Many people who develop an interest in the homesteading lifestyle start their homesteading by creating a food garden. A homestead food garden can provide natural, healthy food for your household, but is also a very rewarding and satisfying activity.
How to start a homesteading food garden is a question many beginners to the lifestyle struggle with, but the process is easy with a little planning. Starting small and manageable in your gardening efforts is the way to get going and keep motivated.
If you start too big too quickly, you may quickly become overwhelmed by the maintenance and time required to manage a food garden that is too big! Starting small allows you to practice, gain skills, and experiment with what homestead gardening method works for you and meets your needs.
Why Start A Homesteading Food Garden
The reason most homesteaders start a food garden is normally closely associated with their reason to be homesteading in the first place! This can stem from what their goals and objectives are for their homestead and how committed they want to be to the lifestyle.
Mostly, 3 reasons motivate homesteaders to start growing their own food; healthier produce, self-sufficiency, and income generation.
Most commercially grown vegetables lack the nutritional value of years gone by. This is largely due to commercial growing methods, such as genetically modified seeds, the use of pesticides, and leeching of nutrients form overused soil. These factors have resulted in store-bought produce being less nutritious and therefore less healthy for our bodies. Much of these commercial practices have been introduced to grow more produce that looks good and stays fresher for longer on supermarket shelves.
When you grow your own food, you have control over what you grow, how you grow it, and you can harvest from the garden straight to your table. You can limit the number of chemicals and pesticides used to give you the most natural organic food possible. Food grown in this way is usually more filling when you eat it, so you consume less, and it is more nutrient-rich, which is good for our bodies!
Many homesteaders start out in the lifestyle to be less dependent on society, governments, and local authorities for their needs. Self-sufficiency is a term you will hear time and again in homesteading circles, as homesteaders strive to have their land meet more of their family needs.
Food security is not necessarily just for preppers but makes sense for people who live in a remote location or in areas prone to natural disasters or living through worldwide pandemics. These phenomena have the potential to limit your access to store-bought food, or stores run out of supply. In times like these, having a homestead food garden will make life somewhat easier for you and your family.
If you have a bigger homestead with an acre or more of space, you may be able to grow a large enough food garden to produce more food than you can use. This excess food production can be a means of generating income from your homestead. This can be in the form of selling the fresh produce to food markets, neighbors, friends, and family, or processing it into other saleable items. Pickling vegetables, dehydrating and canning, will not only allow you to store your homegrown food for longer but provides an item that you could easily find a market for and generate income.
What Method To Use For Your Food Garden
The method you use for your homesteading food garden will depend on how much space you have available, whether you plan to upscale and the quality of the soil on your property.
- The raised bed gardening method has many advantages for the homesteader. It is raised off the ground which helps prevent pests from getting to your veggies and limits the spread of certain plant diseases. The method is also useful for people who find it difficult to get down on their hands and knees or bend down over in-ground garden beds. You can easily manage the condition of the soil by adding nutrients and supplements for your plants. These nutrients are not leached away into the surrounding soil to be used by weeds and other plants and for the same reason, are more water-efficient than in-ground planting.
- Container planting is another method that is popular among homesteaders with limited space, such as people who live in apartments or with small ground space. This is almost like raised bed gardening, but n a smaller scale. The same benefits to raised beds apply to container or plant pot-growing, with the added advantage of mobility. You can move the plants around to adjust their growing environment based on the seasonal changes.
- Hydroponic systems are growing in popularity among homesteaders as the growing environment can be controlled with much more detail. These systems are usually also raised, offering those benefits, but are also water-efficient since they are closed systems. The nutrient-laden water is continuously circulated throughout the system. Hydroponically grown food has been documented to provide an increase in yield compared to other methods. The beauty of hydroponics systems is that they are scalable both in size and complexity. You can use simple dutch-bucket methods, or go into larger systems that would support commercial-scale growing activities.
- In-ground homestead food growing is the old-school method that is still viable on a large scale if you have the tools and implements to support that activity and if your soil is of good quality. Poor ground soil can many years of treatment to get to the point where it supports good crop yields. For this reason, many homesteaders opt for one of the other growing methods for their food gardens. Growing on a small scale in the ground is still a method you should consider, as the small scale makes the maintenance and control easier. The disadvantages of this method include easy access to your crops by pests and the infestation of weeds. It is also a less water-efficient method of growing your homestead food garden.
There are, however not hard and fast rules to the method you use for your food garden, and in practicality, many homesteaders use a mixture of several methods for their food growing needs.
How To Plan A Food Garden
For many beginner homesteaders, planning where to position your food garden is important. It may seem obvious, but you will be surprised how many people don’t take these basic garden planning aspects into consideration.
Vegetables need water, nutrients, and lots of sunlight. These basic plant needs will play a role in where to locate your food garden. Most vegetable plants require a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight per day. While some vegetable types will tolerate dappled shade for part of the day, most vegetables require full sun.
Arrange your vegetable beds close to your garden water supply. This minimizes the length of hosepipe and irrigation systems that you will need. The close proximity to the water supply also makes the task of watering your plants less of a chore! Unrolling and rolling up hosepipes can quickly become tiresome, and you want your veggie garden tasks to be as easy as possible!
Starting a compost pile is a natural progression from growing a food garden, which you should locate near your growing beds so that you don’t have to transport the compost a long way in a wheelbarrow!
These layout considerations may not seem important initially, but they definitely play a part in your plant’s health and your long term enjoyment of maintaining your food garden.
What to Plant In Your Homestead Food Garden
First-time food garden growers can be very enthusiastic and start out big and grow every seed they can get their hands on! There is definitely merit in trying new things, but our advice is to start small and start simple.
The best plants to grow in your food garden are foods that you will actually eat. It is rather pointless in the early stages to grow vegetables you have never eaten before or don’t know how to use. These plants will more than likely just take up time and resources in your garden that would be better spent growing the food you will eat.
The easiest plants to start growing for beginner gardeners are salad-type vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, carrots, onions, tomatoes, and arugula, or rocket as it is known in some areas. Growing easy crops at first allow you to gain skills knowledge and confidence as a gardener. Radishes are such a crop; they are delicious, easy to grow, grow fast, and produce an edible crop in a short amount of time!
Once you have gained some confidence in the salad crops, you can start venturing out to growing plants that take a bit more finesse, such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, bean, peas, pumpkins, and squashes. Try to include growing some easy herbs as well, such as basil, lemongrass, and parsley.
Homesteaders who have a bit more space may also be adventurous once they have some experience and try growing other food crops such as corn.
As far as possible, when sourcing seeds for the homestead food garden, stay away from GMO seeds. Heirloom seeds are what you need to look for, as these have not been genetically modified but are known hardy species that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Limit your use of pesticides in your garden, as these chemicals are not only harmful to the environment but not healthy for you to consume either! Rather research natural methods of pest control, or try a different gardening method that limits pest attacks.
A homesteading skill that you will want to start investigating once your first crop comes in is how to preserve the harvest before it begins to rot. There are many ways to preserve your excess from your food crop harvest, and the method will often be determined by the type of vegetable. Preserving methods can involve fermentation, pickling, dehydrating, freezing, or canning.
Companion Planting And Crop Rotation
Companion planting and crop rotation are foundational gardening techniques that you need to know about as a beginner starting a homestead food garden. These methods will help to give you successful harvests season after season.
Companion planting refers to a technique that involves planting crops together that assist each other and help promote each other’s growth or assist pest control. Believe it or not, certain plants will absolutely not grow together, and it is probably more important to know this information than the good companions!
Examples of good companion plants are tomatoes and basil, but tomatoes are not to be planted with rosemary or potatoes, as they are not good for each other in this combination!
Strawberries are another example that can be planted as companions with almost any other plant. However if you plant them with cabbage, broccoli, garlic, or brussels sprouts, you are unlikely to have success.
There is much detailed information on the internet around companion planting, and you can also ask your local nursery for advice on this matter. Suffice it to say, you need to be aware that there are good and bad companion plants and you need to do your research before planting.
Crop rotation is another technique that bears mentioning for new gardeners, as it can affect your year on year harvest. Some plants are called nitrogen fixers and some plants are heavy feeders that use up nutrients in the soil. Crop rotation also helps to minimize crop-specific diseases building up in the soil.
For example, tomatoes are heavy feeders and should not be planted in the same vegetable bed every year. You should rotate them to a different bed each year and in their place plant a nitrogen fixer crop such as beans or peas.
Basic Tools For Your Food Garden
Whichever method you use to grow your food garden, you are going to need a few basic tools. This list is more geared to a food garden that is grown on one of the methods other than tubs or hydroponics, but you may find some of these tools useful in these methods too.
- A spade for shoveling sand, compost, digging holes, or excavating large plants
- Having a pick on hand is also useful for hole digging and removing stubborn roots
- A garden fork for aerating soil or lifting out weeds and other plants
- Many gardeners find small tools sets such as spades, garden forks, and weeders, useful for working in raised beds or containers and pots.
- Wheelbarrows are extremely useful for transporting anything around the garden, such as fertilizer, compost, rubble, or tools.
- A garden rake is great for raking together dead plant material, leveling the ground, and generally cleaning up around the garden.
- A hosepipe and a watering can are needed for watering your plants. Watering cans are good for wetting down seedbeds so the seeds are not washed away with the pressure of a hose.
- Secateurs for trimming dead leaves, branches, and other plant material are a useful addition to your gear.
As you can see, the tools required to start a homesteading food garden are not many and generally not too expensive!
Starting a food garden is not hard or complicated, but does require a bit of planning and research. It is a rewarding part of homesteading and gives a sense of achievement when you can put food on the plate that you have produced yourself!