How to Start Your Own Garden

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I am often asked how Travis and I make a plant-based lifestyle affordable.  As I’ve mentioned before, although I spend less than I did in my omnivorous days, to purchase high quality, organic, GMO-free, all-natural, plant-based foodstuffs isn’t cheap, and that may be one of the reasons why more people don’t get on board.

First of all, let me reassure you that we are NOT perfect at this and I’m sure that there are some deals that we miss, but we are pretty diligent and creative.  In my post about Bountiful Baskets, I shared a few of the ways that we stock up and save for cheap.

Sometimes, we make compromises.  You can find lists in a number of places of the produce that is considered “dirty” if not purchased organic (we discovered one in a baby food cookbook ourselves).  These, we don’t compromise on; if the organic version of grapes is not available, we don’t buy them.  Other items, like bananas, we aim to buy organic, but if the organic is out, we will buy the non just because we love bananas so much and consider them crucial to our diet.

When I buy something that is processed—almond milk, for example—I try to avoid the “big” brands that are known for using GMOs.  The problem is, I don’t yet know what all of the those companies are, so I’m learning more and more each day that goes by.

One way that I can guarantee the quality of our foodstuffs is by growing it myself.  If you pay your garden adequate attention, you can produce a great amount of produce for pennies on the dollar.  In addition, your backyard will look and smell wonderful.  🙂

Travis and I maintain an all-organic garden in our yard.  We started small—with fresh herbs (basil pictured below)—and grew to planting larger produce that takes longer to grow.  We also have a compost pile in one corner from which a number of surprises have grown.  We once through butternut squash seeds out there and without even consciously tending or watering that area ate a few delicious squashes months later.

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If you’re interested in starting your own garden, begin with research.

  • What type of soil do you have where you live?
  • What grows best in it?  In what season?

Then, plan.

  • What space in your yard will you designate for gardening only?  (No dog poop, no kids playing, etc.)
  • Will you plant from seeds or small plants?
  • Will you install an automatic watering/drip system or water by hand?
  • How much shade vs. sun do you have available?
  • What types of critters come through your yard that might help or hinder your garden’s growth?
  • Do you have room for a compost pile?
  • Do you have someone that can (and wants to!) tend to your garden if you go out of town often?

Finally, start small.  Here are the steps that Travis and I took to creating a garden in our backyard:

  • We started growing herbs from seeds in small pots in our house, just to get a feel for our gardening abilities.  Hey, some people can’t keep a simple house plant alive, so we had to make sure we could do this before we committed.
  • Next, we designated gardening space in our backyard.  The perimeter of the yard was made up of landscaping rocks with periodic trees.  We left the trees, cleared out the rocks, and tilled the soil beneath it to prep for planting.  One corner of this perimeter is our compost pile and the rest is space for growing shrubs, trees, and produce.  The entire area is surrounded by a short fence so that the dogs don’t poop back there and Nolan doesn’t play.  🙂
  • Then, we planted flowers and flowering shrubs and installed a hummingbird feeder to attract the birds and the bees.  They are essential to pollinating crops and spreading seeds for new growth.

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  • Finally, we researched what crops grow best in Phoenix soil in various seasons and got to planting.  Sometimes we start with seeds and other times small plants.  The herbs that we started growing inside eventually grew big enough to be transferred to larger pots and then, to the ground.

Since we started gardening, we have reaped nearly ten different herbs, cilantro and basil in particular in large quantities that come back on their own every season.  We have also reaped tomatoes, cauliflower, kale, carrots, potatoes, squash, green onions, and lemongrass.  We have pomegranate bushes (pictured below…pardon all of the leaves that have fallen from our tree!  Trav insists we let them stay once they’ve fallen because they trap moisture for the soil underneath, which is certainly critical in Arizona!) that are growing from a pomegranate that we opened and stuck in the ground.  They are still years away from producing, but are going strong!

DSC_1874Due to the increased influx of birds and bees, we have also seen the growth of new trees, shrubs, and flowers that we didn’t plant ourselves…they really hold up their end of the bargain if you provide them some pollen and sugar water!

Our garden is evolving all the time and we have had plenty of failures, but we are getting better and better at it and have saved tons of money on herbs alone, which are quite pricy to purchase fresh in much smaller quantities than what we can grow ourselves.

Don’t be daunted – start with windowsill herbs and build up.  You’ll be growing your own organic produce and saving money in no time!

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