Gardening is not just a fun hobby – it can be a powerful, money-saving, life-saving skill. Back in the pioneer days, if you wanted to eat, you grew a garden. There weren’t mega stores in every town, filled with lush,
3-week-old fresh greens to fill your tummy. No, if you wanted food, you had to grow it yourself or work for someone who did. The thing about gardening though, is that learning to do it well doesn’t happen overnight. The blessed skill of gardening, once a must-have skill for every person, is now mostly a lost art. Most people don’t know how to garden – or to preserve the food that grows in the garden. Never fear, though, because today we’re going to share with you how you can get the most out of your garden, even if you’re a beginner gardener.
We’ll share a good several years of experience here that will negate you having to learn from your own mistakes like we did. Read, remember and utilize as you work to grow a bountiful garden this year and learn to excel at a time-honored skill that will reap benefits for years to come.
Get the Most out of Your Garden
Pick the Right Location
Picking a good location is super important in gardening. A wide open space that gets plenty of sun is key. Work to pick a location that’s as flat as possible too, helping you to avoid all of your watering efforts hanging out at one end of the garden or in the middle. Flat, open, lots of sun; that’s the ticket. Generally, the south facing side of the house is best, but it depends on the makeup of your yard, of course. If there are lots of trees on the south side, pick another location.
If you don’t have much space, you’ll love this guy’s gardening technique: All New Square Foot Gardening II: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space
I find it important too to place the garden where you’ll see it easily, especially if you have a large yard. Out of sight, out of mind applies, and can easily lead to an ill-attended garden if it’s not placed in an area where you’ll be often.
Also, work to place the garden near a water source for easy watering.
Prepare the Soil
This article will help you determine the type of soil you have with 4 easy DIY tests, and whether or not the soil is good for gardening. I would also recommend getting your soil tested. Many state universities have departments that will allow you to send in your soil to be tested. In our state, the test costs $17, and determines the organic matter, phosphorus, PH, potassium, lime requirement and estimated texture levels of the soil you send in. Expect up to a 3-4 week wait for the soil results to be returned.
With the results received from the soil test, you can then go about determining what types of fertilizer and other additives need to be used to make your garden’s soil prime for abundant growing conditions. For more on fertilization for gardens, check out this article.
Having healthy soil in your garden is key to maximizing your yield.
Keep Pests Out
Pests can come in a variety of manners. Depending on where you live, you might have deer, rabbits, neighborhood dogs and an abundance of bugs visiting your garden. For big pests such as dogs, deer and rabbits, you can install a tall chicken wire fence or electric fence. Personally, I like this fence idea for a country garden, however urban gardeners probably don’t need to go that intense and can install a basic chicken wire fence. I also shared in this post some other ways of keeping critters out of gardens.
Garden bugs can also be an issue in some areas. Crop rotation, natural deterrents (such as pepper) and organic sprays are all items we use to control pests in our garden. For more extensive info, I highly recommend this comprehensive gardening book:
If you only get one gardening book, let it be this one: The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, 2nd Edition: Discover Ed’s High-Yield W-O-R-D System for All North American Gardening Regions: Wide Rows, Organic Methods, Raised Beds, Deep Soil
Choose What You’ll Grow Thoughtfully
Depending on the purpose of your garden, you’ll want to choose what you grow carefully. If your garden is simply a hobby at this point, go ahead and experiment with reckless abandon.
However, if your goal is to work to sustain your family with your garden, you’ll want to follow these tips for getting the most out of your efforts:
- Plant veggies and herbs that you love and eat often
- Plant LOTS of them. We usually plant about 50 green bean plants in our garden
- Plant veggies that you usually buy at the store. The goal is to cut grocery costs and to learn to be proficient at growing the foods that you love
And while you’re at it, use your gardening book to learn how to best care for the veggies you grow. Our broccoli was a total fail last year because we simply planted and expected all to be well. This year, we’ll educate ourselves on getting the best yield from our broccoli plants.
Learn About Companion Planting
Again, a great gardening book can help with this, or you can check for online resources. The thing is, some plants do well next to each other – others don’t. In order to maximize your garden yield, it’s important to learn about companion planting and to put complimentary plants along side each other in your garden, and avoid putting plants together that don’t care for each other.
Tend Your Garden Well
A garden needs to be cared for and nurtured. Weeds need to be pulled and the garden needs to be watered on a regular basis. Don’t expect mother nature to handle everything here; carve out a good 1 to 3 hours a week to care for your garden, depending on its size. Keep weeds at bay, and keep the soil moist.
A Word About Weeds
If you’ve got a big garden, you may want to consider putting down a vegetation killer about a month before you plant in order to destroy all weeds. We spent our first three years without the use of one, and every year the weeds got too overwhelming for us to handle. This year we’re following our neighbor’s advice and putting down a vegetation killer. I don’t like the idea of using them, honestly, but we’re not getting the bounty from our garden that we could be getting because we can’t keep up with the weed growth. Also on the list for this year: we’re going to attempt straw bale gardening.
Learn to Preserve
Preserving is one of the most important parts of gardening if you’re truly looking to garden to sustain your family. Our goal for this year’s garden is to hook ourselves up with a full 9-12 months of garden veggies and fruits to last throughout the year. Freezing, canning and dehydrating will help us to do that. We use our Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving to help us preserve as much of our garden bounty as possible. The Raspberry jam we canned a couple of years ago using this book was super easy to make. This book is perfect for those who don’t know much about food preservation.
My favorite canning and preserving book: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Our other preserving “must have” is the FoodSaver V3240 Vacuum Sealing System with Starter Kit . This sealing system along with our zero temp freezer has helped our frozen garden veggies last for a year or more.
Friends, learning to grow and preserve our own food has been one of the most beneficial things we’ve ever done. We now take comfort in the fact that if an economic crisis hits our country, we have the skills and supplies we need to feed our family on our own, without having to rely on a job or on the local big box store. What a relief and a comfort that has been to us. And as an added bonus, we continually have farm fresh, organic, great-tasting veggies and fruits to feed our family. Farm-fresh organic veggies have a taste that is simply unmatched by any grocery store.
We hope you’ll take some time this year to learn this valuable skill and start growing and preserving some of your family’s food supply.
Are you planning on having a garden this year? If so, what will you plant?