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? 

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RACHAEL2020 6/29/2020
Planting squash, tomatoes and green beans. Report
MARKSMOM3 8/18/2019
Great ideas! Report
thanks Report
thanks Report
Diatomaceous earth is inexpensive and non toxic, but periodic light sprinkles around and on plants can make plants unattractive to slugs and insects. Now I can get some strawberries that aren't damaged or gone and my mini tomato and basil plants arn't chewed up. It can also be used in areas pets frequent to help keep fleas under control taking care of the environmental part of the problem. Report
love the garden this year lots of peppers eggplant and basil and tomatoes Report
I have a garden right off my deck. It's small, and I love it. Report
I plant a garden every year, but last year was a bad year in my area. Hoping for a better year for my tomato and pepper plants. Report
I'm going to give tomatoes another try this year, maybe try peppers too. I'm waiting for the local farmer's market to start up so that I can buy some plants.

We terraced our hill and planted 29 fruit trees in our backyard. Then we built a raised garden bed for the tomatoes, hot peppers and strawberries. I had so much fruit I started making jams and raising money for charity. Then we moved to Africa. I decided to use the unusual fruits to make jams there too and raise funds for charity. I now know people around the world (six continents) that have tried and enjoyed my jams. Hot Peppered Mango is one jam that people wanted the most. With all of the rain we've had this year, right as the fruit trees are in blossom, don't know if we will get much fruit. But I do have to say that fruit trees, to be well cared for need to be pruned each year. And the fruit needs to be thinned, or you risk ruining the tree or losing branches. The bigger the garden, the more time you spend harvesting. I used to spend my summers harvesting fruits, washing , prepping, measuring and freezing them so I could jam in the Fall. Report
My husband and I used to garden ... before the deer population in our suburban area grew to become a problem. The past few years we have had deer coming regularly to eat from our garden. Just this morning I saw 6 deer while taking my morning walk less than a mile from the house. ... Any suggestions to help with having a garden other than putting up a very tall fence around the garden plot in our back yard? Report
Like Coach Nicole, I started tearing out 1/4 of my front lawn each year for the past three years, so this year should finish the job. I have two fruit trees, lots of hosta and bulb flowers, and a nice big strawberry patch (they stay low and are really pretty. This year I'm adding garlic right along the edge of the sidewalk - I love the look of the curlicue snapes - and since a collard plant volunteered in the heavily salted strip right next to the street, I'm going to plant a few more of those among the hostas and violets that are there now. I spend more time harvesting (i.e. standing in the pea patch shoveling pods into my mouth) than weeding - nature does all the work. Report
I live in an apartment in Florida and I don't have access to land to plant veggies. I was very upset about the possibility that I would not have a garden. I decided to improvise and I did what the author did - planted veggies in pots and I put them on my patio. I planted chives and cilantro too and they are already growing! Report
I spent last weekend digging out 2 azalea bushes on the side of my house. Next weekend I'm going to get that area ready for a small garden :) Report
This article is really making me motivated to get out the garden tools. We had a fabulous garden last year, froze alot veggies and used all of them. This year we'll freeze more swiss chard. So true of many of the posts, start small, get the confidence going. This is all part of this food relationship journey. Now that I eat clean most of the time, all the fresh veggies and herbs make the food taste so much better. It's so much easier to eat clean, even in the winter. I didn't have to buy many veggies all winter, just veggies we didn't grow or can't freeze. We even had pigs last year so plenty of lean pork in the freezer. Even though I'm not at my goal weight, everyone at work notices how healthy I look, they also notice how many veggies I eat, I think they are envious. Report
If it ever warms up I will be planting my garden. at 23 degrees and snow in the forecast does not even inspire me to think about being outside. It may be July before it evens gets warm enough to plant so may not have a garden this year. Report
Great post! We have been growing vegetables for the last few years, each year it has gotten better, so the longer you do it the more you learn. Report
Square foot gardening is a lot of fun and it does force you to be creative. Just like Nicole, I've planted in areas you wouldn't believe. At my former home I even planted corn in my long but narrow front yard! Report
Great article!! My husband and I really bond over gardening! LOL! We have 4 raised gardens, for tomato, lettuce, & a lot of herbs. I also have a flower bed so I can enjoy fresh cut flowers. It's an incredible feeling not to have to go to the grocer. Not to mention growing your own & eating your crop is such a money saver! Report
My husband and I have lived in our home 22 years and have worked very hard to have perfect grass, so digging it out to plant was out of the question plus there is a huge shade issue as well. I got two free horse watering troughs about 4 years ago and filled them with dirt, all winter I dump in my vegetable peelings and egg shells, coffee grinds etc. I will turn it over in about a month and plant a few tomato vines onions, peppers and maybe a squash. It is awesome to have fresh vegetables even if it isn't a lot!! Report
I'm ready! I started my Romas in the house today. We plant a garden every year. I love the fresh veggies in the fall and I can what I can to get us through the winter. Last fall I started dehydrating some stuff & I love it! My greatest find last season was tomato powder... I use it in so many things... it is wonderful.
We used to have a fairly big garden until my neighbor's cats found it :( This year we plan to tear out a flower garden and replace it with tomatoes, peppers and zucchini and maybe some basil and oregano. I already have a blackberry bush and would love to plant a cherry tree someday. Report
I used to have a HUGE garden. I cut back when it was no longer fun. It does take time to take care of a garden properly, and sadly it's time I don't have right now. Someday I'll get back to it. For now, we will plant just 2 or 3 tomatoes. There is nothing like a tomatoe still warm from the sun. Report
I always grow a flower garden in my front yard, and in my back. I also have several flowering trees. I don't grow vegetables, but used to grow tomatoes, may try that again. Thanks for the article. Report
A good article on getting motivated. I've been thinking about growing a box garden on my porch, but it gets very little sun, and we only have one window that gets sun throughout the day. Instead, I'm going to help my grandma and aunt get their garden going and put a few things I want in with the rest :) Report
we plant a garden every year some years are good some not so much Report
We have tried, year after year, to grow vegetables, especially tomatoes. Year after year, we have failed. The plants usuallly grow for a few weeks, put out some flowers, and maybe a sickly looking tomato or two, and then die. Yes, we water and fertilize. I'm glad to know it's easy and successful for many, but not for me! I have had some success with fruit trees, especially peaches, but since I won't spray them, every single peach always has at least one worm. I live with that. I have also had some success with my lemon tree and orange tree, but it depends a great deal on how harsh the previous winter was. Report
I have a container garden on my porch now, with green and red bell peppers, tomato, strawberry, habanero, Jalepeno and cilantro. Last year I tried jalepeno and cayenne and it worked great, so I expanded. Report
My husband and I totally plan on it once we have a house and at least somewhat of a yard. We live in an apartment right now and while we've tried to grow things in pots on our porch there's nothing that deters the kids who play outside from trashing them. So wait, we must. Report
another great idea. we didn't have room in our yard for a garden, but our neighbors had a large above ground garden box that had long gone unused. it was put in place by previous owners and was full of rocks. i approached the neighbors and made an offer to use the box. i told them i would get things going - pull the weeds and rocks out. i would go out and buy the seedlings and get them planted. together we would take care of making sure things were watered and weeded. in return - we could split the veggies. we've been sharing this for four years. now we even share the cost of the seedlings. and last year our husbands rebuilt the garden together to make it bigger. Report
I can't wait to start up my patio garden again this year! I was just thinking about getting some seedlings started soon. I have a raised patio garden that I grow herbs in the top and 4 tomato plants hanging below it. It only takes up a 2' square of space and I get so much out of it. (And the animals can't get to where it is on our deck!) I also do a couple smaller pots of herbs and extra tomatoes where I can fit them in. In the past I've had small gardens in studio apartments on fire escapes, and there is nothing like reaching out your window and picking fresh herbs for dinner! Report
We did our 1st ever garden 2 yrs ago, this will be our 3rd yr (married 28 yrs this yr) & wish I had done it sooner. The garden gets bigger each yr! I'm ITCHING to get started! Report
I garden every year... right now it is covered with leaves and I have 2 composters
of orange and graperfruit skins, coffee grounds and cantaloupe, squash remains to plow into the ground... at my new place I will fortify the soil and grow butternut squash to clean
up the ground for one year before having a real garden... this garden is 10 years organic. I am a lazy gardener after planing I mulch with leaves so no weeding and with all those leaves I didn't have to water at all last year... I got more than 60 butternut squash... still have 4 left Report
I wish I could have enough space to have a little herb garden or something. Our front windows are completely covered because we live on the ground floor (near the trash!) here in NYC. I had a little planter of cat grass when we moved in and it all died within a month. Report
Ha, Ha! Love gardening - especially growing things to eat, but have given up because I can't afford the cost of watering ($200.00+ water bill for last year's summer quarter just to keep a few zucchini plants alive) and I'm sick of growing stuff that the critter's eat before I get to. We had veggie gardens in the past, and when we first moved into this house ten+ years ago, we both envisioned a big veggie and fruit garden in our sunny backyard and set about making it happen. We planted blueberry bushes, blackberries and strawberries as well as the usual summer veggies. Then we had to start trapping (Hav-a-Heart) the endless stream of groundhogs that turned up to use the garden as their favorite luncheonette (ex.: all the ready-to-harvest broccoli decimated in about 20 minutes when we ran out to the post office and back!). After re-locating about 23 groundhogs (and a couple of skunks) in one season, we invested in an electric fence, hoping to keep the squirrels from destroying the strawberry plants and wantonly pruning the blueberry bushes. After a bluejay going for the strawberries got zapped, we turned that off. Several summer droughts later, the blueberry bushes died and we decided we couldn't afford to water a big garden. I then tried growing swiss chard in pots on a small rooftop. The squirrels decided they didn't like that and began to rip the leaves out of the pots, so we put a big wire cage around the pots. Ridiculous! And that's just the veggie side. Ornamentals are another saga, between the deer and the snails and the beetles! And, by the way, I don't live in the country but in a No. Jersey suburb four blocks from an interstate highway. Our backyard is like an episode of The Wild Kingdom. The only way I'm ever going to garden again is if I move into a penthouse apartment with a rooftop or deck where I can grow a few things in pots and don't have to pay extra for the water. (And yes, I tried a rain barrel, but it doesn't seem to fill up very well when there's a drought.) :) Report
I'd LOVE to have my own garden & I DO use one of those excuses...Don't have much space. I live in an apartment, move pretty much every year to a new one & have also been so busy...BUT as it was stated, those are just EXCUSES! Maybe this year will be the year I get into it! It'd be great to have fresh produce & herbs! Report
I love to square foot garden.. It works real well in Texas as it gets so hot and takes lots of water so the square foot garden is easier to keep watered for me. I just love to eat the first tomatoes off the vine there is just nothing like a tomatoe off the vine... You can find all kinds of information on the Square foot garden on line. Have fun I have mine going already...there is still lots of bending weeding so that helps me exersize in a fun way...Love watching the plants grow so it is a fun way for me to get some...Have a great day. Hugs Patricia Report
It's so weird - this is the second DailySpark blog I've read recently that spoke to an idea I've been thinking of doing.
I told my hubby I'd like to plant a (very) small garden this year. We'd like to do one of those above-ground box-type ones - supposedly they need less care/weeding in the long run. I'm hoping we have most of the materials we'll need around here, and all I'll have to worry about is some dirt and seeds/starter plants.
Not sure what's easiest to grow, but we love garden-fresh beans, peas (maybe sugar-snap? Can you grow them in WI?), cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. I didn't think about fruits - I'd love some strawberries and raspberries. I guess we'll see what we decide to do depending on the expense. Report
I've done container gardening for years, mostly herbs plus some tomatoes and peppers. I can't wait until I have a home where I can make a big, permanent garden full of veggies and herbs, maybe even some fruit! Report
Good ideas! I have 4 pots with tomato plants that were given to me by a friend who grows everything organically. It will be interesting to see how they do. Our local ELKS Club has a plot of land out back they have made into "neighborhood gardens" for city residents to use to plant and tend their own gardens. Report
Thank you for the good ideas. I'm going to do like you did: plant tomatoes in pots with the wire cages. I never would have thought of that. :) Report
Thanks Nicole for the excellent article. I like the referral to Spark teams too. Well done. Report
We have had gardens for years and really good at it. Then we moved ten years ago. Took years to get ground where it would take. Everything we grow now, the deer get to it first. My husband asks, what are we planting for the deer this year. They are very bold and HUNGRY. They now walk up to my back deck and eat the hostas suggestions? My flower garden, same thing! Report
I've been playing with my garden for about a month now. (I'm in Florida.) I had no luck with seeds I didn't plant last year but I'm not giving up hope on them, keeping them watered with a 2-gallon can. Most of the seeds bought for this year have been planted so there shouldn't be that problem next year. Herb seeds will be planted in containers before the weekend's over. It's going to be a great summer - no matter how hot it gets. Oh! Can't forget the pepper bed. Report
I loved the blog and all the comments. I can't wait to get my garden started. Another good source of information (in the States) is your local 4-H extension office. They can answer so many questions about what grows best in your area. Happy gardening! Report
In England we can rent an 'allotment,' a small garden plot on vacant land owned by the local municipal council. People grow anything and everything, vegetables, flowers, produce to sell - some people seem to have mini-harvests virtually all year long! As you say, it's doable regardless of your circumstances - IF you want to achieve it! :-) Report
They don't stop me, but time, money and space are all serious limitations for me. I live in an apartment, though space isn't as limited as it was at our old one as we actually have a pretty big balcony here (my old balcony was 3'x4'). Time is perhaps a bigger factor for me because if I don't at least water the plants a couple of times a week--which means hauling about 20 gallons of water from the kitchen to the balcony--they die. Before I got the self-watering containers, I literally had to water every day; now I can get away with a couple of times a week but I haul more water each time. Even if it rains, not all my plants get watered. Money is mostly an issue because it adds up--dirt, pots, plants, etc.

That being said, every spring I spend about $150-200 on gardening supplies and plants (it was higher starting out when I didn't have anything). I do grow some flowers (which may not help me be healthy but are pretty and help me be happy *grin*) and my edibles are limited. I haven't decided yet what all I'll get this year--I don't dare plant until mid-May--but last year I got:

1 tomato plant (in an upside down container, which was fun)
1 pepper plant (also upside down)
parsley--curled and flat leaf
basil (sweet and another variety I can't remember now)

The tomatoes and peppers were a mixed success but I've had pretty good luck with herbs for years. I'm tempted sometimes to expand into other edibles probably strawberries or lettuce, the former I would really enjoy if I could get enough berries, the later would probably be more generally useful), but they have to grow in very sunny (and hot) conditions, in relatively small containers. Report
I put in a garden bed last year and got some produce, plan to improve on it this year. Trying the topsy-turvy tomato hangers. So far, the rabbits haven't eaten all the plants. Report
Have already planted 6 Topsy Turvy planters of tomatoes and peppers. DH and I just finished a big new raised bed and have planted several more tomatoes and peppers, tomatillos, carrots, 3 kinds of squash, shallots and more! Can't wait for all of them to grow to fruition! Report
I plan on doing some gardening this summer...and have some plants around our house. Last year I grew some pumpkins, It was awesome to see them grow! Report