There are many good reasons to turn your backyard into a sustainable crop-producing outdoor space. People are getting sick of supermarket-bought fruit and vegetables – often lacking in taste, unnaturally uniform shapes and sizes, and grown with pesticides and non-organic fertilisers. And more often than not, that produce is imported from far off lands and packaged in excessive plastic, a nightmare for a family’s carbon footprint.
Growing your own not only puts great, organic produce on your table, but it also saves you money and increases your physical and mental health and wellbeing. And setting up a productive veggie garden isn’t rocket science. It’s easier and cheaper than ever to turn your yard into a sustainable plot. Here are some great tips to get you started.
Assess your space
Gardens need three things – soil, sun, and water. Assessing your outdoor space before you start planting is essential. Maybe you live in an area without much rainfall, or with damp and cold conditions – this will determine your choice of crops.
Dry, sandy, or clay-filled soil can be difficult to grow in, so you may need raised beds where you can manage the earth more effectively.
If your garden is exposed to wind you could consider putting up a thick tree or a coarse bush to act as a windbreak.
Make sure you have easy access to a water supply and map out the areas of your space which receive the most and least sunlight. Once you’ve got a good idea of the pros and cons of the garden you can plan more effectively.
Aim big but start small
Gardening is a lot of work, so starting at a small, manageable scale is important, especially for beginners. Realistically assess how much time and effort you can spare – especially if you start in spring or summer.
When the colder weather hits are you prepared to do the work? Planting low maintenance crops with a high yield is the best option for newbies, it helps to build confidence and puts food on the table quickly (more on crop choice below). And don’t overplant – no one wants more than they can realistically use.
Make sure you leave pathways between beds to easily water and access your crops. And remember – if you have a large yard there is no need to plant out absolutely every inch of it! Building up slowly until you have confidence and experience is the best approach.
If you’re blessed with great, fertile soil, you may just be able to dig over beds and get started. But raised beds offer a good solution to those with problematic soil, or those who don’t like digging quite so much. Raised beds can be filled with fertile soil, and won’t require weeding for the first couple of seasons.
Greenhouses are a great way to maximise the power of the sun – there are a variety of options depending on your space and crops such as gable roof, lean-to, and tunnel varieties. Greenhouses can be expensive to buy, but can also be a great DIY project.
The general rule of (green) thumb here is this: if you don’t eat it, don’t plant it. There is no point having tons of beetroot if you or the kids won’t tuck into it. Choose a few crops that you eat regularly and plant those.
For beginners, it’s probably best to start with lower maintenance veg such as spinach, kale, runner beans, and rocket. These will give a high yield and will enable you to put your product on the table quickly. It’s also a great way to get your kids interested in both growing and consuming their greens. Other good starter crops include tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, radishes, cabbages, and peppers.
This will all depend on the climate in your area – there are plenty of online resources to help with crop choice, or you can ask for advice at your local garden centre.
The joy of growing your own is that you can create a fully sustainable garden. The primary way to do this is to compost.
Not only can you dispose of garden waste, vegetable peelings, table scraps, and much more without taking them to the dump, you’ll also have natural, nutrient-packed fertiliser to put on your crops. All you’ll need is a container to compost in – you can buy a large barrel for next to nothing at the garden centre. Then it’s just a case of waiting for the waste to break down, and it can be fed straight back into your veggie beds.
For extra nutrition you could try to find a local farmer who will give you manure – this may smell bad but it is packed with stuff your plants love.
Growing your own vegetables is a great way to lessen your carbon footprint, work out your body and mind, and put great tasting, organic produce on the dinner table.