1. Make a list of the vegetables you love to eat. Don’t plant things you don’t. Simple as that. This way, all the work you put in will pay off big when you get to enjoy luscious veggies you love, rather than having bushels of produce you can’t give away, such as (insert prolific vegetable name here). Zucchini, anyone?
2. Take an honest look at your weekly schedule. How much time do really you have to spend in your garden every week? Not how much you wish you had, or plan to have. If you’re honest with yourself in this step, your food growing experience will be so much more enjoyable. In my own case, I really don’t have more than an hour or two a week, tops, so I have to take that into account when I’m planning my beds an what I want to grow. Plant more than I can look after and the whole thing goes sour pretty quickly. The last thing I want is to resent my garden, or worse, have all my hard work rot on the vine (which, sadly, happened last year with our bean crop).
3. Be conservative. This combines points 1 and 2: only grow veggies you love to eat AND only grow as many of them as you can look after. An effective way of doing this is to pick one type of food you want to be self-sufficient in this year, then grow that and grow it well. We tried this our first year and decided that we were going to be self-sufficient in lettuce. And, lo and behold, that’s what happened! We didn’t buy any salad greens from March through October. And it felt good! Ensure your own success by not taking on too much and you’ll feel great too.
4. Plant your garden close to the house. Depending on your property, this might not be possible, but the general consensus seems to be that the closer the garden is to your house, the more convenient it is to care for. Even better if you have to walk past it to get to your car or to another part of your property that you frequent regularly. It just makes it efficient and, well, easier.
5. Order seeds suitable to your region. Most regions of North America have a seed company that specializes in seeds that do well in the area. Some gardeners order from big national seed houses, but I like to support smaller, ‘local-as-possible’ organic and heirloom seed suppliers. You can find many of these online with a simple search of ‘organic vegetable seeds + your province/state or region’. Even better, ask gardeners around town for seed suppliers who may not have a big internet presence but whose seeds are robust and well-suited to the local growing conditions. It will only add to your chances of success.
6. Pay attention to growing conditions. When I say don’t try to grow tomatoes where there is no sun, I speak from experience (sadly). Seed packages are pretty detailed, and most seed suppliers have extensive websites with basic growing info on each seed variety offered. If you stick with what works, you’ll be successful. Of course, you can always experiment (because you just never know what might work in your garden), but most of the time, the plants are bred for specific conditions and do best under those conditions.
7. Keep track. This one is hard for me, as I have a hard time sitting down and recording facts (I just want to ‘do’, I don’t really want to ‘plan’). But the more I read about growing food, the more I’m realizing that having some way to record what worked and what didn’t from year to year would be very helpful indeed. I’ve just started using a tool called the Grow Veg Garden Planner and am anticipating it will help me grow more food this year, but you can also use a binder with simple notes, or buy a pre-made garden journal.
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