Written by Daleen Cowgar
One of the staples of homesteading is a garden. A garden enables you to feed yourself, your family, and sometimes your animals without paying money at a store. Better yet, you know exactly what goes into it. If you don’t want pesticides, you don’t need to use them. By growing it yourself, you don’t have to worry about your food being recalled.
However, gardening is not always easy. When you are trying to get started, it can seem complicated and overwhelming. Walking through your thoughts and ideas will help you know what to do and when to do it. By planning things out, you can ensure that your garden is a success and you are not unduly stressed out by the project.
Know what you want
The first step in creating a garden is knowing what you want from it. As with anything, think through your goals for this. What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to supplement your store-bought vegetables with ones from your garden? Are you trying to completely replace your store-bought produce with your own? Do you just want some fresh tomatoes or herbs and don’t want to go further than that? Do you want to have food for your animals that you don’t have to buy at a store? Knowing your goals will help you plan out the next steps you need to take as you plan out your garden.
It’s also important to make note of what you do and don’t like to eat. If you despise radishes, don’t plant them. If you want beans but not peas, don’t plant peas. If you love corn and your family just can’t get enough of it, make half of your garden corn. The great thing about a homestead garden is that it is completely customizable to your needs and desires.
If you and a partner are working a garden together, discuss who will take what roles and how the work will be split up. That way everyone is on the same page from the very beginning. If you don’t discuss it, you may be confused or frustrated when they aren’t doing what you think they should be, as they are simultaneously frustrated with you for the same reason! It’s always important to be clear and upfront, and for each party to list any concerns they may have.
Know what you need
Now that you know what plants you want and what you are trying to accomplish from your garden, it is important to work through what you need to have a bountiful harvest at the end of the season.
What kind of garden do you need? Do you need a window box for your herbs? Do you need a raised garden bed? Do you need a tiller to soften up the soil? What seeds do you need to buy? Do you have all the tools that you need?
As you are working on your list of supplies, don’t just think of the planting cycle but of the whole growing season. Do you have all the tools you need, from planting seedlings to harvesting your crops? You will want to make sure that you know what tools you’ll need at each stage and ensure that you have those tools! The key to a successful and unstressful garden is having what you need when you need it.
Know what steps you need to take
You know what you want and what you need, now it’s time to work through how to implement that knowledge. If it’s helpful, write out a timeline for yourself. It doesn’t have to be incredibly in-depth. Instead, it could look something like:
● March 5: buy the tools I need
● April 12: plant the tomato seedlings
● April 15: begin tilling and preparing the garden
● April 27: plant the corn
● May 30: transfer the tomato seedlings
● Whatever other information you need to put down or keep track of
A list like this helps you to keep your feet under you, especially in your first or second year gardening. It keeps you on track and gives you clear deadlines and milestones to work against. It can also be a checklist, so you can watch your goals completing through the summer instead of waiting until harvest to see your accomplishments.
Know how to care for your plants
Each of your plants will have different needs. Some plants need shade. Some need to be planted inside before being transferred outside. Some need extra tender loving care. Some plants do pretty well for themselves without your help.
Consider how often they will need to be weeded or watered. This will depend on how you set up your garden, whether it is in a pot, a raised bed, or simply tilled ground. If you use weed killer or plastic, that can also influence how often you will be weeding.
It’s also important to know how to protect your plants. You are not the only one who likes corn. Raccoon and deer also love to eat it. You will get bugs on your plants, and rabbits in your garden and deer who think you set this up as a restaurant for them. Knowing how to take care of your plants also means knowing how to protect them from your wild neighbors. Consider what type of fencing you’ll need. If you want to go natural, you’ll also need to find natural ways of handling the bugs and pests that may infest your garden.
Know how to preserve your harvest
Congratulations! You’ve harvested your first garden! But now you have all this produce sitting on your counter. What are you supposed to do with it?
After you put all that work into your garden, you don’t want any of it to go to waste. That’s why it’s important to have a plan for how to preserve that harvest before you have veggies stacked all over your table and counter. There are multiple different ways that you can preserve your produce: freezing, drying, canning, and more.
The type of food and your goals will both dictate what process you go through. Whatever process you use will require you to learn new ideas and methods. This is where it is great to have a homesteading friend who you can work with to learn the best ways to can your beans or dry your apples or freeze your corn. Working with them will give you hands-on experience before you have your garden. When you do your own produce, you then have someone you can ask questions if you get stuck.
Growing a garden may sound hard and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. With proper planning and a willingness to get your hands dirty, you can supply the food you need for your family in a healthy, cost-effective way.