Hello. My name is Christy and I live in suburbia, right smack-dab in the heart of the big city suburbs. In a cute neighborhood with cute little houses in cute little yards. And I mean little yards — postage stamp yards. I'm a wanna-be homesteader, dreaming and planning to buy a few acres one day soon.
Does that resonate with any of you? Are any of you also wanna-be homesteaders living in the big city or the busy suburbs?
You Can Do More Than You Think
While I am severely limited in my homesteading capabilities, believe it or not, I am gardening in my postage stamp yard. With just one 4×4-foot bed, one 4×8-foot bed, and some patio pots, I am harvesting over $500 worth of produce by the end of each season. Last summer I picked over 50 pounds of tomatoes, all from my tiny garden!
If you had told me a few years ago that I would be harvesting over $500 from my little garden beds, I would have laughed at you! I didn't know it was even possible. I thought — because of the lack of space — I was limited to a measly garden harvest of a few bowls of tomatoes, a bit of lettuce, some peppers, and a few herbs at best. How wrong I was!
I am no expert gardener, trust me. Four years ago I could hardly keep an indoor plant alive, let alone grow food. But a few books later, and with three productive gardens now under my belt, I have learned a lot about how to garden in small spaces. The wonderful thing is, I am learning even more each year.
The Time Is Now!
If you are a wanna-be homesteader, or you hope to homestead one day, now is the time to begin! The knowledge and skills gained from growing a small garden will prove valuable to you when you have a large garden one day. The experience you have now will build a strong foundation for you in your future gardening.
Don't wait for “one day.” Start gaining experience, skills and knowledge right now. Of course, some people naturally seem to have a green thumb. (Sadly, not me.) I have realized, however, that gardening can be learned, like any craft or skill. And like any craft or skill, there is much to learn if you want to do it well. So dig in (pun intended!) and start learning now.
And while you're at it, let your kids start their own simple garden, too.
Gardening in Small Spaces
Many people long to garden but are discouraged because they think they lack the space. Don't let this be you! You can grow your own food as long as you have a little bit of sunlight. On a patio, balcony, front porch, back porch, in raised beds, in the ground, in pots and containers of all sorts, even in a sunny windowsill.
If you are brand-new to gardening and just want to get your feet wet, I recommend growing two things: lettuce and herbs. Both are very easy to grow and grow just as well in pots as in the ground — sometimes better in pots, in fact.
You will need to look at the issues of light and location, choose pots and obtain proper soil, and decide whether to grow lettuce, grow herbs, or both. If you want to try your hand at more, here are some of my favorite plants to grow due to ease and proliferation.
It is important to consider the seeds you buy. Heirloom produce is often the best in flavor and beauty, and heirloom seeds won't be GMO. Many heirloom plants, especially if you can find some indigenous to your neck of the woods, can be very hardy and pest-resistant.
Also, soil quality is extremely important. You will most likely need to amend your soil if you are creating an in-ground garden. A healthy, nutrient-rich soil will produce healthy, nutritious plants and produce. Strong, healthy plants produce more, resist disease, and aren't as affected by pests. Your soil is your greatest ally.
If you're concerned about pests, there are natural ways to deal with most of them, and it's much easier to do so with a small garden. Simple things will discourage and repel common pests like squirrels, cats, bugs, not to mention deer and rabbits. You can be proactive, planting specific herbs around and throughout your garden that are natural deterrents to particular pests, and growing other herbs and plants that will attract useful pollinators.
Read Up Now
For me, I had to read gardening books in order to gain basic gardening knowledge. I had no idea how much room a tomato plant or a head of lettuce needed. I didn't know when to plant radishes or zucchini. I didn't even know that you could plant multiple crops successively in one season, one after the other, to capitalize on the space in a small garden. I didn't know not to plant the same thing in the same place year after year.
Determined to have a productive garden, one year I spent Christmas vacation reading Square Foot Gardening. In all the excellent books out there, this one really clicked with me. The author shares the basics of gardening, along with more in-depth information. He has simple charts detailing when to plant which crops and how to plant successively. He even offers specific, detailed garden plans you can use. He talks about soil and plant health… really, he touches on everything novice gardeners need to know, without overwhelming them. I believe this book has become a classic because of all this!
Although I don't follow his system completely, each winter I read the book again and continue to build my basic gardening knowledge.
If you're looking to creatively use space or re-purpose old household items for use in your garden, I found Vertical Vegetable Gardening to be a good resource with a lot of innovative ideas and tips. The author explains how to grow plants in just about every container imaginable. Don't let a lack of money hinder you from starting a garden, because there's no need to spend money buying a lot of pots. It's likely you have plenty of containers around the house to at least start you off with a container garden.
So, here I am in cold, dreary January starting to plan this year's garden. I hope you join me and begin to plan your garden, too. There's a lot to be done and it's almost time to plant seeds for those early spring crops. There's nothing like starting the first seeds in the cold of winter and watching the tender green shoots pop up. The little bit of spring will brighten your days while it's still cold and dark outside. I love it and I look forward to it each year.
Will this be your first garden this year, or are you an experienced gardener? How big is your garden and what will you be growing this year? If you're an experienced gardener, I would particularly love to hear which heirloom varieties are your favorites, or any advice you have for a new gardener. Please share!
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