Better Health in Your Own Backyard

Anyone who has ever eaten a freshly picked fruit or vegetable will agree: there is nothing as satisfying or delicious as garden-fresh produce. And with spring finally here, there’s no better time to start a vegetable garden so that you too can enjoy the fruits of this season’s bounty.  To learn how to pick, plant, and prosper from your very own vegetable garden, just follow the tips below.

Step 1: Choose plants for your climate.  When deciding which produce to plant, consider what foods will thrive in your climate. Most seed packets state the climate the plant prefers, so pay close attention. Generally, plants prefer to grow in warm, moist soil with plenty of water. In California, however, water is a scarce commodity, so plants that require little water are an ideal choice. Onions, lettuce, potatoes, or even apple and orange trees are tasty examples that grow well in a variety of soils and climates. If you don’t have the space or desired climate for an outdoor garden, you can always opt for an indoor garden. Smaller plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, are wonderful low maintenance, indoor options. Just remember to place them in a well-lit area and water them a couple times a week.

Step 2: Prep your planting site. To begin, start by picking a planting site. This site should be in a well-drained and level area that receives a large amount of sunlight on a daily basis. Next, it’s important to ensure that you have nutrient-rich soil in order to grow a healthy and successful garden. Start by clearing your planting site of all weeds, sod, and debris. The size of the area that you clear will depend upon the amount of space your garden needs. Once this is done, you’ll need to loosen the soil to aerate it so that oxygen can reach the plant’s roots more readily. This is also a good time to incorporate compost or fertilizer into the soil to add more nutrients. If your soil is beyond repair, considering building raised beds or opt for a hanging garden.

Step 3: Plant your garden.  When all of the prep work is completed, you can finally plant your garden. Most seeds have planting instructions on the back of the packet, but if not, plant your seeds 1/4-1/2 inches in the ground leaving a 1-2 inches in between.  For larger plants that have already started growing, place them in a deep enough hole to cover the starter soil. Cover all holes with fresh soil and water liberally to initiate nutrient uptake in the roots. Then, wait for your plants to grow and in a few months you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor.

Gardening Tools

Here’s a list of five essential tools any gardener should have.

  1. A gardening spade and shovel are a definite must for gardening. A good quality shovel allows you to move soil quickly, while a spade ensures perfect sized holes for all your fruits and vegetables.
  2. If you’ve ever tried gardening, but forgot to remove the weeds first, then you know how indispensable a weeding tool is. Weeds are devious creatures that work to destroy your garden by choking out the plants you’re trying to grow, so it is of utmost importance that you remove as many of them as you can. Don’t forget to remove the small pieces, too. Weeds multiply quickly, so even the smallest piece can cause damage.
  3. A wheelbarrow is another handy tool to have while gardening. It saves your back the trouble of carrying heavy bags of soil around and helps to organize your mess.
  4. While plants thrive in ample amounts of sunlight, too much can be harmful to us. A sun hat is highly recommended to wear while gardening. Protecting your face from the sun’s intense rays will stave off future headaches and allow you to enjoy the beauties of your garden.
  5. Kneeling to plant and care for your garden can take a toll on your knees. Invest in a padded knee mat for a much more enjoyable gardening experience.

For tasty recipes ideas that use common vegetable garden items, check out these links:

Written with assistance from nutrition intern, Natasha Fowler.

4 responses to “Better Health in Your Own Backyard

  1. Thanks for this! I unfortunately live in an apartment in the city, but if I can ever get my hands on a community garden plot, I’ll look this up! 🙂 do you garden?

  2. Nicole Geurin, RD

    In all honesty… no! I have a major “brown thumb.” About the only thing I can grow is mint, but I am also trying for basil again this year. My intern volunteered to write this article… and I was all for it because I really would love to learn. Do you live in SF?

  3. Haha, yeah, my thumb is about as non-green as it can get, unfortunately. The only thing I’ve had success with is thyme! At the moment my basil and rosemary plants in my kitchen have seen better days, poor things. I do live in SF! Maybe that’s why I can’t grow anything – not enough sun! 😉 but I have seen community garden plots, so maybe next year if I get brave enough…

  4. Thanks for the quick tips…I never really thought about matching foods to the climate…My parents had a garden when I was growing up and just picked vegetables do seem to taste better.

    I also discovered an environmental friendly weed killer – 4 cups of white vinegar, 1/2 cup of salt and one spoon of dish washing soap. I just tried it this weekend on weeds growing on my patio and it worked really well.

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