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5 Steps to Growing Your Own Produce

Mom always said to eat your fruits and veggies, but what she probably didn’t tell you is that they’ll cost you a fortune to buy. And it’s not just your wallet that feels the blow from the inflated cost of produce; the environment pays a heavy toll as well. Transporting the products from the grower to the consumer requires an unbelievable amount of energy, meaning the produce you buy in the grocery store often has a major carbon footprint.

The answer to all of your veggie woes? Grow your own produce.

Step One: Know What to Grow
With homegrown produce, location is everything. Take into consideration the weather in your area, the amount of annual rainfall, and the type of soil. A great way to get started is to gather information at a local farm or community garden. Climate factors won’t necessarily determine whether you can grow anything, but they will definitely play a role in what kind of produce will grow successfully. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • If you live somewhere with a short growing season, focus on planting quickly growing plants that can be stored through the winter. You can still grow other items that won’t do as well in the conditions, just know that they might take a little more time and effort.
  • If you live in a drier region, work on a plan to collect rainwater. It’s a good idea to contact your city officials for information on the rules applying to rainwater collection bins.
  • Make sure you research how much water your selection of crops needs and what time of day is best for a good soak. Typically, watering during midday is a bad idea. You’ll end up scorching your plants. Depending on where you live, you might even save on your energy bill by not watering during peak hours.
  • If the soil in your area is working against you, take your garden patch off the ground. Try using a garden container to control the quality of your soil and keep your produce nice and organized.
  • If you’re a west-coaster, you’re in luck. There’s a reason California produce is the best; it has the trifecta of a perfect climate, soil, and rainfall. Where some regions rely on short growing seasons, you can grow fresh veggies in the Golden State pretty much all year round. Take advantage of the ideal conditions and start planting right now. (Well, maybe finish reading first.)

Step Two: Make Sure There’s Plenty of Sun
It’s tough to get your fruits and veggies to take their vitamin D supplements, so you have to make sure you plant where your crops will take in at least six hours of direct sunlight everyday. Next to water and soil, sunshine is very important in growing healthy vegetables. If your planting location leaves you with some partial shade, just make sure you plant appropriately. If you have lots of shade, don’t grow tomatoes; stick to leafy greens instead.

Step Three: Maximize Your Space
The reality is, most of us don’t have an acre of land to devote to a massive fresh produce garden. You don’t need a ton of space to grow your own produce; you just have to know how to use your space efficiently.

  • You can generate optimal crop yield by interplanting plants that grow fast with slower growing crops. The slower yielding crops help stabilize the soil, and mixing produce types will help create some advantageous biodiversity. Just don’t intercrop with produce that will compete for sunlight and space.
  • Plant in wide rows instead of a single file—you’ll achieve a higher yield and reduce the risk of tangled roots and deformed veggies.
  • Grow up. Plant vertically. You can save some space by growing produce like melons, cucumbers, and gourds vertically and grow other crops on ground level. Plus, it makes your garden look really lush when you have melons and tomatoes hanging over your ground-level crops.

Step Four: Don’t Over-Plant
You don’t want to have a surplus of produce if it just ends up going to waste. Plant vegetables you know you’re going to enjoy or will be able to share. Over-planting forces your crops to compete for space and nutrients and result in under-grown crops. Who wants a miniature head of lettuce?

Step Five: Take Your Garden Indoors
You don’t have to live in California or Florida to cultivate a flourishing homegrown produce section. Even if you live somewhere that’s buried in snow nine months out of the year, you can maintain a healthy garden indoors.

  • Think garden containers. You can apply the same principles to indoor gardening. You can build planters yourself or take a trip down to the old home-improvement store garden center for some pre-built planter boxes.
  • Make sure your indoor garden gets plenty of sunlight. If window real estate is hard to come by, spring for some artificial sunlight.
  • If the thought of an entire garden taking over your kitchen sounds a little daunting, utilize some other space in your house. Try the sun porch or an office space.
  • Don’t wait until the snow starts falling to plan your indoor garden. Make sure you buy seeds when they’re available in early spring. You can store them and start your gardening whenever you want.

Have fun and good luck!

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