I love supporting local farmers as much as the next girl, but there’s nothing quite like digging your hands into the dirt and growing your own food.

Naturally, the biggest benefit of growing your own food is, well, the food itself.

But a side bonus to gardening is the sense of empowerment and pride you feel after putting in the time and energy necessary to grow something of your own.

As a society, food brings us together. We socialize over food, whether we’re at simple family dinners or massive gala events. Gardening too, is a great way to cultivate friendships and bring family together.

I knew that growing food could be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. But I also quickly learned that it can also be a labor intensive process!

I had never planted a garden until one spring a few years back. I was craving the tastiness of homegrown veggies, so I decided to do some research and start planting.

Given the size of my backyard, I soon discovered that container gardening was more feasible for me.  I bought my containers and chose vegetable plants that can grow in a confined space. Then, I started paying attention to the spots in the yard that offered the best sunlight.

I researched soil, learned about the tools I needed to make sure my plants had the proper amount of support, and began watering. In no time, I was watching tomatoes and peppers grow!

Type of Plants

The first step to gardening is to figure out what you want to grow and where and how to grow it.  Things to consider:

  • Factor in the soil and space in your planting area, and choose plants accordingly.
  • Shade or direct sunlight? Some plants don’t need a lot of sun, while others will not thrive without amble amounts of golden rays.
  • How many plants do you need? What’s the typical yield? Some vegetables and fruits grow in abundance and you only need to grow a few plants, while others require growing multiple plants to make it worth your while.
  • When do you plant? Some plants must be planted in early spring; while others can wait until early fall. Research planting schedules to find the optimum time for planting each variety of veggie. https://www.veseys.com/us/en/learn/reference/plantingchart
  • Consult the Old Farmer’s Almanac online for lots of useful information:https://www.almanac.com/plants/type/vegetable
  • Should you plant in the ground or in containers? This depends on the amount of space you have available and the type of soil in your yard.
  • Irrigation. Make sure your hose is in close proximity to your plants. Also consider using a timed sprinkler to keep plants watered in the heat of summer.

Container Gardening

In container gardening, soil needs to be well aerated and well drained for proper plant growth.  I made sure my pots had holes in the bottom and I also lined the base of the pot with river rocks.

Never purchase garden soil by itself, because when you put it in a container both drainage and aeration are severely impeded.  Instead, place various things like peat, bark or coir fiber in the container. Research the best type of soil to grow the vegetable you’re planting.

Support is also vital in container gardening to ensure your plants grow properly and don’t break.  I grew tomatoes and peppers and bought tomato cages that allowed the plants to grow vertically.  I also tied sections of the plant to the cage to provide further guidance and support.  Used panty hose is a great material for this project.

Since I succeeded at container gardening, I am currently researching gardening tips on planting in the ground.  Things to consider specifically for gardening in the ground:

  • How much space do you need between plants?
  • What mechanisms do you need to keep animals out of your vegetation?
  • How will you till the soil?

I hope the above information provided a little bit of guidance and that you are energized to get out there and grow your own food.  Happy gardening!

Andrea Hale
Andrea Hale is the IL CSFP/SNAP Coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.