Homegrown Harvest

Lately, it seems like everyone I know is growing their own food. And for good reason—it’s good for you! It’s also pretty fun (and very economical) to augment your grocery trips with a stroll through your own vegetable garden. As an apartment dweller, we don’t have space for a backyard vegetable garden, but we do rent a plot in a community garden through our city parks department. Our garden plot is a raised garden bed, which I learned is the ideal way to cultivate your own crops.

Benefits of Raised Bed Gardens
Gardening in a raised bed keeps weeds at bay, offers complete control of the soil, and deters pesky slugs and snails from moving in. If your yard’s soil is compacted, drains poorly (puddles remain after a lot of rain), or if it is just really terrible for growing produce (i.e. red clay), a raised bed garden is the way to grow, errr go. 
Another bonus of raised bed gardening is that you can do it nearly anywhere—even on a concrete patio (which is how our community garden is set up) or in your backyard. The most important factor to consider when choosing a location is the amount of direct sunlight it receives. A minimum of six hours is recommended for vegetable gardens. The only place that it is not advised to put a garden box is a wooden deck since the weight of the soil can overwhelm the beams. Once you have a location picked out, it’s time to build—or buy!—the box.

Choosing a Box
Some hardware stores—especially the really large ones—sell ready-to-assemble garden boxes. Obviously buying pre-made will be more expensive, so there’s always the DIY route. Even if you don't consider yourself handy, building a garden box is as easy as it gets and there are plenty of online tutorials and guides that you can reference for exact dimensions and supplies. There are also mobile elevated planters and while they are on the smaller side, they are a great option for renters if your only space is a tiny balcony.

Seeds or Seedlings
Seeds are the cheapest option, but they do require a little more TLC than a seedling, which has already been coaxed into a leaf-bearing starter plant. Since our garden required getting in the car to tend to it, we opted for seedlings to make it a little easier to get things growing. Plenty of people have great success with seeds alone and it would be fun to wait in suspense for the first one to pop its head out of the dirt!

Ready, Set, Grow
Before we planted anything in our garden, my husband and I did A LOT of research. My sister-in-law and her husband have been successfully growing their own crops in their backyard for the last three years and they offered us some very helpful words of wisdom: Start small.

When deciding what to plant, think about the meals you make most often. What types of produce do you typically purchase at the store? What fresh herbs and spices do you use in cooking? After you make a list of these items, narrow your focus depending on your kitchen garden goals. I eat a TON of salads during the week so one thing we knew we wanted to plant was plenty of lettuce and spinach. From there, it was easy to identify a few more veggies that would work equally well whether served in a salad, stir-fry, or as a healthy steamed side dish. Here's a list of easy-to-grow vegetables that are perfect for first-time gardeners who are eager to get their hands dirty.

Easy-to-Grow Vegetables
·  Spinach
·  Broccoli
·  Cucumbers
·  Sweet bell peppers
·  Eggplant
·  Summer squash
·  Snap pea
·  Tomatoes

The varieties are endless, offering a myriad of options depending on things like taste, size, color, spacing, etc. Read the tags or talk to a helpful salesperson at the garden store for recommendations on the best performers for your area and goals.

Herbs
·  Basil
·  Parsley
·  Chives
·  Sage
·  Rosemary
·  Thyme
·  Mint*
*Mint has a tendency to take over when planted so you may want to consider keeping this herb corralled in its own pot versus the garden plot.

Caring for Your Crops
Once the seeds are started, most plants take 20–30 days to yield edible produce. In the meantime, be sure to provide ample water to encourage healthy growth. If you are growing with organic soil, you will likely only use the natural fertilizers in the manure to feed the plants. Otherwise, select a vegetable fertilizer and follow the directions carefully since overdoing it could mean killing your crops before they even have a chance for harvest.

The Harvest
Hooray! You did it! Assuming your garden actually does have produce, it’s time to pick it and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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9 Comments
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BROOKE M.
Im in full agreement with all of this great advice!! Im planting so much this year and am fighting the birds and rabbits daily I started everything with seeds this year and have had to replant my snap peas and sunflower seeds because of the animals! Any tips? Ive tried fencing and fake owls with no luck.
Shannon G.
We have been doing this. The problem I have is that we are on strict water restrictions and I am not getting enough water to my garden. I have the washer water running out to the lawn, I am thinking about hooking up the water from the bathtub over to the garden. I need to do something, they are all dying in this heat.
Janice I.
Gardening is is what I want to do! I want to try doing it this summer before it to late. Herbs and Tomato plant.
Jennifer N.
Kale was exceptionally easy to grow and plentiful so far this year. I even got my other half to like the kale chips I made :)
LAURIE G.
do you have a kale chips recipe? we are growing it this time around!So far its rowing great!
Nicole R.
I think gardening just takes some trial and error. Research and time. But it can be relaxing and fun. Time to yourself and nature.
Diane E.
While I appreciate the lists, please know that "easy to grow" veggies might not be the same everywhere. We've had lots of trouble in our garden with squashes of any kind, eggplant, peppers and spinach, but wonderful luck with cabbage-family greens (kale, mustard, etc.), tomatillos, onions and garlic. Best of luck, everyone!
Helene L.
I was told a number of years ago that mint is good for keeping ants away from the house.
Rosenna B.
Do you know how much money I'll save? Spinach,Broccoli,Cucumbers,Sweet bell peppers, Eggplant,Summer squash,Snap pea,and Tomatoes grown at home is a great idea.