeds is a great starting point, but it can also be really easy to get carried away. Before you go seed browsing, think about the amount of space you have, how much money you are willing to spend, and what kind of return on investment you are hoping for.
Are you planning to fill your balcony with buckets? If so, is each bucket going to be a different type of plant, or will half be tomatoes, and the other half basil, and oregano, and maybe a bucket for garlic? A great way to make homemade tomato sauce (try using Roma tomatoes if going this route).
Ultimately there is no wrong way to get started. You just have to start. That’s usually the hardest part. Like anything, we don’t know until we try.
Connecting to community
One of the greatest joys of gardening for me is being able to share what I’ve grown, with others. This doesn’t mean you need to give away all your produce. If you can share your produce, that’s great. But connecting with your neighbours to share your knowledge, that’s the key.
If you’ve been working on your front yard garden all season and your neighbours have shown even the slightest amount of interest, consider inviting them to share in your harvest. Host a dinner party using fresh ingredients, or donate to a food bank.
At a time when our world is being brought together in the most isolating of ways, giving thought to how we share space is more vital than ever. Gardening is a life skill, but one we can’t hold alone. I know lots of people who have gardened or farmed their entire lives, and yet every time they meet another gardener, there is something to learn.
Just starting out is such an exciting place to be.
TL;DR Basics of Gardening
And because I didn’t really cover the tangible basics above, the main things you need to get started on this adventure are;
- A place to grow (buckets?)
- At least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight
- Water, or access to a safe water source (could be a tap, a bucket you carry from a tap), a well. This might seem obvious, but just stay away from sewage, or contaminated water sources.
- Seeds, or plants already started from a nursery.
That’s pretty well it for getting started. As things progress, and your plants start to grow, you’ll want to weed, water, and break up the soil as you go.
If you are starting from seed, follow the instructions on the back of your seed packets. Use the spacing recommended based on what you are growing. Water, and wait until they germinate above soil.
If you are looking for more places to grow you can check out this post about guerrilla gardening. Leave a comment blow to let me know what types of things you’re hoping to grow this season. And most importantly, will you be using buckets to grow in?