Starting your own backyard garden isn’t just a great way to feed your family amazing organic produce, it’s actually good for your mental and physical health. Don’t worry, it’s easier than you may think! Read on to learn more!
Why Start Your Own Backyard Garden?
Before we get into the how, let’s just quickly talk about why a backyard garden is such a wonderful thing to start. I came across a post on Facebook from Eat Local Grown that really says it all. If for some reason you can’t see the embed below, it says, “Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes.”
That truly does sum it all up! Just the mere act of growing and tending to plants has some terrific health benefits, many of which are totally backed by science! Combined with the fact that you get absolutely fresh and totally organic produce throughout the season (and beyond) makes it just an astoundingly awesome hobby.
Let’s look at a few studies that back up both of those claims. I’ll try to make it quick; I promise. I know you’re here to learn more about the tips for starting your own backyard garden.
What does science say about the benefits of gardening?
A study released just in May of this year by Princeton University found that gardening at home has “a similar effect on emotional well-being (or happiness) as biking, walking or dining out.” These benefits crossed every racial boundary, both in city and suburban dwellers. For women in low income groups, the effects were even greater.
That makes sense, because just last year, Elsevier found that home gardens- especially in cities- could help curb the massive issue of food insecurity in the United States. If you didn’t know, over 11 million children go to sleep hungry every night in the United States, and that data came out before our current financial crisis. It also doesn’t account for the millions of adults living with food insecurity.
So many other studies back up the benefits of gardening. I promised I’d make this part quick, so let’s just do a very brief rundown of a few of my favorites.
- A 2014 study found that gardening is good for children, too, providing them with much-needed physical activity.
- Another one about kids, children who garden go on to eat more veggies as adults, this study found.
- The National Wildlife Foundation found that gardeners can actually help reduce global warming.
- Earlier this year, this study discovered that gardening can even improve your overall body image.
These are just a handful of the many (many, many) benefits of starting your own garden. If you’re interested in more, Science Daily has pages of relevant studies. For now, let’s move on to some of my favorite gardening tips.
Tips for Growing Your Own Backyard Garden
Let me just say this upfront, this is in no way a complete and total guide. It’s impossible to cover everything you need to know about creating a backyard garden in one post. Entire volumes exist on the topic for a reason! We’ll cover some of the best basic tips (and a couple of advanced ones). Then I’ll share some “recommended reading” that will help you really dive into the deep end of gardening.
Speaking of recommendations, this post does use affiliate links when I recommend a product. If you buy through them, I earn a small commission, but the price stays the same for you.
1. Know which plants actually work well in your zone
Before you buy a single seed or planter, you need to actually know what types of produce you can grow in your area. Now, if you’re gardening strictly indoors, you have a bit more leeway, obviously. However, since we’re talking about a backyard garden, your options are limited depending on your zone.
How do you know what works in your area? Start over on the USDA’s website and check out their Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Either click on the interactive map or just enter your zip code. This will give you your zone. For example, in Miami, I’m in Zone 11.
Now, I take that and search “best plants for zone 11.” It gives me a bunch of great results, including one from The Farmer’s Almanac. There, I learn that I can grow everything from arugula to watermelon. Unless you’re in my zone, your plants will be completely different. My friend up north, for example, has no hope of growing mangoes in her backyard.
2. Start indoors a couple of months early
Once you know which plants will work well in your backyard garden, you’ll actually want to start them inside if possible. The best way to do this is by using a grow tent and light. They’re a bit big and bulky, yes, but they will make your life so much easier.
Of course, if you don’t have the space, you can just wait until planting season starts for your zone, but this will give you a jump start and let you enjoy your harvest a little earlier. Below are a couple of options for a couple of different tent sizes and some great lights in different price ranges.
3. Use the right kind of soil
Plants cannot grow without the right soil, period. Whether you’re planning on using containers or actually putting your plants in the ground, you’ll want to get the best you can afford (dirt is oddly expensive at times). “But why can’t I just use the dirt in my own backyard?” Good question!
Unless you’re a farmer who spent a lifetime cultivating an amazing field of dirt (in which case you wouldn’t need a guide like this), chances are what’s in your yard isn’t exactly right for your garden. Not always, but often. In many cases- especially if you live in a relatively modern development- that soil isn’t really soil at all. It’s cheap fill.
Do yourself- and your plants- a favor. Get the good stuff. Miracle-Gro is great, but it can get pricey. Fortunately, it goes on sale throughout the year, particularly around major spring and summer holidays. It also goes on sale at the end of the season, so you can stock up for next year. Another option is to call local plant nurseries. They often sell bulk soil at decent prices.
If you do happen to have amazing soil and don’t want to spend money on dirt, try these tips from Green Side Up for sowing seeds directly in your ground.
4. Do THIS before plopping those plants in the ground
If you’re starting your plants inside, you may be tempted to just plop them in the ground, or even just outdoors in their containers, when the temperature is just right. Don’t. Instead, you need to prepare them by giving them a little time outdoors each day for a few days.
My previously mentioned gardening pal up north spends a good week doing this. In the morning, she takes all of her baby plants outside and places them in a little popup greenhouse. Then, at night, she brings them back in. This gives them a chance to adapt to the change in climate, and they tend to grow much better.
5. Get creative with your containers and fences
Since you’re going to spend a good chunk of change on soil, save some pennies by getting creative with containers and even fences. First, let go of this idea that your garden needs to look like a magazine cover. There is literally no reason why you need to spend $20+++ on pretty containers.
Instead, buy inexpensive buckets (home goods stores sell them for a few bucks each) and repurpose items from around your home. Coffee cans, milk jugs, even your old grill make amazing containers. Just drill drainage holes in whatever you choose.
Likewise, you can get super creative with your fencing and container platforms themselves. My friend has used everything from old dog crates (keeps rabbits, groundhogs, and other critters from snacking on your plants), pallets, and even just cheap 2x4s from a home goods store. For fencing, no need to get fancy. Chicken wire works great, and you can make your own gate by tying the end to a post.
6. Keep pests out of your backyard garden the natural way
Please, do NOT use pesticides on your produce. First, it defeats the entire purpose of growing your own backyard garden. Second, it’s bad for the planet, wildlife, and your family. Third, there’s no reason for it. Just use some baking soda and water in a spray bottle. For really annoying pests, Neem oil actually works great.
If for some reason those don’t work (they rarely fail, though), search “natural pesticides for X,” where X is the type of plant. Some types work better for herbs, others for veggies, and so on.
7. Give your plants some great companions
Just like we thrive better when we have a great best friend to support us, your plants will grow better with a companion nearby. For example, growing basil near tomatoes helps protect your harvest from hornworms. Marigolds grown near pretty much any plant helps protect them from bugs that attack their roots, while parsnip attracts the bugs you actually want.
The Farmer’s Almanac is a great resource to find out which buddies work best with your chosen plants, as the combinations are nearly endless. It’s also a great place to learn which plants are just plain awful friends to each other. Garlic, for example, stunts your beans’ growth while sunflowers make bad companions for potatoes.
8. Water your garden, don’t drown it!
Just like people can literally die from drinking too much water, so can your plants. Yes, you need to make sure they get enough water, but don’t drown the poor things. Smart Garden Guide has a list of tips to tell when they need a drink, but there’s a fairly simple test. Stick your finger in the soil! If it feels moist, you’re good to go. If it’s dry, water your plants. Make sure you really stick it down in there, though, as the top soil isn’t a good indicator.
9. Know the right way to store your bounty for later
One of the best things about having a backyard garden is knowing that you’ll have plenty of organic veggies all year round. Of course, unless you live in that one magical part of the world where it’s always the same temperature and never gets cold, at some point your plants will be done for the season. That’s where canning, freezing, and drying your produce comes in handy.
Herbs and spices are the simplest to store for later use. Just lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and put them in your oven (not turned on), your car, or even a closet. They’ll dry out beautifully on their own.
Canning is a bit more complicated, and I definitely recommend grabbing a book on the topic to really get into all the ins and outs of it. I recommended one below. Freezing works for some veggies and fruits. Peppers, for example, freeze just wonderfully. Tomatoes? Not so much. Of course, you can always turn those into a tasty sauce and freeze that.
10. Keep a gardening journal
Write down everything, from when you start your plants and what soil you use to observations throughout the season. That way when you start again next year, you can quickly look and see that this soil didn’t work well for your tomatoes or that spot in your yard wasn’t ideal for your beans. A plain old notebook is fine for this, but if you want something a little fancier, there are plenty of cute options on Amazon, like this one below:
11. Share your garden’s harvest
This last one isn’t so much a tip about growing your own backyard garden as it is about reaping the benefits. Chances are, you’ll grow far more than you and your family can actually eat, so be generous. Take a basket around to your neighbors and let them enjoy your hard work. It’ll make you feel good, too.
While we shouldn’t expect rewards for random acts of kindness, trust me, you will benefit, too. They’ll remember that you shared your tomatoes with them the next time you ask if they have a spare roll of toilet paper!
Actually, sharing your harvest does benefit your garden, too. If you’re picking the fruits and veggies more often, you’ll actually grow more over the course of the season.
Like I said earlier, it’s impossible to go over every single detail of starting your own backyard garden in one post. We’ve only scratched the surface here. I highly recommend checking out some of the following books for more information:
Backyard gardening really is one of the very best hobbies you can have. It’s pretty much the only one that actually feeds your family! While some aspects can be a little pricey at first, in the long run you’ll save so much money, too. Especially with the price of organic produce constantly on the rise lately. The best part? Since you can start your plants indoors, there’s really no wrong time to get started. Enjoy your harvest!
Last update on 2020-09-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API