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There’s nothing quite like walking out to your own garden to pluck vine-ripened tomatoes and pick organically grown carrots. Believe it or not, it’s relatively easy to start growing your own vegetable garden — even if you don’t have a back garden or a large outdoor space. Even urban dwellers living in high-rise buildings can enjoy the benefits of vegetable gardening.
Before you get soil and buy seeds, it’s best to get an idea of the type of garden that will best suit you and your space. Here are four of the most common vegetable garden types in North America.
In-ground gardens are just that: vegetables and edibles planted directly in the ground. While an in-ground garden can be customized to suit almost any shape and size, they are particularly ideal for larger spaces or for vegetables that require more space to grow, such as cucumbers and potatoes (which require individual mounds), rhubarb and asparagus, and fruit bushes or trees. The advantage of in-ground gardens is that you rarely have to add a lot of soil to get started. Instead, use the twice-dig method — dig the earth twice over, to make sure it’s well turned and allows water and nutrients into all areas of the planting space.
If you are looking for edible gardening (from arugula to zucchini, tomatoes, herbs, carrots, and everything in between) while maintaining strong, striking, and productive produce, raised beds could be the best option for you.
A raised garden means that a perimeter is built around a soil patch and then the box is filled with soil. While it takes a bit of extra work to create a raised garden, this option can be ideal for gardeners who have to worry about critters stealing seeds and just-budding vegetables and fruit. They are also ideal if you have a smaller space to grow your food and want to include edibles that come in a variety of sizes. For instance, the front portion of your raised bed may be ideal for faster, hardier options, such as kale, broccoli or Romaine lettuce, while the back half can be modified by adding trellises, to allow for beans, tomatoes and other vegetables that grow up, not out.
As with the in-ground garden, raised beds can come in various sizes and heights, depending on the type and variety of vegetables and fruit you wish to grow.
Wood is typically the best option for making a raised bed. It is cheap and can last up to 10 years or longer, depending on the species of wood you use. Cedar offers natural rot and insect resistance. Avoid older pressure-treated wood, as the chemicals are not suitable for growing food; new pressure-treated wood is fine to use, just be sure not to line your raised garden bed with plastic, as this can cause rot and mold, which is also harmful to the health of your garden and your family.
Container gardening is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to get into gardening — and it’s ideal for those with limited space. All you need are containers that allow for good water drainage and enough space to let your plants grow. For this reason, container gardening can be a great way to keep costs to a minimum. By first determining what you would like to grow, you can then find out how large of a container you require and buy only what is required.
One great option is unglazed clay pots. Used in very dry climates, clay pots are ideal at helping plants and soil to self-regulate how much water is needed. When watering your plant, the clay pot soaks up some of the excess water. Over time, as the water in the soil is absorbed by the growing plant, the clay pot releases its reserve helping to keep the plant hydrated. This prevents drought-like conditions in your containers and helps plants produce bigger and more bountiful harvests.
In areas where climates can be extreme, it can be a good idea to start and keep an indoor garden. The benefit of an indoor garden is that you can grow year-round and you have more control over the temperature and the conditions. The drawback is that you will be limited by the amount of space you have to dedicate to your garden and this may hinder your selection on what you can grow. For example, growing cucumbers or zucchini can be more difficult when using an indoor garden, since these vegetables require quite a bit of space to grow and spread out. However, lettuce, kale and other vegetables can be grown indoors, with the best options being herbs and tomatoes — as these plants love warmer, more temperate and very sunny environments.
If you don’t get enough sunlight — and most vegetables like at least six hours of sun each day — consider adding artificial grow lights to your indoor garden. While this will increase the cost of your garden, it will also significantly increase your vegetable yield.
Once you’ve determined the type of garden you’ll use to grow your vegetables, it’s a good idea to order your seeds and do your research. Your best defense against any predator or problem is to check up on your garden at least once a day. Remember, this is a learning process, which means there will be some hits and some failures — and along the way you get to taste the fruits of your labor.