Gardening for Homemakers: Feeding a Family From Your Yard

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Out of all the skills that help make a house into a home, gardening holds a special place in my heart. It always has, from the time I was young girl and my grandma would take me into the garden with her, showing me where to trim back leaves, and how to tell a zucchini was ready to harvest. Even if all you manage to grow is a pot of basil, there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes from growing something with your own two hands, getting dirt under your nails, and placing the literal fruits of your labor on the dining table to share with friends and family.

Reasons to Start a Garden

Gardening is a wonderful hobby, and can be used as a tool for bonding with your children, making friends, teaching responsibility, and combating picky eaters. It also gives you the reward of creating something, and it gives you better control over what you’re putting on the family table.

Shared activities between parents are children are a great way to bond, and make sure that even as your child grows older and more independent, you have something that you can share. Even if your child doesn’t share the same interest in gardening that you do, and they “grow out” of it over time, they’ll still have precious memories of hours spent playing in the dirt with you, and the valuable skills of how to tend for plants.

Caring for plants, especially with smaller children, is a great way to teach responsibility without going straight for a pet. Plants still require water, food, and daily attention. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with getting your kids pets, and having them learn to garden, but gardening also teaches food responsibility. When you put in all the hard work to grow something you can eat, you have a better understanding, not only of where food comes from, but of the value of food. I’ve never had a child who refused to eat something they had worked so hard to make.

Gardening also is an easy way to break the ice with neighbors, and find life-long friends in any area. If you’ve ever shown up on your neighbors door step with a basket of produce you can’t use, offering to give it to them just because you have too much, then you’ll understand how a simple gesture like that can warm an indifferent attitude. Gardening groups are also great places to make friends, exchange tips and advice, and trade excess food so it doesn’t go to waste, and you get more variety than just what your garden can provide.

And let’s not forget the benefit of actually making something. The sense of accomplishment you get from producing something is a feeling that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s rewarding in a way that is beyond description. Food you grow yourself seems to taste better. It’s something you can be proud of.

If you’re concerned about what goes onto the veggies you get at the store, then growing your own is a great way to make sure you know exactly what your family is eating. You can opt for organic, pollinator friendly options to reduce bugs and prevent disease. You can control what goes into your soil, and thus into both your plant and into the groundwater for your area. You can make sure you aren’t waxing fruits to make them look prettier.

While being a lot of work, gardening is a rewarding hobby that I would argue is vital to any home, even if you can only manage it on a small scale.

Where to Start

If you’ve never gardened, and have no idea where to start, the very first step is to check out the USDA hardiness zones, and figure out where you are. This tells you what you can grow, and gives you an idea of when to start growing. Plenty of plants grow across different zones, but they’ll do best in specific areas. Here’s a break down of the zones, and some plant that do well in each one:

Zone 1– Artichokes, Asparagus, Beets, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Carrots, Corn, Cucumbers, Garlic, Kale, Onions, Peas, Pumpkins, Radish, Squash, Tomato

Zone 2– Artichokes, Asparagus, Beans (Lima), Beets, Broccoli, Brussel Sprout, Cantaloupe, Carrots, Corn, Cucumbers, Dill, Eggplant, Garlic, Kale, Onions, Peas, Pumpkin, Radish, Squash, Tomato, Watermelon

Zone 3– Asparagus, Beans (Snap), Beans (Lima), Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic, Horseradish, Kale, Lettuce, Okra, Onions, Peas, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Radish, Rhubarb, Spinach, Squash, Sweet Corn, Tomato, Watermelon

Zone 4– Asparagus, Beans (Snap), Beans (Lima), Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic, Horseradish, Kale, Lettuce, Okra, Onions, Peas, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Radish, Rhubarb, Spinach, Squash, Sweet Corn, Tomato, Watermelon

Zone 5– Asparagus, Bean (Pole), Bean (Lima), Beets, Broccoli, Cantaloupe, Carrot, Cauliflower, Collard, Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Lettuce, Mustard, Okra, Onion, Peas, Potato, Radish, Spinach, Squash, Tomato, Turnip, Watermelon

Zone 6– Asparagus, Bean (Pole), Bean (Lima), Beets, Broccoli, Cantaloupe, Carrot, Cauliflower, Collard, Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Lettuce, Mustard, Okra, Onion, Peas, Potato, Radish, Spinach, Squash, Tomato, Turnip, Watermelon

Zone 7– Asparagus, Bean (Pole), Bean (Lima), Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cantaloupe, Carrot, Cauliflower, Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Kale, Lettuce, Mustard, Okra, Onion, Peas, Potatoes, Radish, Spinach, Squash, Tomato, Turnip, Watermelon

Zone 8– Asparagus, Bean (Pole), Bean (Lima), Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Kale, Lettuce, Mustard, Okra, Onion, Potatoes, Radish, Spinach, Squash, Tomato, Turnip

Zone 9– Bean (Pole), Bean (Lima), Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Okra, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Squash, Tomato

Zone 10– Bean (Pole), Bean (Lima), Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Okra, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Squash, Tomato

This is by no means a complete list of everything you can grow in each zone, and zone also affects when you plant your veggies, along with if you should plant seed or small plants. For more info on planting dates, check out this site.

Zone alone doesn’t measure everything you need to take into account though. Pay attention to sun, natural rain amounts, and wind as well. If you live in a windy place, then you may need to be careful to place plants where they won’t get damaged by the wind. If you have a lot of rain, stick to plants that need lots of water and are happiest when they’re wet. If you have intense sunlight, grab plants that do best in full sun. And don’t forget, you can always talk to your local gardening store or find a local garden club and ask them what works best for the area your in. Don’t be shy to ask what works for others, gardeners will be happy to share their successes and complications with you!

Planning Your Garden

When you’re starting a garden, once you know what you can grow in your area, you have a few options. Are you going to use containers, or plant directly in the ground? Indoors garden, outdoors, or will you use covers or a greenhouse?

If you’ve got the space, and outdoor garden is great. If you’re short on space, container gardens are a good way to grow. Container gardens are also a good option for controlling your soil quality. If you’ve got poor soil in your area, then planters or raised beds are the way to go. Window boxes and kitchen counters are the perfect spot for small herb gardens. Patios work for veggies, as long as you take into account the sunlight and wind that may affect your plants.

Garden Design and Landscaping is a great book you can pick up for free on Kindle that introduces you to the concepts behind landscape design when you’re starting a garden. Mini Farming is one of my favorite suggestions for info on small gardens. And Easy Container Gardening is a must read if you’re just getting into gardening.

Container garden give you the benefit of being able to move plants around to get the best sun and protection from weather.

Caring for Your Garden

Once you got all your plants in the ground, and you’re ready to sit back and watch them grow, it’s time to do the real work. Gardens require attention on a regular basis in order to turn out the best produce. Adding compost for nutrients, trimming back plants to promote growth, treating them for bugs and disease, weeding out the soil, these are all important parts of tending a garden.

Check out this guide on apartment composting, for info on how to start your own compost bin, even if you’re short on space and don’t have a yard.

Pest treatments can be made quickly and easily right at home, with as few ingredients as water, dish soap, vegetable oil, and baking soda. Mix 1 tablespoon vegetable oil with two tablespoons baking soda, a teaspoon of dish soap, and 2 quarts of water and bam! Homemade bug spray for your garden. Be careful not to stray it on until the evening though, so you don’t burn the leaves, and try to avoid flowers, because you still want pollinators to be able to do their jobs. In fact, check out guides on companion planting in order to to put plants together that naturally repel pests attracted to their neighbors in order to avoid pesticide use as much as possible. Sometimes you have to grab the spray though, and when I do, I stick directly to the parts of the plant affected by the buggies.

Check out finegardening.com for other homemade solutions such as chamomile tea for fungus, aspirin for mildew, and flour to keep rabbits away. In act, just make sure you check out their site, it’s amazing!

Reaping the Benefits

With some hard work, dedication, and time you’ll be serving delicious homegrown veggies right at your own table, before you even know it. You’re probably wondering though, how much food you’ll actually get out of a garden, and if it’s really worth it. I completely understand where you’re coming from, so I’ve put together a list of common yields for different veggies you may end up growing in your very own garden.

Artichokes– Artichoke plants get big, up to six feet across, but you can get up to 30 heads of artichoke off a plant each year.

Asparagus– Asparagus can take 3 years to fully mature and start producing a good crop, but you’ll get about 1/5 pound for each 12″ row of asparagus.

Beans– Each plant for green beans will produce about a half pint of beans.

Beets– Beets seeds only produce one beet per plant, but the seeds are also clustered, meaning there can be between 1-6 viable plants in a single “seed” that you’re planting in the ground. They’re also fast growers, so you can produce a crop fairly quickly.

Broccoli– The first harvest on broccoli will be one big head, but after you cut that off it will continue to produce smaller side heads for several weeks. The average harvest for a single plant is about 1/2 pound for a season.

Cabbage– You’ll get one good sized cabbage from each plant for the first harvest. If, when you harvest you leave the outside leaves and the root, then you’ll get another four or so small tennis ball sized heads that are perfect for salads or using to wrap up spring rolls.

Carrots– Each seed produces one carrot, but you almost always plant multiple seeds in an area. One average, you’ll get a pound of carrots for a 12″ row

Cauliflower– Cauliflower grow similar to cabbage or broccoli, where you get a larger first yield, and then several smaller heads for the second harvest.

Celery– Celery yields 6-8 stalks per plant.

Cucumbers– Healthy cucumbers will produce an average of 10 cucumbers per plant.

Eggplant– You’ll generally get 4 good eggplants from a single plant, though you can get higher yields sometimes. The black beauty strain will produce 6-12 fruits per plant, and some Japanese varieties produce even more.

Garlic– You’ll usually get a single bulb for each clove of garlic you plant, which, if you ask me, is a good turn around.

Kale– Kale, and other leaf lettuces, as opposed to head lettuce, will produce one head per plant, but you can extend your harvest by trimming off only the leaves you need at a given time, and leaving the plant to continue to grow.

Okra– Okra will produce between 1-2 pods a day, for 10-12 weeks once they mature. You can also eat the okra flowers in salads if that’s your thing.

Onions– You only get one onion per plant, but they do produce a lot of seeds, so you won’t have to keep buying seeds if you’re interested in growing onions.

Potatoes– A single plant with a good 30-39 inches of growing room will produce 3-5 pounds of potatoes.

Pumpkin– If you’re growing big pumpkins, like for carving, you’ll get 2-5 per plant. Smaller varieties, like you’ll find for pies or ornament will produce a good dozen pumpkins.

Radish– Radishes will yield 1/5 up to 1/2 of a pound per square foot.

Rhubarb– Rhubarb is a perennial that will produce a yield for 5 years, or even longer if properly tended. Once the plant is mature, expect 2-3 pounds of rhubarb from a single plant every season.

Spinach– You’re going to average 1/2 pound of spinach for each 12″ row.

Squash– Yellow squash will usually produce 5 to 25 pounds of fruit each season. This large range in yield is due to different varieties producing more or less squash.

Tomato– It’s not uncommon to get 10 pounds of tomato per plant, though under the right conditions, and with the right variety of tomato, you can get that number up to 50 pounds per plant

Watermelon– A single vine will produce 2-4 good watermelons.

Since these plants grow at different times and rates throughout the year, it’s possible to rotate your crops so that you get a variety of fresh fruits and veggies throughout the year to supplement your grocery needs. You can diversify your garden in order to have a selection, or you can focus on growing a larger batch of your favorites in order to have enough to eat every day (or to preserve even).

Whatever method you choose, be sure to do a little research on the best way to optimize your harvest, and check out what parts of the plant are edible, other than the obvious bits! I hope I’ve managed to share my love of gardening with you, and if you add gardening to your list of necessities for homemaking, let me know in the comments!

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