Whether you have a large backyard or a cozy balcony, your space has the potential to be a lush garden of flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Gardening in urban areas has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. City folks have embraced backyard gardening and even dabble in urban homesteading in their quest for organic and locally sourced produce.
According to NPR, the pandemic has led more Americans to start gardening than ever before. And in Canada, a recent Dalhousie University study found that over half of Canadians grow at least one fruit or vegetable in their backyard gardens.
Maybe you're setting your first gardening goals, apartment homesteading, or already learning how much to plant to feed your family. Whatever the case, don't wait to take steps to secure your family's food supply by following these backyard gardening basics.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Maximize Your Space
Using every inch of your space will allow you to maximize the volume and variety of plants. If you have a small area like a balcony or terrace, vertical gardening might be the solution for you. It will allow you to grow more plants than your square footage would traditionally produce.
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Examples of vertical gardening include hanging baskets, window boxes, trellis, and even pots stacked on rebar. Whatever the size of your gardening space, make sure it receives direct sunlight. You want at least 5 - 6 hours of direct sunlight daily and some protection from the wind.
Plants in a vertical garden have a tendency to dry out a little faster since they will be more exposed to the wind and sun. Keep your plants well-watered and protected from harsher elements while they're small.
Know About Nutrients
Whether you are planting in a garden bed or pots, always be aware of the nutrients in your soil. In garden beds make sure you rotate the planting area of certain crops each year or two so the natural nutrients in the soil don’t become depleted.
If you live in a densely populated urban area, be wary of planting directly in the soil of your yard.
The soil in urban areas may be contaminated with a variety of harmful toxins, most notably lead, arsenic or mercury. These toxins are the unfortunate byproduct of pollution in the 20th century. For example, lead was being spewed through our cities by gasoline fumes before the introduction of unleaded gasoline.
To test your soil for the basics like pH level and moisture, use one of these basic soil testers. However, this simple test won't detect contaminants. To test for toxins, take a sample of your soil and research nearby universities or government agencies that perform soil testing. Most will do it for free.
Learn how to create the best at-home composting system. Adding compost will help regenerate nutrients in the soil. It also provides a useful way for you to dispose of old leaves, kitchen compost, animal manure, and other organic matter.
Compost or fertilizer should be used for potted plants as well since the soil in a self-contained vessel has a limited source of nutrients.
Related: Teach Kids to Compost
Best Plants for Backyard Gardening
Once you’ve designed the layout of your garden, it’s time to choose what to plant. The ideal plants for your backyard garden will depend on the local climate, growing season, and other factors, so make sure you know the growing requirements of the seeds you plant.
Certain fruits and vegetables such as cucumber, tomatoes, beans, carrots, and lettuce are great for beginners because they’re easy to grow and produce a high yield in a small amount of space.
And if you want to have a continuous harvest, make sure you stagger your planting cycles so you always have some fresh edibles ready to go. Make use of the natural features and microclimates in your garden as well.
Related: Permaculture Design Principals
Keep Detailed Backyard Gardening Records
Now that you have decided when and what to plant, start keeping detailed records of your garden. You want to keep track of where and what you planted, as well as the date from seed to harvest.
Detailed record keeping using a free garden planner allows you to track your successes and make room for improvement year-over-year. You will start to notice certain varieties of plants doing better in your garden than others, which will help you decide what to plant the following year.
As with any garden, you should always watch for birds and critters eager to eat your tasty plants before you get to harvest. Depending on the set-up and plant varieties, a simple gardening mesh over your plants will do the trick.
Another simple way to deter most animals and insects is to sprinkle cayenne pepper around your garden or mix it with water to spray on your plants.
Don't Use City Water on Your Backyard Garden!
Lastly, try and avoid using tap water on your garden since the chlorine in city water can burn your plants and have other adverse effects. Use a rain barrel to collect water for your garden and you will always have natural and accessible water ready to go.
If you don’t have space for one, just fill up a container with tap water and let it sit for a day or two outdoors. Most of the chlorine and chemicals will settle or evaporate.
By following these backyard gardening basics, starting your own is easier than you think. Remember to plan it out, pick the right seeds for your conditions, and keep good records of your trial and errors. Your garden will only get better year-after-year!
Interested in learning more about self-reliant gardening? You might enjoy these posts!
This post is part of the Homestead Blog Hop 334!