If you’re looking to save a few bucks, better the environment and avoid a trek to the grocery store, then it’s time to get your hands dirty. Growing your own fruits and vegetables at home, whether in a full-fledged backyard garden or modest patio garden (or even in a window sill, for those still questioning the presence of their green thumb), is a great way to incorporate healthier produce options into your diet, ensure you’re eating fresh, organic produce and as a bonus: spend more time in the great outdoors.
While yielding a successful “crop” may take a bit of time and, undoubtedly, some trial and error, planting your own garden doesn’t have to be a chore. “Growing food is very simple,” says Kathleen Frith, managing director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. “It takes a little time, but things like tomatoes, lettuce, peppers — basic kitchen crops — are very forgiving. Really, anyone can learn to grow food pretty easily.”
First things first — know what to plant and when to plant it. North Texas has two primary growing seasons — spring and fall — and according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, more than 100 different kinds of vegetables are able to grow in North Texas. Springtime is ideal for a variety of fruit and veggies (though optimal planting dates may vary). Tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, corn, okra, beans, peas, cantaloupe and watermelon are just a handful that grow during this time.
Before you begin your planting, make sure your soil is ready. To start, all plants need soft tilled earth to begin growing. If you’re planting directly in the earth, rake to remove rocks, weeds and grass. While not a rule of thumb, Hunker.com advises that for Texans “planting rows in an east-west direction is more productive than a north-south direction.”
For in-ground gardens, the length of your rows is largely up to you — though keep in mind longer rows can mean more work. Wide rows, raised above the surface, help with drainage and creating pathways between rows reduces soil compaction and helps with weeding and harvesting. If you don’t have the space or seek something a little more compact, a raised bed garden is an excellent alternative to the traditional backyard garden. Raised begs offer improved drainage, can be tall enough to reduce bending and stress on the body and make for an attractive landscape addition. Keep in mind, however, plants that require plenty of growing room may not fit into a raised bed or may eventually need to be transplanted. Basil, tomatoes, peppers, squash, peas and onions are just a few plants that thrive in raised beds.
To minimize negative impacts and improve your chances of having a successful harvest, keep these tips in mind:
Use mulch to control weeds, maintain moisture and mediate soil temperature Make sure plants receive the correct amount of sunlight; amount and duration of sunlight will vary, depending on the plant If you eat the fruit, give the plant full sun. If you eat only the leaves, a bit of shade is okay. Pick the right location. A sub-par location can result in a sub-par harvest, so plant in a sunny location, in good, nutrient-rich soil and in a stable environment that isn’t prone to flooding, excessive heat or high winds.