“So, you want to grow a SMALL garden?”

I’ve talked to quite a few people in the last few weeks about gardening and growing your own food. The general consensus is always the same and that is “where do we even start?”

As a novice gardener, I can tell you I spent the better half of 2020 diving deep into books, research, YouTube, and conversations with experienced gardeners about beginner level knowledge that you can take with you through your food journey.

The other thing people say to me is “I don’t want anything too big.” Likely due to time constraints and/or having full time jobs.

Well friend, I am here to (hopefully) help.

I think being honest with yourself about how much time you can expend in the garden is a good first step in planning and prepping for the upcoming garden season. I’m sure many people would love to grow all of their own food but that is not feasible when you have 2 hours per week to prune, pluck, and harvest your space.

Which brings me to my next point: Identify your grow space.

Are you a backyard gardener with a fair amount of square footage grow space, a container gardener, or a market gardener?

*Market garden: a large garden used to grow larger amounts of produce for the purpose of selling and/or canning for long term storage*

If you fall into the category or backyard gardener or container gardener, I hope you find this particular post helpful. I plan to do a post for the larger scale gardener soon.

As a small scale container or backyard gardener, its important when buying seed starts (much like what you find at Lowe’s or other commercial stores in the spring) or seeds, you identify if it is INDETERMINATE or DETERMINATE varieties. Let me break that down for you.

Determinate variety: The plant has a set height and amount of vegetables it will produce within its growing season before dying off. These plants will typically not require tall trellis (support) systems and are easier to manage for a beginner gardener. Common examples include:

  • Bush beans
  • Arkansas Traveler Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Squash (non-vining varieties)

Indeterminate variety: As long as their is support (be in cattle panels, wooden steaks, the ground), the vines of these plants will grow taller and longer; ultimately producing more flowers which means more fruit and veggies. Common examples include:

  • Pole beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherokee purple tomatoes
  • Amish paste tomatoes
  • Vining squash
  • Cucumelons

If you are a container gardener or choose to have a small space without trellises, DETERMINATE varieties will be your best choice.

For added convenience, plants bought from larger chain stores will often tell you which plant is what variety. Or my favorite tip, ask a fellow farmer.

My next tip for increasing your chances of success in growing your own food is to focus on your soil.

On a small scale, you can purchase bags of organic compost or garden soil for relatively cheap and take the guess work out of it. This is what we have done up until this point and had great success. To cut cost, we have even mixed in dirt from around our property for mass in our raised beds. But, make sure your soil is not too sandy or too clay like.

Too sandy = poor water absorption, no nutrient retention

Too clay like = root rot due to poor drainage

Also, plant your seeds or seed starts at the right time of year.

Last year, we were overly eager and planted our garden at the end of march, having to battle 2-3 hard frosts on our summer plants which ultimately affected the production of each crop.

It takes 2 seconds to google the farmers almanac, where to can enter your area code for anticipated last frost dates. This will help you know when to start seeds OR when to plant your seed starts directly in the garden.

Lastly, (for this post anyway) grow only what you want to eat. If you absolutely can’t stand tomatoes but grow 12 plants and end up having no one to give them to— you waste food. Adjust your garden accordingly.

In Review:

  1. Be honest about how much time you can spend in your space
  2. Identify your grow space
  3. Choose varieties that work for your grow space
  4. Focus on your soil
  5. Plant at the right time of year

This is a super generalized version of getting started. If nothing else, just go for it. Do not be afraid to make mistakes and try new things, especially not in the garden. Making an effort is making a difference.

Our first garden using all determinate varieties.

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