Which Garden Type is Best for You?
The idea of a garden is revered by most everyone. It is in our nature to cultivate the land, grow our own food and produce meaningful crops to sustain our bodies. Most people think a garden is unreachable for them, as they live in a condo, their yards are not big enough, or they do not have the time and find it too overwhelming to start.
The two most important things to consider when planting a garden is space and sunlight. Having a yard is not necessarily as important as you might think it is. You can get away with a wonderful herb and salad garden on the deck of a condo. If you have outdoor space, but no dirt, consider a box garden. Box gardens do not need to consist of expensive wooden boxes either, think outside the box and purchase large Rubbermaid bins, or bins sized to your needs, filling them with dirt at your local nursery. You can now arrange these bins creating the ideal garden for the space you have available.
If you are fortunate enough to have a large yard or land, make sure you take into consideration the path of the sun, drainage, the quality of your soil and the size of garden you can manage. Do not plant beyond your means of consuming or physical effort. The last thing you want is a garden you cannot keep up with, having to watch much of it go to waste because you planted beyond what you can take care of or are unable to consume or preserve.
When planting a garden most people plant what they think will be fun or novel. The idea of carving your own pumpkin in the fall or harvesting your own corn sounds fun, but usually very impractical or difficult to grow. Like going to the grocery store, you would not buy things you do not eat on a regular basis or do not already know how to cook. Planning a garden, no matter your space, is the same logic. Do not grow things you will not eat and do not grow things that are difficult to grow with little yield. Figure out what you can glean from your local farmer or farmer’s market for a good price and find out if it is worth it for you to be putting the effort in to grow yourself. There may be more worthwhile plants needing the real estate in your garden. Once you figure out the space you are able to allot, start deciding how you want to benefit from your garden. For smaller gardens, you will likely not be able to grow enough to consider canning - instead, grow things you can consume in the moment, such as a variety of lettuce, herbs, small veggies like tomatoes, beans, peas, peppers, or carrots. You will also need to figure out what grows best in your climate, you do not want to be struggling to keep plants alive that are not meant for your region. A garden bed is valuable real estate, and you want to use it wisely.
If you have a large plot of land that you can dedicate to a garden, you are now able to consider growing in quantities worth canning. Consider foods that you are able to can: water bath canning vs. pressure canning, and the varieties best suited for long term storage. If you have a root cellar, consider large quantities of food that can be stored in cold storage over the winter. Just like avoiding the novelty of growing certain times, do not can novelty items. You will not likely consume as much red pepper jelly as say something like salsa. Grow for immediate consumption as well as what you would use in long-term storage.
Here is an example of the garden one of our family members grew last year. They currently do not have a lot of time or a large plot of land, but they do have a rather large cement patio. Box gardening was a great option. They did not want to spend hundreds of dollars building wooden boxes for the patio. In addition to this, their living situation is temporary and moving a large wooden box garden would not be ideal. They settled on purchasing large tote bins for around $10 each from the local hardware store. They filled these bins with a couple loads of dirt from the local nursery, drilling holes in the bottom of the bins to allow for drainage. The bins were arranged on the patio, capitalizing on the available sunlight. The beauty of having a bin garden was the ability to rearrange the planted boxes throughout the season as they understood the pattern of the sun. Had they gone with wooden boxes or dug a garden, the garden would be susceptible to losses due to too much shade or sun exposure.
They found that it is important to plant items which can be use throughout the growing season, harvesting from a garden beginning in June and well into October. Rhe biggest yields and most consumed items are often lettuce, chives, beets, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, beans, and a variety of herbs. This garden was a way to experiment with squash, corn, onions, garlic, and potatoes, none of which they would plant again in their smaller garden in the following year. In summary - they found dedicating their time with their bin garden to fresh salads and small side dishes to be the most nutritionally beneficial as well as cost saving. Until there is enough land to dedicate to high yield crops, our family found that they would focus on immediately consumable crops.
For those in condos or small units, consider a large herb and salad garden. These plants will continue to produce the full growing season so long as you are gleaning from them. Tomatoes can be quite fun and cheap, but you will find they take up a large amount of space without much consumed off them until later in the year. Fresh herbs, lettuce, spinach, chives and even beets (beet greens make an excellent addition to a salad and to soups!) do not take up much space while providing fresh salads for lunch and dinner on a daily basis! These plants also do not require pruning, as the pruning you are taking are your edible portions.
If you have space for a medium garden, plant all the recommended items for condo dwellers, though in higher yields, and then consider adding beans, peas, peppers, carrots, tomatoes, more lettuce varieties and more herbs. Consider not only salads but what veggies make a good side dish. Do not plant quantities in hopes of canning or for long term storage. Your space is better utilized for immediate consumption.
If you have a large yard or land to devote to a garden, consider a small garden close to the house for your immediate consumption, planting all the above recommendations. Then allocate a large garden bed for higher yields and long-term storage crops. You can now also consider plants that take up lager space such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, zucchini and squash. Before planting, plan out what you will consume from a long-term pantry and what you are capable of preserving yourself. If you have a pressure canner such as the All American Canner - the options are endless! Also consider a dehydrator such as the Excalibur Food Dehydrator or a freeze dryer like the Harvest Right Home Freeze Dryer and food storage options like mylar bags with oxygen absorbers as an option for excessive yields (refer to the Good2Go in the Know for Blogs posts: Food Storage Container Types and Oxygen Absorbers for more information). If you only have cold storage, stick to the root vegetables and winter squash. You can also dedicate space to experimenting with items such as onions, garlics, corn and pumpkins. Keep your experimental garden to a low yield until you can be certain these crops are worthwhile. You may also want to consider staggering your plants of the same variety to make sure you always have something fresh ready to harvest. Planting all your lettuce at the same time will overwhelm you with consumable lettuce you cannot keep up with. Staggering the plants will provide you with the ability to rotate your harvesting from harvestable plants.
Gardening does not have to be a “When I have property” hobby. Our family members looked at their concrete patio as a large waste of space until they decided to turn it into a box garden. Basement suites and condos are perfectly capable of growing a garden if you consider your space and sunlight exposure before planting your bed. Starting seeds inside in colder regions or growing a small garden in a window are completely viable options that will encourage you to start gardening no matter your space limitations.
Becoming more self-sufficient with your food will provide you with comfort, knowing you can always provide for yourself in emergency situations. Gardening, and learning new skills in general, are also therapeutic outlets that can help us deal with stress. The art of gardening is not lost, as humans in general are innate farmers, we just need to revisit our roots and adjust to our surroundings.
Check out these links at Good2GoCo to get started with your garden:
May God bless you and your families,