Questions to ask yourself before starting a vegetable garden:
1) What is my purpose in starting a vegetable garden? In other words, why do you want to grow a garden? If your purpose is to reduce your monthly grocery bill, your garden will be quite different from someone whose purpose is to grow the most amazing tomatoes in the world. If you happen to be wondering what some common purposes for starting a vegetable garden might be, check out my post about it HERE. But in reality, whatever works for you is the best one.
2) How much money do I want to spend on my garden? It is possible to spend very, very little money on a garden as described by one of my favorite gardening authors HERE. Or you can spend an astronomical amount as shown in a book called “The $64 Tomato.” The author hired a professional landscaper to put his garden in and when he divided the amount he spent on the garden by the puny harvest he got, he figured each of his tomatoes cost $64 each. How much do you want to spend on yours?
3) How much time do I have to spend caring for my garden? What about preserving the harvest? Most people have busy lives and cannot devote hours and hours of work each week to their gardens. But I believe that most people have enough time to do something. Even if the time you have is small, you can grow some of your own food. One of my most memorable gardens was during a time that was incredibly difficult from a time management standpoint. Trust me, it can be done. If you have a 9 to 5 job, you may want to have a weekend warrior garden and tend it once a week. If you are a school teacher, you may want to consider planting mostly varieties that mature quickly so they can be finished by the time you go back to work. Or plant things that have a long slow harvest so you can just eat from the garden instead of needing to preserve it.
4) What do I like to eat? Are you a salad lover? Does your family have a regular weekly pizza night? Do you like to eat meat and potatoes? Do you adore chips and salsa? Does soup hit the spot? Many people grow typical garden foods that are mainly heat loving salad ingredients such as tomatoes and cucumbers. I encourage you to try growing a portion of your staple ingredients. What fruit or vegetable do you buy frequently at the store? You may also want to ask yourself about the food value of what you want to grow. In my neck of the woods, I can often buy 10 pounds of russet potatoes for $1 when they go on sale. But a half-pint of raspberries often costs $4…um, I think I will grow raspberries instead of potatoes. You may also want to consider what tastes better when homegrown. Tomatoes are notorious for tasting better (hard, pale winter tomatoes from the grocery store, anyone?) but did you know that carrots, green beans and melons taste amazing when homegrown too? Among other things.
5) How much space do I have to grow food? The smallest garden I know of takes no more space than a mug on your counter. Starting a sprout garden is simple, easy, takes almost no time or special equipment, and can be finished in about a week. I’m guessing most people have a subdivision sized lot. Even that can grow an amazing amount of food. Check out this book called “The Quarter-Acre Farm” to see the amazing amount of food the author was able to grow on her subdivision lot in California. What if you don’t have any land at all? You can join or start a community garden, find a friend or neighbor who has land and offer to manage it for them in exchange for produce, or learn how to grow food in containers (an art form I have yet to master).
6) What is my growing season/climate like? How long is your typical growing season? Do you have a cold wet spring or does it heat up fast and stay hot? Are your summers hot and dry or do you get regular rain fall year-round? Get to know your weather patterns or check a good website like this one for more details on hardiness zones and planting dates. Because ultimately, growing food is a very local activity. And what I mean by that is don’t try to grow something unless it is well suited to your climate…it will only end in tears and frustration. Don’t ask how I know that. 🙂
7) What would I enjoy most? This is by far one of the most important questions to ask because your garden, ultimately, should bring joy. It will connect you to your roots (pun intended) and teach you more about how food grows than you ever thought possible. Do you get a lot of joy from flowers and splashes of color? Do you savor each bite of sugar snap peas? Do you love, love, love watermelon juice dripping down your chin? Is there a certain vegetable or fruit that reminds you of your grandma? What could you grow that brings you joy?
Because, really, that is what it’s all about.