10 Tips to Start Growing Your Own Food

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Young man showing a lettuce freshly cut from his garden

Turning lawns into productive gardens is a slow but rewarding process

In post-industrialized countries food is taken for granted. The view of supermarket shelves constantly full and abundant has become so common that people don’t consider the possibility of food shortage. Yet bees are dying at an alarming rate while they pollinate seventy out of the top 100 human food crops, which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition.

Fortunately, even if not evenly distributed, food remains abundant at a global level. However, there are also rising concerns about its quality. Repeated health or ethical scandals have rendered people suspicious about big food corporations and industrialized agriculture.

To ensure that healthy food is always available in sufficient quantity near home, a growing number of people favors locally grown food. And what is more local than food produced in your own garden? But growing food is easier said than done! Whether it is to reach total food autonomy or just to have a complementary supply, here are 10 tips that will help you successfully start growing your own food.

  1. Start small, then scale up

If like many people in post-industrialized countries you have lost connection with the art of growing food, start with a small area. A balcony or a small piece of land is perfect to begin with. In cities, areas to grow food aren’t very large and you can surely take care of a little piece of land close to where you live.

  1. Identify the right place

Make sure the plants that need the most care are the easiest to access. Grow your food in a place you often pass by so you can give the plants quick care and garden more easily. In a city planter on your way to work, in the alley leading to your doorstep, anywhere close to where you regularly do things is fine.

Finally, make sure there is a nearby source of water and enough sun for the food you want to grow.

  1. Choose the right plants

If you cannot afford spending a lot of time in your garden, choose plants that don’t require too much care. Grow plants that are adapted to the local conditions of your garden: pay attention to basic variables like sun, wind, and rain. Tomatoes, for example, will grow best with a lot of sun and little wind.

  1. Design your garden smartly

A smart design can avoid you spending too much time and money for curative products. Associate the plants to make them work together. For example, use the shade made by one to foster the growth of another. Some aromatic herbs and flowers repel bugs harmful to other plants. Others attract useful pollinators. And others provide the nutrients that other plants need. This is called companion planting.
Finally, design little footpaths to make sure each plant is within reach. There are many possible combinations to maximize production in very little pieces of land so just be creative!

  1. Prepare your soil in advance

An old saying says soil preparation is 80 percent of the gardener’s work. If you are planning on turning a lawn into a productive food garden, an initial plowing will be necessary to remove grass, aerate the soil, and bury fertilizers like compost or composted manure. A layer of mulch (straw, shredded leaves…) is also necessary to retain moisture in the soil, improve its fertility, and slow down the growth of weeds.

Another technique is to raise your gardening beds, adding a new layer of soil within a frame made of wood or concrete blocks.

  1. Get the right gardening tools

The first year you might need to plow your soil using a spade. However, for the next seasons it is better to use a digging fork to aerate the soil without turning it over. It requires less work and preserves the soil’s ecosystem. To finish, a little shovel will be necessary to remove resistant weeds and dig holes before planting your seedlings.

  1. Make your own compost

The first year you will need someone to give or sell you good soil or compost. To avoid being dependent on others, you can start composting all your organic waste coming from your kitchen and your garden. The next season you will have a perfect mixture to fertilize your garden. Learn how to make good compost.

  1. Collect your seeds

Once comes harvesting make sure you leave some plants of each variety for seed production. For information, hybrid plants are generally more resistant and productive but the resulting seeds will degenerate and the next generations will loose the qualities of the first. Choose open-pollinated or heirloom seeds in order to collect your seeds and preserve agricultural biodiversity at the same time. The seeds can be sowed every year and the variety will grow more adapted to your local conditions generation after generation.

  1. Observe and learn

Take the time to learn more about the plants you want to grow so you can have a better understanding of what is happening in your garden. Don’t hesitate to spend some time observing your plants growing, the various insects that populate your garden, and its interaction with the rest of the environment. This will allow you to learn about what can be done to improve your garden and identify possible causes of threats like diseases or pests.

  1. Connect with your community!

Join a community garden or a public urban agriculture project to have first-hand experience and get some tips from other gardeners. Share with others what you’re doing: your neighbors, your family, other gardeners, etc. They can be a very useful and practical source of information. Listen especially to what old people say. We tend to think that everything is on the Internet, but old people didn’t grow up with the Internet and they can hold precious knowledge that is yet to be shared with the world.

Do you have other tips that you would like to share with us?


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Posted in Food and Agriculture

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About me
I'm passionate about sustainable lifestyles and urban agriculture. I believe that community-supported initiatives and bottom-up policies are key to foster necessary societal changes. I'm an advocate of degrowth, agro-ecology, sharing economy and participatory democracy. Based in Bratislava, Slovakia, I like learning, reading, writing, sharing, hiking, dancing, eating, and celebrating.
Nicolas Giroux
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