No More Excuses.
How to Start Growing Food in Your Backyard Today
We get it.
You want to live a life that’s healthy for the planet.
You probably have a recycle bin in your driveway right now. Maybe a compost pile lurks in a hidden corner of your side lawn.
But do you have a backyard vegetable garden?
If you are like most people in America, the answer is no.
It’s a little strange, actually. We all want to make the right choices for the environment, but few of us are willing to take one of the biggest, most effective steps towards helping the planet. In the simple action of growing some of our own food, we can reduce by thousands the miles that our meals travel, keep tons of toxic chemicals out of our nation’s soil, and foster a better appreciation for where our food comes from.
“To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd.”
Why is this so common? What do people find so threatening about growing their own food?
In some ways, the answer is simple. We live in a culture that has so thoroughly extracted us from the origins of what we put on our plates that we write off growing food as something that’s ‘difficult’ and ‘highly technical’- something we are unqualified to do ourselves.
We’ve let the powers that be in industrial agriculture convince us that producing food is so complicated that it can only be done by highly-trained professionals.
Frankly, that’s ridiculous.
Humanity has been producing its own food without the aid of “professionals” for tens of thousands of years. For the vast majority of human history, individuals have had complete control of their own food system and they did just fine. Even your great-grandmother probably grew and produced much of her own food.
If she could do it, why can’t you?
It’s time to reclaim our food system from the experts. It’s time to start your own backyard garden.
The Main Fears Every First-Time Gardener Needs to Overcome
You can give yourself the world’s best pep talk, but when it actually comes to starting a garden, the process can be intimidating. Below, we’ve addressed some of the biggest worries that first time gardeners experience and then explain why they shouldn’t hold you back.
– What if I fail? Frankly, you probably will. At least partially. Even the best organic gardeners consistently lose some of their crop, but that doesn’t stop them from replanting. Failure is part of the process, not an obstacle to overcome.
– I don’t have enough time or space. Do you have a sunny windowsill? What about an outdoor patio space? Container gardens take up tiny amounts of room, meaning you can cram pots into your smallest spaces. Best of all, once you get your plants in place, they will require minimal maintenance besides watering.
– Gardening will turn my backyard into a hot mess. That’s another lie that the “experts” have been feeding you. Why have we been conditioned to believe that acres of nothing but grass sod is better than a teeming diversity of edible plants? Change your perspective on what is beautiful, and your backyard garden will soon be anything but an eyesore.
– My pathetic little garden won’t make any difference for the planet. By far, this is the most damaging fear you can believe about gardening, because, frankly, the scientific evidence points to just the opposite. Besides giving up your car, sustainably growing your own food is one of the most beneficial thing you can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If that doesn’t motivate you to make change, we aren’t sure what will.
The Simple Process of Starting Your Own Backyard Garden
Here’s some great news. Starting a backyard garden is so simple that you can start the process today.
Growing your own food is better for the environment, better for your health, and a great way to get exercise naturally while also becoming more connected to the natural world around you. What do you have to lose by trying?
Get rid of your mental barriers, stop becoming overwhelmed with the size of the job, and remember that even the most successful gardens started with a single trowel stuck into the soil.
Several simple processes you can follow to start your own garden are described below.
Build Raised Beds
Raised beds create neat, orderly garden spaces that are as straightforward to build as they are to use. To put it simply, raised beds are large, bottomless containers that let you have complete control over the environment your plants are grown in. By filling the bed with high quality planting soil, you can ensure that your garden plants are given the exact nutrients that they need, and the walls of the bed act as a barrier between your plants and pesky garden weeds and insects.
To build your bed, chose a south-facing location and double-dig the soil under the spot down at least sixteen inches. You’ll want to be sure to remove any roots and rocks that are in the way and pile up the excess soil in the middle of the space, making room along the edges for the bed frame.
You can build your raised bed from any number of materials, including untreated lumber, bricks, concrete and even rocks. Follow these instructions to build your own bed or buy a pre-made one like these.
Once your bed is filled with high quality planting soil, you’ll be ready to start planting. A huge advantage of raised beds is that they allow you to plant densely, which helps you get more food in less space. Heat loving plants like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are especially well suited for raised beds, meaning you might get a bumper crop on your first attempt!
Follow the Square Foot Method
Retired engineer Mel Bartholomew is the founder of the square foot gardening method, and his passion for mathematical precision is evident in this highly-efficient growing plan. Really just a more in-depth method of raised bed gardening, the Square Foot Method is an excellent way to maximize your garden yields in a small space.
You can follow Mel’s method by installing raised beds that are four foot square, and filling them with “Mel’s Mix”: a spotting soil blend mixed with a healthy dose of organic compost.
The key to this process comes next; build a grid that divides up your bed for an ideal planting arrangement for the crops you want to grow. Mel gives specific spacing instructions for a wide variety of garden plants in his bestselling books. You can grow any combination of garden plants in each bed, so long as you follow his spacing suggestions. It’s an easy way to make the best use of your garden space while keeping your garden tasks like weeding to a minimum.
Start a Container Garden
You don’t have to admit gardening defeat if your yard is too small for a raised bed. Container gardens are a viable option for just about every home, and you’ll be shocked how much food can be grown in tiny pots. You won’t even be limited to planting vegetables; many dwarf fruit trees have been specially cultivated to thrive in a container.
It won’t take you a lot of space or effort to start a container garden, you just need some areas that get at least six hours of sun a day. Any less, and your plants will have difficultly capturing enough solar energy to produce their fruits and vegetables. If you simply don’t get enough sunlight, you can stick to growing cooking herbs and leafy greens instead of tomatoes and eggplants. Herbs are one of the most expensive fresh products in the grocery store, so even if they are all you can grow you can be sure that you are still saving money.
Organic verse Sustainable: What’s the difference?
Understanding the difference between organically and sustainably grown foods can be tricky. To put it simply, ‘Organic’ is a certification and ‘Sustainable’ is an overarching philosophy.
‘Certified Organic Food’ refers to food that is grown to comply with governmental standards for organic produce. This often means it’s been grown with “organic” pesticides and herbicides on large industrial farms full of gas-guzzling tractors that then traveled thousands of miles to end up in your grocery store. In many cases, organically-grown food is little better for the planet than conventional options.
In contrast, sustainable agriculture is a philosophy that focuses on feeding the world without doing unnecessary damage to the planet. It’s not a term that is regulated by the government so the definition varies. In most cases, to be sustainable, agriculture must be ‘economically viable, socially responsible and ecologically sound’ (John Ikerd).
If you have to pick between organic food and sustainably grown food, you are usually better choosing sustainable. But, best of all, grow your own food in a backyard garden!
Note: If you don’t have the space or time to start your own backyard garden, Alfrea is here to help. We specialize in matching would-be growers with the landowners that can use them. If you are looking for a backyard to garden or someone to manage one, please check out our website to get matched today.