Story and photos by guest blogger Amy Hanna.
Interest in home vegetable gardening seems to have recently surged, perhaps due to increased concern about the origins of the food we’re eating. I attempted my first organic vegetable garden last spring with little previous experience aside from growing a few tomato plants in containers. The success of the garden took me by surprise, with the amount of vegetables I could pick on a daily basis being way more than my two-person household could handle.
When deciding if and when to start your garden, there are four important questions to ask yourself.
First, how many people are you trying to feed?
If you have a small household, you aren’t going to need six squash plants or four different kinds of tomatoes. Abundance can be great, but you have to be ready to preserve what you aren’t able to use immediately, or have a few friends who are excited to receive your garden fresh veggies (though I’d like to think most people are). Seeing food go to waste is always bad, but it can hit especially hard if you’ve taken the time to grow it yourself.
Second, what kind of space are you working with?
Some popular plants like okra and tomatoes can get extremely tall and heavy and may need some support, while others like summer squashes and cucumbers like to crawl along the ground, sometimes invading the space of other plants in your garden. If your space is fairly limited, containers are a great option. However, for sprawling plants like pole beans or cucumbers, you’ll have to add something for them to climb. For heavy plants like tomatoes you’ll need a tomato cage or some stakes and ties. A great website for some tips on container gardening is You Grow Girl.
Third, what grows in your region at the time of year you plan to start your garden?
Conditions have to be just right for seeds to germinate in the ground, or for seedlings from seeds started indoors to survive and grow into successful plants. If you’re located in the piedmont of North Carolina, NCSU has a website that can be a useful resource in planning your garden based on the temperature and time of year. Additionally, local sellers at farmers markets can be helpful. If someone is selling a variety of vegetable at your local market, chances are it will do well where you live. Many farmers and gardeners also sell seedlings at markets in the spring. My favorite in the Charlotte area is on Yorkmont Road.
Finally, how much time do you have?
This is probably the most important thing to consider. Not only will you need pretty significant time each day to water, weed, and otherwise tend to your garden, but you’ll also need time to cook or preserve what you grow.
With these considerations in mind, planning and maintaining your garden can be an extremely fulfilling and delicious experience. You’ll never taste a more crisp cucumber or juicier tomato than the one you pulled off of your own plant!
For more tips on gardening throughout the season and recipes to use with what you grow, visit my blog, The Cultivated Kitchen. Happy growing!