Beginners Guide to Growing Food at Home

Fresh produce is a key source of nutrients, essential for health and wellness.

You understand and appreciate how important it is to eat fresh produce.  Good.  And now you’re ready to jump into home gardening.  Great!  Don’t worry about all the house plants you’ve let down in the past.  Growing and caring for a garden is all about trial and error.  There are bound to be a few failures, but don’t worry, the joy of harvesting your own fresh food will outweigh any of the reservations you may be feeling right now.  In this article, we’ll outline 4 simple steps for an easy, at-home starter garden that will have you feeling healthier in no time.  Once you’ve mastered this one, you’ll feel more confident and can move on to more sensitive plants.  That’s the fun of gardening – there’s always a new challenge!

Easy Herb & Veggie Garden

Step one.  Figure out the hardiness zone of the area in which you reside.  Most of the United States ranges from zones two to ten.  View this map to determine your zone, according the USDA website.

Step two.  Make sure it’s the right time of year to plant your desired vegetables, flowers, fruits and herbs.  To find this info, you’ll need to read the back of the seed packet, or the instructions that are staked into the soil of more mature plants.  Still not sure?  Visit the Folia website to search a database of 20,000 popular entries.

Assess these crucial factors of zone, time of year, type of desired plant, and developmental stage of your plants in order to determine the best date to start.  When you buy a more developed plant (as opposed to seeds), you’ll need to deposit it into its final destination outdoors almost immediately, so make sure you’re past your last frost date when you purchase it.

Thriving seedlings.

Step three. Decide what to grow from seed and which plants you should buy from a store.  Some plants are extremely easy to grow and others, not so much.  If you’re new to gardening, it’s wise to stick to hardy choices.  This may mean that you forego growing anything from seed, as it often requires that you start planning and planting inside in March/ April and then progressively acclimating the tiny plants to their outdoor environment until they are able to be placed in the ground.  I’ve found that the easiest to grow from seed are:

  1. Brandywine Tomatoes
  2. Cherry Tomatoes
  3. Spinach
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Basil
  6. Chamomile
  7. Echinacea
  8. Chives

If you decide to try from seed, invest in a seed starter kit with pods that can be placed directly into the ground when the seedlings are ready.  Place about 3-5 seeds in each pod and place a growth lamp over top of them or place near a window.  If you choose the growth lamp, it will need to be on about 12 hours per day.

Indoor garden with a grow lamp.

Once these seeds have sprouted indoors, pluck off the weaker stems so that only one, the strongest stem, remains.  After outdoor temperatures consistently reach the 70’s, begin placing the little ones outside in the mornings, out of direct sunlight.  Gradually begin exposing them to direct sunlight over a 1-2 week period, always checking their progress and soil dampness.  Don’t let them get scorched if the sun is too hot, or allow the soil to become too dry.  It’s also a bad idea to let the soil get too soggy, as the starter pods can get moldy.  An easy way to achieve that ‘Goldilocks’ status of hydration is to use a sprayer bottle to deliver the water, as opposed to pouring via a watering can.  Also remember that during the initial exposure period, it’s necessary to bring the plants in each evening when temperatures start to drop.

Seeds with which I’ve had little to no success:

  1. Jet Star Tomatoes
  2. Romaine Lettuce
  3. Buttercrunch Lettuce
  4. Flax
  5. Thyme
  6. Parsley
  7. Broccoli
  8. Lavender
  9. Rosemary

I do recommend that you grow the aforementioned selections, as they are easy to maintain as more fully developed plants.  I merely suggest that you buy them already sprouted and more fully developed.  A great place to find them is in a farmer’s market or garden supply store.

Herb & vegetable garden featuring raised beds.

Step four.  Be sure to maintain your home garden by regularly watering, weeding, trimming and picking the herbs or veggies produced.  Don’t be nervous about the trimming or the harvesting, it actually stimulates the plants to grow and develop more bounty!  Also, it’s a good idea to start a journal in which you can document your achievements and challenges so that you can increase your level of success each year.  One great option is made by Moleskine and you can find it here.


Happy Planting!  I’d love to hear all about your adventures in gardening in the comments section, or tag me on social @philippakarr.

Xx Pippa

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