Cutting into a ripe and juicy tomato, fresh off the vine, plucking mint to throw on top of your berries or ice cream, snipping fresh spinach and arugula for a pasta or salad...there is nothing better than being able to nourish yourself and your family with food grown in your own backyard. Have you ever experienced this?
Growing your own food doesn’t have to be difficult but often times the fear of not knowing where to start paralyzes us from trying. I’ve been there too and know from experience that there’s nothing to be afraid of. I’m currently in my third home, I’m rebuilding my 3rd raised garden bed and I think I’ve really nailed down the system. Here are the 5 steps I used in creating my very own and dearly cherished, backyard garden.
1: Find Sunlight
Most plants, vegetables, fruit, herbs need at least 6 hours of sunlight. Keep a close eye on your yard for a few days to pinpoint your ideal spot. Don’t stress about having morning or afternoon sun, a relatively flat spot with adequate sunlight will do.
2: Find Access to Water
Your garden will need to be watered daily. Unless you enjoy filling up a watering can hundreds of times a week, setting up a sprinkler, or untangling your hose every day, consider installing a drip line. Drip lines sound complicated, but they are not at all. They’re a great option for many reasons. Having a drip line saved you time, it saves water and it gives water your plants water at the root level. As your plants grow they will spread out and watering with a hose or sprinkler will fail to get water to the roots of the plant.
All you need to set up your own drip line is an outdoor water spout, a hose, to reach your garden bed, a timer, and a plastic drip line. You will need to do a little measuring before you purchase your hose and drip line to make sure each item meets the specific measurements of your garden. Once the drip line is in place, you won’t have to think about watering ever again.
3: Build and Fill your Raised Garden Bed
Soil is your plant’s main source of nutrition and because of this, it’s critical to create a rich soil.
Now, you can use the dirt in your backyard and plant right into the ground, but you could run into a few complications in doing so. For instance, you will need to get a soil PH test, till the ground, remove the weeds/grass, and add various items to your soil to get the correct PH balance.
To make things easier, I suggest building raised garden beds. It’s as simple as buying already made raised garden beds or building your own. Once you have the raised bed in your sunny spot, you will need to fill it. Start with a layer of pebbles on the bed floor, which assists the soil drainage, and pour the soil on top. The depth of the bed can vary, but six inches of soil is a minimum. Plants need at least a 6–12-inch rooting zone, so 12 inches is ideal. My preferred soil composition comes from KiS Organics: 50% sphagnum peat moss, 33% aeration (1/3 large and 2/3 medium pumice in our soils), and 17% high-quality compost and/or earthworm castings.
4: Plant by Seed or Transplant
There are two ways to go when it comes to planting:
Planting by Seed: This is the cheaper route, but it's more difficult and takes time.
Transplanting: These are plants that have already been growing for 3-5 weeks. This process is easier, but tends to be more pricey.
I suggest doing a combination of both. Planting by seed will require more work, time and tender loving care. You will need to be gentle with your seedlings, as they are susceptible to dying from being handled incorrectly or from extreme weather conditions (i.e. too much sun or frost). When you plant by seed, follow the instructions on the back of the seeds packets for best results. On the contrary, your transplant plants will have already gone through this fragile stage. Thus making your work much easier and the survival rate of your plants much higher.
Here’s a list of each crop I plant by seed or choose to transplant, due to their chance of survival, durability, amount of production, etc.
Greens: collards, kales, chard, arugula
5. Companion Planting
Gardens are meant to be! Gardening is and has been a way of life for thousands of years. This is why I love companion planting and gardening. It’s showcasing the divine brilliance behind nature and its ability to flourish.
Companion planting, by definition, is simply any plant that is purposely planted next to another to enhance growth, beauty or flavor. For example, planting tomatoes with fresh herbs is a popular combination. The basil enhances the flavor of the tomato, and the herbs act as natural bug repellents.
Here's a short list for items to plant together for a healthier and tastier garden:
Marigold: Plant around your garden to repel beetles, nematodes and deer
Carrot, dill, parsley, parsnip: Plant these together to attract beneficial insects that keep your garden healthy
Tansy: Plant to discourage cutworms that attack asparagus, beans cabbage, carrots, celery, lettuce, peas, peppers and tomatoes
Mint: Plant next to cabbage to keep moths and ants off
Thyme: Plant next to broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale to ward of cabbage worms
Gardening is incredibly rewarding, but it also takes time, effort and gentle care to grow healthy and thriving plants. I can’t wait for my little one to garden with me and to understand the importance of knowing where our food comes from. The process of gardening and harvesting benefits not only us, but our community as a whole. It’s a get-your-hands-dirty, but rewarding process that has ultimately deepened my appreciation for food, life and nutrition. Happy gardening!
Ellie Allen is the wife of rockstar, Brett Allen, and momma to 10-month year old, Whitaker Clark Allen. She's passionate about food, drink, gardens, conversation and really anything that revolves around a table. She's an advocate for slowing down and communing with friends, family and neighbors around the table.
Her husband often explains her as "an Italian living in an Americans body."
She is a St. Louis native but spent the past 5 years in Austin and Houston Texas. While in Austin she went to Culinary School at The Natural Epicurean and in her free time, studied to become a Certified Level 1 Sommelier. She also worked with startup companies in both Austin and Houston and has a heart for entrepreneurs and getting them on their path to success and flourishing
Since moving home to the Midwest in 2017, she has been learning the many skills of motherhood. Although motherhood is her primary role, she works with her older sister, Sarah, running a consulting firm and does some in-home private chef work.
Ellie's Joy of Motherhood: "The beauty of motherhood is wrapped up in a whole bunch of dirty and stinky messes. As mothers, we need eyes to see these joys amidst chaos. My current, favorite joy of motherhood is watching Whitaker explore the world through his untainted eyes. He gets to see each object, person, and place through the pristine view of newness. The "first times" for everything he does right now is a joy to witness."
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