Tips and tricks for growing fruits and vegetables at home

By Ashley Northington
May 13, 2020
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Warm weather is the perfect time to start your own garden – whether you’re growing inside your home or in your yard.

If you’ve been itching to exercise your green thumb or find out if you have one, we’ve talked to growers to nail down the best tips and tricks to get you started on your DIY garden.

Container vs. ground

Once you commit to becoming a grower, there’s one very important decision you have to make:  determining whether you’ll start your garden in the ground or in containers.

Whitney Smith, the Melanin Plant Goddess, said new growers should consider whether they rent or own their home before planting in ground. Unless your landlord gives the go-ahead, renters may want to stick to containers.

“Containers are ideal for smaller spaces, cooler climates (small containers can be moved indoors), and for people with physical limitations that make kneeling or bending difficult, along with areas where soil is contaminated or lacking in nutrients,” Tamara Prosper of Sheaux Fresh Sustainable Foods said. “Containers are also great for people in apartments who have a small balcony or patio.”

Pick your seeds

When Smith started her garden, she quickly realized the most important thing – whether planting outdoors or indoors — was simply to read the tag or seed package before planting.

“Never say you can’t garden or don’t have a green thumb if you’ve never read the instructions,” Smith said.

When just starting out, Smith and Prosper said to start with small plants rather than seeds.

“Starting with small plants (starters) is usually easier than starting with seeds,” Prosper said. “Read the tags that come with plants. They’ll tell you if it thrives in full sun or shade, or needs a lot of water, or is drought-tolerant.”

They recommend growing tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and herbs such as thyme, cilantro and parsley if you’re just starting out on your growing journey.

Invest in soil

Smith wants new growers to know one thing: “Soil is king.”

Violet King of Cosmic Farmer cautions that urban soil is more likely to contain lead and recommends getting a soil test to be sure. She also recommends potting soil for small containers and compost for raised beds. For outdoor in-ground growing, she recommends adding compost to provide organic matter for plants.

“Plants need nutrients,” King said. “Use organic fertilizers like feather meal, kelp meal and bone meal to supply your plants throughout the season. There is a ton of information about what plants like, but generally, they need potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus … Soil that’s full of composted material will help plants grow much better than canned chemicals will.”

Use sunlight effectively

Whether you’re planting indoors or outdoors, Smith recommends finding a location for your plants that allows between six to eight hours per day in the sun.

If needed, consider buying an indoor plant light.

Use water properly

Though water is on the list of necessities, you want to make sure you do it right. Smith cautions growers to water plants in the morning before it gets too hot and then water again in the early evening, for the best results.

Mind the weather

King recommends that both new and experienced gardeners rely on the Old Farmer’s Almanac to determine planting zones and the right dates and seasons to grow plants.

“It’s important to make sure you plant the right veggies or fruits at the right time” King said. “Planning out your garden and gathering information about the right time to plant seeds or seedlings will help you to have a successful harvest.”

Crops such as kale, collards, spinach, radishes, broccoli and lettuce are ideal for colder months, while warm-weather crops include tomatoes, peppers, okra, green beans, melons and cucumbers.

Repel rodents

Planting outdoors requires some level of pest control for your plants.

Tyrean Lewis of Heru Urban Farming in St. Louis, Missouri, shared two helpful organic tips that he uses to repels pests, rodents and other unwanted items from his garden.

“Irish Spring soap is not only for taking showers!” Lewis sayd. “I cut a bar of Irish Spring soap in half and put it in a sock along my fence line to keep rodents away. The smell after it rains adds an extra aroma that the rabbits and rodents hate.”

He also suggested using marigolds to help protect your crops. Marigolds attract pollinators (aka the “good bugs”), and they can also help keep the soil free of tiny plant-eating worms called nematodes if planted strategically in advance of your vegetable plants.

Experiment and have fun

Getting started growing fruits and vegetables, like any new undertaking, will require some trial and error.

King notes that it “takes a lot of patience, faith and trial to successfully grow your own food, but the exciting thing is that each year and even each changing season is a chance to try something new.”

Prosper recommends that newbies take it easy when just starting out.

“There isn’t one perfect way to grow a garden,” Prosper said. “(New gardeners) should be willing to experiment a little. They also need a willingness to try without being afraid of mistakes, because. Even experienced growers can make them.”

For Smith, gardening has been about more than just growing plants.

“From understanding how attentive you need to be, to understanding that the plants silently speak to you to tell you what they need — my garden has taught me so much about life,” she said.

Happy growing!