Homegrown: Easier than you think

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You may think growing your own vegetables sounds like a daunting task, but starting small with some potted plants can be surprisingly easy (even for someone who doesn’t have a green thumb). Last year was my first year with a garden and let’s just say….I learned a lot about what not to do again this year! I definitely have room for improvement as a gardener myself, but I know that when a vegetable you planted does well, it can be extremely satisfying.

“The food you grow yourself is fresher than any you can buy,” says Michael Pollan, and I have to say that I didn’t even think I liked tomatoes until I tried homegrown ones. I was amazed at the difference in taste compared to what you can buy at the grocery store (not to mention how much more nutritious homegrown vegetables are). We already established that farmers’ markets and CSA’s are fabulous resources for getting fresh, locally grown produce, but why not consider growing some food yourself?

All you have to do is go down to Home Depot, Lowe’s or another reliable plant source (for those in Charlotte I like Renfrow Hardware) and spend a nominal amount of money on:

  • 1 plastic or clay pot (or a big bucket would do the trick)
  • 1 tomato plant of your choice
  • Some gardening soil and compost to mix together into your pot
  • 1 tomato cage (to support the plant as it grows)
  • 1 small bag of organic fertilizer (our local plant supplier recommended Plant-tone or Tomato-tone to me which you can find at Lowe’s)

If you are feeling motivated also consider getting a 2nd or 3rd pot to start growing some herbs as well. My basil is one of the plants that did incredibly well last year (even for someone with hardly any experience like me!) and the flavor also goes so well with tomatoes. Once you have obtained your supplies it is important to know that you need to bury half or more of your tomato plant (including leaves) when planting it. Then find a super sunny spot for it on your deck or in your yard. Be sure to water it every day for about the first week and then every few days after that. Don’t forget to sprinkle a handful of the organic fertilizer around the base of the plant right after you plant it and then every 3 – 4 weeks thereafter (mark your calendar as a reminder)!

Mid-April to mid-May is the optimal time to plant tomatoes (as well as a lot of other vegetables) here in the Southeast. To find out the optimal time for planting vegetables in your area just enter your zip code in the USDA Hardiness Zone Finder map and then click on the Planting Zone Schedule for your zone (on the left-hand side of the screen). About 2 or 3 months after you get your plants in the ground (or pot) be ready to enjoy some of your very first flavorful, juicy tomatoes. Happy planting to you!

International Inspiration

Before you go grab your garden gloves, here is another little reminder that you don’t need a spacious, flat yard to grow your own food. Check out all these vertical gardens that we saw in Europe!

vertical gardens

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30 comments to Homegrown: Easier than you think

  • Lisa

    I am considering my own small garden. What about the bugs or worms that may get into your garden? What do you do for that?

    • Good for you! Unfortunately bugs, critters and even deer will be an ongoing battle for all gardeners, but I have been told by multiple sources that using “liquid fence” spray will help deter them. I am trying it this year myself. Every few weeks, when the ground is dry, you just spray it around your garden. It is organic and made up of some really smelly stuff like eggs and garlic, but the smell does go away after it dries. Apparently animals like deer and rabbit have a natural aversion to what is in the spray. I hope that helps!

    • Jennifer

      Most bugs I pick off or squash myself. If you have a really bad infestation, there are a few organic things you can use. I had good luck with BT (I could only find it at Ace Hardware) for the caterpillars, especially the fruitworms that were so small and everywhere so I never was able to pick them all off. Gayla Trail has some great gardening books and there was one that had a couple of recipes for homemade sprays to deal with bugs. But the best thing you can do is plant things that will attract beneficial insects. Then you can just sit back and let them do all the killing for you!

  • Jamie Fox

    Thanks Lisa! I love reading about new recipes and ways to improve our health! I have become such a label reader, but it all starts to make perfect sense when you get into it! I like to think that I need to eat like my great-great grandparents did and leave it at that. I have been going back and forth on the garden thing too, but after reading your post, I am going to do a small one. I want to do a few herbs and some basic veggies for salads. If I put a wire fence around it, do I need a spray for tiny bugs or do you know?
    Love you! Thanks!!

    • Hey Jamie! Good to hear from you….I am glad to know your food transition is becoming a little easier. It really is overwhelming at first! Anyway, have you read any of Michael Pollan’s books before because you almost quoted him? He says not to eat anything your great grandparents wouldn’t recongnize (like yogurt sold in a tube for example). I think you would love to grow some of your own veggies and I am glad you are considering it! Even with a fence you might still have to deal with some pests like bugs. I called my very knowledgeable local gardening place and also asked my expert gardening friend and this is what they said….
      You can buy some organic pesticides (that all have different uses – like some are for worms, some have to be sprayed when you see the bug, etc) such as: Pepper Wax, Bt products like Thuricide, Neem Oil, Rotenone. A few of these are profiled on this page http://gardening.about.com/od/gardenproblems/a/OrganicPesticid.htm

      My friend says they can be expensive to buy so she makes her own insecticidal soap:
      1 Tablespoon Murphys oil soap
      3 Tablespoons Cayenne pepper (Tabasco may also be used)
      1 Quart warm water
      Mix all together well and spray on plants.

      She also said aphids are a big problem when it starts to get hot out. Spider mites make little tiny spider webs underneath the leaves. Here is a web site that can help you…and just remember there are different recipes for different pests. http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/problems/homemade-aphid-control-a-natural-way-to-kill-aphids.htm

      I hope that helps…you have to let me know how your garden goes/grows!

  • [...] tomatoes you buy in the grocery store are picked when green and then ripened with ehtylene [...]

  • Cheat Sheet: A little summary of what’s been posted on this blog so far « The Food Illusion

    [...] Growing your own vegetables is easier than you think if you start with a small container garden. Not to mention that homegrown produce is fresher, tastier and more nutritious. [...]

  • Lisa

    Okay, I have my vegetable garden planted last week! And today I sprayed some homemade organic pesticide! It consisted of vegetable oil, baking soda, dish soap and water. I hope it’ll work! I’ve noticed I have tiny holes in my leaves.

    • Glad to hear it! Let me know how it works out. Also, I have noticed that sometimes even the veggies I buy at the farmers’ market has some little holes in the leaves…although the radishes or carrots (or whatever may be hanging off the bottom of the leaves) are still in tact just fine. I am starting to think that avoiding bugs altogether may be impossible, but as long as they don’t eat the part of the plant you want to eat then hopefully it won’t be a big problem!

  • we are attempting our very first garden this year! We’re going cherry tomatoes and am using hanging baskets that they can grow over the sides of (since they are a small tomato and no need to stake them!), but also a 4X4 raised bed with lettuce, cucumbers, green beans, and if i am ambitious, cantaloupe, and maybe some container garden of strawberries.

    I’m a black thumb (even the common spider plant is no match to my plant killing skills), but we’re excited to try all the same!

  • I love your blog. I am an old gardener and love seeing people realize how wonderful home grown food tastes. I have gardened for decades. I used to have a large garden and now just plant a few things in among my flowers. I buy a lot at the Farmer’s Market and can or freeze some of it! As for the pesticide issue, don’t use them please. The natural stuff is ok but if you don’t spray you won’t kill the good bugs and they will eat the others. I only use natural mixtures or soap sprays and only as a last resort. I try and let nature do her thing!

  • Erin

    I built a 7′by3′ garden at the bottom of my sundeck stairs 3 years ago. We’ve had 2 summers with it, and I’m looking forward to Year 3. I purposely chose a small garden plot so that it would be manageable. It’s also in a convenient location for watering and supervising. I’ve included my children by asking for their suggestions of what we’ll plant, and by putting some of the gardening chores onto them (elementary school aged children). We’ve had excellent success with the following: tomatoes – small & large, peas, zucchini, and strawberries. We did not have much success with carrots or cucumber for some reason, although I’m planning to try carrots again this year… we had a funny Spring last year and that may have contributed. Anyways, It’s fun and it helps the kids see where food actually comes from. It brought me great joy to see my children take a break from the summer play and pause at the garden to snatch some peas or tomatoes! Seriously?! How perfect.

  • Erin

    Also, just a note… I think we WANT the worms. They oxygenate & mix the soil

  • Kathy H.

    We had built an addition to our home years ago, with the probability of adding a 2nd story. Time went by, children just about grown & I honestly don’t want another few rooms to take care of! A roof garden would be perfect for us – lots of sun up there (not so much on the ground, with neighbors fence & large bush/trees). A structural engineer said too much weight, as I want 3 raised beds. Thank you for your post–it has given me the encouragement to rethink the clay garden pots I have been so used to growing herbs in. Anyone experience growing lettuce in pots?

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      Lettuce in pots would work great as well…that’s just more of a winter vegetable so make sure you plant it at the right time. Good luck!

  • It is easier that I thought! There’s definitely some initial HARD work at the beginning of each season, but once the seeds or plants are in the ground, the sun, water and time do most of the hard work. I’m learning as I go and growing with my garden.

    Love your blog!

  • Sonja

    Hi Lisa, I would love to start a small container garden but I am hesitant for fear of buying an unsafe container. I want to make sure that the containers do not leach chemicals into the soil and into my veggies. It is hard to know what containers are really made of in big box stores. Do you have any suggestions on safe containers or where to purchase them in the Charlotte area? Thanks!

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      You should definitely go to Renfrow hardware in Matthews…they are a great “mom & pop” gardening source and could help answer your questions.

  • Nicole

    We love our garden – it gives us a chance to eat really fresh (and more delicious) veggies and cuts down on the grocery bill in the summer, which is no small thing! And it also reduces our waste bill (and our waste, which is good in itself) by giving us a solid reason to compost. We’re on our third year of having a big raised bed for tomatoes, beans and lettuce and have added some side gardens for the overwhelming creeping plants like zucchini and cucumbers… and an herb garden that thrives even when we don’t give it any attention (oregano, thyme, rosemary and mint). I can’t recommend having your own garden enough!

    Oh, and all those veggies that my 5 year old won’t eat inside (at least not without a fight) he gobbles as he picks outside. Win-win-win.

  • Deborah Eubanks

    This is my first year gardening, and I’m quite disappointed, really. The amount of work and expense has far outweighed any benefits. I planted 10 strawberry plants and didn’t even harvest a pint of strawberries! I planted 8 tomato plants, and so far have only harvested 3 tomatos. I picked them too soon, they weren’t quite ripe. I do have more to pick, waiting for them to ripen, but not nearly what I’d expect from so many plants. Maybe more fertilizing, maybe more watering would have increased my yield some. I don’t know. I will plant again next year, thinking cherry or grape tomatoes for my smaller pots, and maybe bell peppers for my larger pots. I should research winter gardening, see what I can do over the winter months while I’m recovering from the summer garden. :) The eternal optimist in me.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Deborah. Stick with it. If you pick the tomatoes green, they will ripen on your windowsill. I had to do that with some of mine because I was having problems battling the deer. Fertilizing is key. I found that when I did, all of a sudden a whole new crop popped up. I just got an organic fertilizer at Lowes. It was my first year too but I did get nice tomatoes and peppers as well as squash and a lot of spices. There’s lots of info out there to research…but, I would say fertilizing helped me a lot. Hope you will give it another go. Jill

  • Katie

    I know this is an older post, but I would encourage you to not buy your seeds from any hardware store. Most are genetically modified seeds. You want to look for heritage seeds online, and buy them that way. A bit more expensive, and usually from seed, but they are much better for you :)

  • Nicole

    Ive always had a garden, and we have typically froze our veggies. I often find that I can’t use them up quick enough before they get freezer burned. I was curious what way do you perfer to store you garden veggies….
    Canned-> if so, how do you can yours?
    Frozen-> have any tips from keeping them looking nicer longer?

  • Jennifer

    I’m interested in starting a garden this year and have been browsing your website for suggestions. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for purchasing seeds/plants. Here you mention buying them from Home Depot or a Hardware store. Is it important to make sure they are organic and GMO-free plants/seeds? Do you have any resources on that? Thanks so much!

  • Kim

    Great post! I’ve been gardening with raised beds and containers for about 12 years now (I’m in Maryland). We have limited direct sunlight in our yard, but I still plant a lot of tomato plants to increase my chances of having enough come mid-summer. Spring and fall is so great for lettuces, spinach, and arugula, but they don’t like our hot summers.

    I love containers for all kinds of herbs, and you can grow green onions in them too. I try to have a container each for cilantro and green onions, and I plant seed in 1/4 of the pot every week or so. That way you can have a rotating crop all summer – once they’re ready to harvest you reseed that area. It’s especially great for cilantro since it bolts to flower in the heat.

    One note about tomatoes in containers: you should look for determinate variety, meaning they grow more as a bush, whereas indeterminate are vines. If you don’t have a good support structure, indeterminates won’t be happy and also have a greater chance of blowing over.

  • [...] tomatoes you buy in the grocery store are picked when green and then ripened with ehtylene [...]

  • [...] dense our homegrown veggies are. If you are interested in trying to grow your own veggies consider starting small with one or two pots in a sunny spot on your deck and go from [...]

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