I don’t know if it’s a trend or just a really good idea that is catching on, but “homestead gardening” is increasing in popularity and interest groups are forming all over the country. The term “homestead” means different things to different people, but at its essence is the idea of being self-sufficient.
For our purposes, we mean growing what we eat, right in our own back yard. Other terms you’ll hear that are related include edible garden, kitchen or vegetable garden (after World War II they were called “Victory Gardens”). Even the White House has a kitchen garden so the first family and their guests can eat fresh, local and organic.
There are many different reasons people grow their own food…economics, availability, environment, organics, and enjoyment to name a few… Whatever your reasons, there’s nothing like eating something you’ve grown!
From Terra Firma to Tabletop
Let your edible garden start with a vision of what you want to eat.
Start Small – What’s your favorite fresh herb to cook with? Start with that. Fresh herbs can be expensive to buy but easy to grow in almost any container indoors or outdoors. What’s your favorite vegetable? Contact your local extension office to find out if it grows well in your climate. Starting with things you like to eat makes it fun and motivating to cultivate and tend.
Think Themes - There are some creative ways to decide what you’d like to grow, and one fun method is to design a themed vegetable garden. If your family loves pizza, why not create a circular “Pizza Garden” with tomatoes in the center and peppers, onions, garlic and basil in circles around them. Or you could call it your “Italian Garden” and add eggplant, arugula and oregano (or a “Pasta Sauce” garden?).
A “Taco Garden” might have tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro and onions. A “Salad Garden” could contain several kinds of lettuce (spinach, radicchio, bok choy, kale, endive), different tomato varieties, cucumbers, radishes, parsley, scallions and even edible flowers like nasturtiums. Or how about a “Soup Garden” comprised of parsley, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, thyme and rosemary?
Thrill the children in your life with a “Kids Garden” and grow some mini pumpkins, sunflowers, strawberries, melons, and Marigolds (yes, the petals of all varieties are edible with a citrus flavor). You might leave out the broccoli in that garden…or, maybe kids would eat their broccoli if they grew it!
How to Start Growing What You Eat
You can start small by growing just one food item this year, or you can jump in and create an entire garden. Either way, here are a few things to think about in the planning stages:
Space – How much available space you actually have will determine what you are able to grow, but don’t be discouraged. With a little research, you may discover you can grow things in different ways than you’d imagined. Raised bed gardens, hanging baskets, container gardening all open up opportunities for planting.
Sunlight – Observing how much sun and shade your growing spaces get will also impact what you can grow. Monitor your space for sunlight and study how much sun the food you’d like to grow requires.
Soil – The essential aspect of successful growth is good soil. Make sure you know what type of soil you have and amend it to meet the needs of what you want to grow.
Surrounding Vegetation – Trees require a lot of water and nutrients, so make sure you plant your garden away from competing foliage.
Support – Tending vegetable and other edibles requires time and attention. Get your family on board to help out and make some great memories, too. Try to work in the garden daily, even if only for 15 minutes.
Some Tips for Designing Your Garden
Raised bed gardens allow you to maximize the soil quality so that you can grow more in smaller spaces. (see our post from March of last year on Raised Bed Gardening!) Keyhole gardens are good for small leafy crops (spinach, lettuce) and small root crops (carrots, onions).
Trench gardens are good for larger items like tomatoes and green beans. Homestead gardeners appreciate the value of having a compost pile for vegetable gardens. Compost provides easy, inexpensive nutrients for the soil, and gives you an easy place to dispose of kitchen waste. It is a wonderful delight to pick something and eat it right off the vine from your own home garden.
Something about it just tastes better! So go ahead, give it a try this year. Become a modern “homesteader” and grow something to eat.