The No-More-Excuses Guide to Vegetable Gardening

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Spring is here! These sunnier days and warmer temperatures are lifting my spirits and making my runs so much more enjoyable. But the thing that I get most excited about this time of year is my fruit and vegetable garden!

I started gardening for several reasons: to save money, to eat as locally as possible (it doesn't get more local than your own backyard), to have more control over how my food was raised, since I'm a big believer in chemical-free farming. But when I first started out, I was overwhelmed. I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't have a lot of space. I was already busy and thought I didn't have the time to learn or maintain it all.

Despite my fears, this will be my fourth year growing fruits and vegetables in my little yard. While I'm no gardening expert, I have learned a few things. When I talk to others about growing my own food, many say that they wish they could do it, too, BUT [insert excuse here]. If that sounds like you, I'm about to bust the top 5 excuses to not start a garden.

Excuse #1: "I don't know what to do."
Here's a dirty little secret about gardening (or just about any other hobby, goal or interest in life): Every single person started out in the same place as you, with no knowledge or experience. You have to start somewhere! The first year I planted a garden, I talked to a few friends who had more experience than I did. I asked them about when to plant, which foods were the easiest to grow, and what I needed to do to get it off in the ground. And I planted my tiny vegetable garden that year—two tomato plants, three bell pepper plants, and one strawberry plant—with little to no expectations. It was simply an experiment; most of the time I just guessed about what to do. I figured that if my plants died, no big deal; I'd learn from it and do better next time. To my delight, my first garden didn't just survive; it thrived! Once I decided to just do it, I realized how complex I was making such a simple thing in the first place.

Excuse #2: "I don't have enough space."
I felt the same way! My yard is one-tenth of an acre—basically a postage stamp. Factor in the footprint of house, driveway, garage, deck, backyard (which is 100% shaded and therefore not very usable for sunlight-loving plants), and that doesn't leave a lot of space. Rather than throw my hands up in the air, I got creative. I planted some herbs amongst the flowers and bushes in my landscaping beds. I cleared a small strip of grass on the side of the house and planted the bulk of my garden there (see picture below).

And then when I was eager to expand a couple years later, I turned to my front yard. I planted smaller, bushy plants that wouldn't stand out like a sore thumb in my front yard: green beans, Swiss chard and kale, surrounded by herbs and marigolds to keep unwanted visitors from chewing on my food. I thought my neighbors might think I was ruining the neighborhood with my front-yard garden, but exactly the opposite happened. It was such a conversation starter, and everyone I talked to said that they thought it was great! Just goes to show that you can find space just about anywhere if you're willing to look for it.

Excuse #3: "I don't own a home."
Yes, it's far easier to garden if you own a house instead of renting. But that doesn't mean it's impossible to grow some of your own food. You can grow a variety of fruits and vegetables in containers on a porch, indoors on a windowsill, on an outdoor patio or sidewalk. You can try hanging baskets, too. Another option is to find a community garden plot where you pay a small fee to grow whatever you please. And if those options don't work, talk to your landlord. You may be surprised how many will say "OK!" if you ask about planting a couple of tomato plants in an untended area of the yard. It can't hurt to ask! Lastly, talk to your friends and family. Many would be happy for you to tend a garden in their yard for a small cut of what it produces.

Excuse #4: "It costs too much."
You don't need a lot of stuff to garden. Seeds cost just a couple dollars a packet and seedlings, which you can buy at the farmers market or from a gardening center or home improvement store, are just a few bucks each, too. A $2-$4 investment for a couple plants will yield more tomatoes, peppers, basil, or beans than you probably know what to do with—far more than what you could get at the grocery for the same amount of money. And while there are tons of fancy garden tools you could use, you can also borrow a lot of these things from friends and neighbors. All you really need is a good spade, a pair of gardening gloves, a shovel or tiller (for prepping your plot before planting), and some water and your plants will find a way to grow. And if you make your own compost (FREE!) you don't have to spend a dime on fertilizers. Weed your garden by hand (FREE!) and you'll get a little exercise as well as save money by omitting weed killers. Other organic methods of pest control are cost-saving, too. So you may spend a little more up front than you would to just buy food at the grocery, but in the long run, you'll end up spending less on food.

Excuse #5: "It takes too much time."
In reality, your garden only takes as much time as you're willing to put into it, and most plants can and will do their thing without much intervention or help from you. I consider myself to be a pretty busy person, and I don't have spare time to garden. In all honesty, I tend to neglect my plants once they're in the ground, watering them when I think of it and weeding for a few minutes every month or so. That's about it. For me, the biggest time investment is starting the garden, which takes the majority of a weekend. But after that, I leave it be, and I've never had any shortage of fruit, vegetables and herbs. Sure, I could spend more time and make it look nicer and possibly produce more produce per plant, but I'm happy with the output I get for spending little to no time. Like many things in life, you'll get out of it what you put into it; and even if you put very little effort into your own garden, you'll still get something!

If you're finally ready to dig in this year, you have plenty of time to start planning. Begin with SparkPeople's Guide to Backyard Gardening, which was written with newbies in mind. And check out our many gardening-related SparkTeams. I've learned so much from the members of my Organic Gardening Team, and will continue to head there to ask questions and get advice. Now you don't have any excused to get started!

Do you plan to start a garden this spring or are other excuses holding you back?