This entry is by our guest blogger and resident homesteader, Alicia Owen

Been thinking about planting a food garden? Mid-to-late spring is prime planting season here in central Indiana. With morning frost over and sunny days ahead, many farmers have already planted their fields of corn and soybeans. But what about small-scale home gardening for the non-farmer? We are here to explain why you should start a food garden and how simple it can be.

Perhaps you are still on the fence about growing your own food. Maybe you’re worried about space constraints. Maybe the lack of time is a more significant factor in your reluctance to start a food garden. Or, perhaps, you simply don’t have the energy or desire it takes to care for a garden. Who could blame you? It can be a lot of work!

If you’re reluctant to dive into urban agriculture, we hope this blog will give you a new perspective on it. This write-up will include a bunch of tips: obvious (and not so obvious) benefits of at-home gardening, ideas on what plants to start with, and community garden considerations. We’ll also talk about a couple of different food garden styles that will make your life easier.

Benefits of Starting a Food Garden

food garden benefits

There are tons of advantages to why you should start a food garden. Consider your physical and mental health, the environment, and especially your wallet when reading the benefits below.

You know exactly where your food comes from. This is one of the most important benefits of starting a food garden for many people. There is liberty and assurance about knowing exactly what went into the food you eat. You can avoid the nasty pesticides, opting for safer, more natural options. This is the organic approach to growing your own fresh fruits and veggies. Growing your food can also minimize the worry of E. coli contamination, the kind of outbreak we frequently hear about in the news.

Gain a sense of pride and accomplishment. You would be hard-pressed not to feel a sense of joy and accomplishment at harvest time. Caring for your precious plants for months and finally reaping the benefits of your labor after toiling in the dirt feeds your belly and your soul!

Leave less of a carbon footprint. It takes a lot of oil to get produce here from other countries and states, not to mention the gas you use to drive to the grocery store. By growing your own food, you’re helping the environment out. Though it may seem like an insignificant contribution, it does add up with all of the other people in the world who decide to grow their own produce at home.

Turn your lawn into a usable space. Instead of just growing and mowing grass, why not turn your yard into something productive? Your friends and family will thank you for it when you end up with extra produce to share. You could also sell your extra bounty at a farmer’s market or local online group (these are popping up all over Facebook).

You will be more likely to eat healthier and waste less. Unfortunately, that fresh spinach and lettuce won’t last forever. This gives you extra incentive to eat fresh before your hard-earned produce goes to waste. Speaking of waste, let’s be honest; America is horrendous when it comes to wasting food (133 billion pounds of food waste worth 161 billion dollars in 2010). By growing your own food, you are far less likely to let it go to waste because you were the one to grow it!

Save money. Store-bought produce can be pricey enough, and organic food options even more so. However, you can find seeds at very reasonable prices for a 10 fold increase in plant volume. You can easily grow massive amounts of fruits and veggies when you start a food garden than you would purchase at the store for a fraction of the cost. Who doesn’t love a good deal?

Homegrown produce tastes better. This is one of my personal favorites on this list. Ask anyone who has tried a homegrown tomato versus a store-bought tomato, and they will tell you the homegrown ones taste infinitely better. There is really no comparison. I can tell you the same goes for spaghetti squash, but don’t take my word for it. Try some yourself and you will find the difference in taste and flavor unbelievable!

Relax and recenter. Many people enjoy tending their gardens because it’s a great way to clear your head. Think of nothing but the task at hand, and let all of the cares of the day fade away into the back of your mind. This task-oriented mindset is a great way to de-stress. On top of that, dirt has also been scientifically proven to improve your mood. The Organic Gardener says that “a good bacteria in the soil ‘targets immune cells that release chemicals, which, in turn, stimulate the serotonin-releasing neurons in the brain – the very same neurons activated by Prozac and other antidepressants.'”

Where Do I Start With a Food Garden?

Have I sold you on starting your own food garden yet? Great! Here is how you can get started:

There are plenty of different ways to go about creating a vegetable garden, no matter the size of your plot. A simple victory garden in your backyard to gorgeous, well-planned keyhole gardens are two fun options for different sized spaces.

Even if you don’t have a considerable amount of space for traditional planting, you can always try container gardening. There is no end to the creativity you can use for this, from clay pots and 5-gallon buckets to old barrels and bathtubs! As long as you have drainage holes in the bottom, you can use just about anything.

Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need a lot of space to make a decent amount of produce either. Even a window box full of herbs can be helpful.

If you have space indoors, you could even try your hand at some hydroponics. Then you could look forward to fresh produce year-round.

If none of the options above work for you, think about a plot at a community garden to get you started on the road to starting a sustainable food garden.

If you’re not already familiar with the term, a community food garden is a designated area available for anyone within a community to grow plants. More and more of these have been springing up in cities across our nation, where residents would otherwise not have the ability to grow their own food.

The way these food gardens are run can vary, but generally, you will have to pay a fee to use a garden plot for the season. While some gardens have the work of weeding and watering performed by volunteers, you will likely be responsible for this yourself in your own plot.

Are there no community gardens in your area yet? Consider starting one! This article provides a starting point of things to think about, including researching available tracts of land around your city. Also, don’t forget to search for grants that may be available for agriculture-related residential projects.

What Should I Grow?

Now that you hopefully have an idea of what kind of garden you want, it’s time to decide what you would like to grow. You are probably going to want to choose things that you regularly purchase from the grocery store but be aware that some plants are easier to grow than others. If you are growing your own food for the first time, here are some easy winners to start with:

herb garden

Photo courtesy of The Spruce

Herbs – Rosemary, sage, and chives are forgiving to grow and take care of.

Tomatoes – There are tons of varieties to choose from, all of which grow readily in most soils and containers. The biggest concern with tomato plants is making sure they have enough nitrogen in the soil.

Squash – Zucchini, butternut, spaghetti…all are great choices. The latter two grow on vines, so make sure they have enough room to spread out wherever you decide to plant them.

Greens – Lettuce and spinach, especially, are great choices to grow in the spring and fall.

Berries – Raspberries and blueberries are surprisingly easy to grow, and you usually won’t have problems with insect pests. Watch out for deer and rabbits, though

How Should I Grow A Food Garden?

Raised garden beds are an excellent option for keeping your work to a minimum all season long. Check out Hugelkultur Gardening for another raised bed idea that doesn’t require complex construction.

Like container gardens, you can get creative with the material used to construct your beds. However, some materials work better and last longer than others. Some common materials used include cinder blocks, rocks, concrete, and wood. Black locust, cedar, and fir planks are the best in terms of longevity.

Here are a few of the main ways raised beds can make starting a food garden easier and even provide you with a bigger yield than a traditional garden.

Less tilling and grass turnover

You can place more plants closer together, increasing your overall harvest.

Less compaction from not walking on the soil. This helps immensely with drainage.

Fewer weeds overall. When you do need to pull a few weeds, it’s not as hard on your body since you’re not bending over as far.

Easier to adjust the soil to the individual needs of your plant types. For example, tomatoes need more nitrogen as they mature and get to the fruit-bearing stage while beans enjoy extra compost. Speaking of compost, you might also consider investing in a composter to easily make and add more to your beds each year.

(Pro Tip: Consider also making hoop houses to go over your raised beds to extend your growing season in both the spring and fall. For more savings, hire a landscaping company to fill your beds with soil instead of buying multiple bags.)

Keyhole garden

Photo courtesy of The Victoria Advocate

A keyhole garden is is another type of self-contained garden. This style of garden is round in shape with a notch in front to allow easy access to the center, where a compost pile is located. Instead of adding compost as needed or in the spring before planting, this garden type alleviates the need for a separate composter. It provides your plants with everything they need! 

 While these types of gardens are convenient, it should be noted that not all plants do well in them, such as tomatoes and zucchinis (they form wide-spreading root systems). Keyhole gardens work best with plants that don’t mind growing close together, such as herbs and lettuces.

Leave it to the Pros!

Love the idea of starting a food garden, but still not sure about all of the work? Greenscape Geeks would be more than happy to help you get started on sustainable garden designs. Services range from determining which type of garden will work best for you, to cleaning up your planting beds in fall or spring. We’re ready to help those in Indianapolis and surrounding cities make the most of their green spaces. Give us a call, schedule a consultation online, or email us today!

Greenscape Geeks is a central Indiana landscape architecture and landscape design, construction, and lawn maintenance company, serving Indianapolis (including Meridian Kessler, Herron Morton, Williams Creek, and Irvington), Carmel, Noblesville, Fishers, and Zionsville.