Starting a Garden

Social media sites are full of gardening tips right now. How to start a garden from seed. When to transplant. How to use pallets in 50 different ways to beautify your garden.

But what I haven’t seen (yet, anyway) are posts talking about things to consider ahead of time so you don’t end up wasting all of that precious produce.


I supposed that’s because, in our excitement, we’re only thinking about the delicious Capresé salad we’ll be making with our heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil we grew ourselves. We can’t imagine letting any of it go to waste.

But it can. And it will, without a plan.

I don’t say this to be a downer. I love gardening and growing my own food. However, I’ve had lots of food from my garden go to waste.

Did I want it to? Absolutely not. And it could have been prevented had I planned ahead and considered three important things:

1. What is reasonable for the amount of time/space/skill you have?

This year, we have a huge garden space available to us, but we’ll only be using a little of it. Why?

Because we’ve learned in years past that just because we have the space, doesn’t mean we have to use it all. Not until we get better at this gardening business and have more time to dedicate to it. (Our bus project takes up a lot of time.)

So, before planting a garden, it’s best to look not only at how much space you have, but what your skill level and available time to commit are as well.

If you’re super busy all the time and/or travel frequently, it may be best to keep your garden small. Likewise, if you have a hard time keeping plants alive, a small garden is best to practice on.

On the flip side, if you’ve got the time, space and skill to grow a lot of food, you might want to consider ways to plant an even bigger garden.

Do you have a friend with unused garden space you could use? Could you use the space between your fence and your grass to grow food in? Could you creatively place a garden box near your home? (We’ve tried all of these in the past, with great results.)

2. What will actually get eaten?

Have you ever gotten really excited about growing a lot of food and planted a ton of different vegetables that you ended up not even eating?

Before you go crazy and plant a bunch of varieties, try testing them out first. If there’s something you want to plant that you’ve never tried before, try sampling it first from a farmer’s market or grocery store.

It’s best to find out that your family won’t even eat chard before you plant a whole box of it. Maybe just one or two plants will suffice so everyone can develop a taste for it. Or you can just omit it and plant more of what your family loves.


3. What will you do with extras?

Every year, no matter how few tomatoes we plant, we always end up with a counter full of tomatoes that we aren’t sure what to do with. If that happens to you too, plan in advance what you’ll do with all that fresh produce.

Here are a few options:

Preserve it

One great way to cut your food budget for months to come and lower your dependence on grocery stores it to preserve your garden bounty. You can do so in a number of different ways.

Give it away

We love giving away garden extras. Those times we’ve grown stuff we didn’t end up liking, we were able to give most of the produce away easily by asking friends on Facebook if they wanted it.

Sell it

If you have a large garden with a lot of extra food, you could consider selling some of your excess produce. Ask friends, family or co-workers if they’d be interested in buying any. My parents have even been able to sell garden extras at the farmer’s market in our small town.

What other things do you consider before planting your garden? Share your tips below!

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image credit to Rick Ligthelm

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Comments

  1. Bettina says

    Perfect timing on this piece! I am planning for my very first garden and these questions have been floating around in my head. As we live in a townhome with questionable soil quality, we’ve opted for raised beds. That is going to limit our options, but we are looking forward to the new challenge. :)

  2. Chris says

    I have a large garden and time to care for it, so I plant plenty and take what my family can’t use to the local food pantry. The clients there love the fresh produce and I am thanked profusely by anyone who sees me walk in with it. It’s a good feeling – better than trying to pawn off extra zucchini on your friends, who start avoiding you in August!

  3. Cheryl says

    Great ideas. My husband and I were both raised in big families that gardened in big ways since we were born. But we just moved to NC from NE–so we are facing a whole new challenge. We know we want to garden. I have preserved food and am always finding new things I want to do with it. I make my own ketchup, salsa, marinara tomato sauce to can and freeze salsa for a more fresh version. I talked to the county extension agent here within a month of moving here. She told me how important it was to have the soil tested–something I’d never done before. They sent us the exact ways that the soil needed to be amended to produce well. I think every state would have that service. And county ag agents are wonderful!!!. They can connect you to master gardeners who really know their stuff. As we were planting our garden I learned that my husband loves beets–something I didn’t know. I guess I always planted what I liked. So beets went in. We are able to grow vegetables here that I only dreamed about in NE because of the long growing season–like artichokes. Giving away fresh produce is also a way to get to know your neighbors. Make up a basket and start down the street–You’ll learn who really welcomes fresh tomatoes and cucumbers.

    When we were about 6 and 8 years old, my Dad’s garden produced so much. He tried putting a stand out in front of the house–but no one stopped. So he taught us how to use a scale and to make change and made the prices easy to sell for children who had limited math skills. We would go door to door and sell the fresh vegetables. Some of the people who bought from us would call my mom. “I only bought some out of pity–but those were the BEST tomatoes I have ever tasted–do have more?”. Soon the stand outside was thriving. We must have made such a spectacle–but we learned how to sell, better math skills, how to put together a good presentation… Good skills for children. I would not suggest this for the days we live in now. But in the early 60′s in a very small town it was very safe. I’m just saying that if you are creative and include your children they can learn so much from gardening. My mom has taught me what “weeds” were safe and delicious to eat. It taught us such good work habits. Making sauerkraut and pepper relish taught us that you can do about anything you put your hands to. Nothing went to waste from our parents gardens–and that is one of my goals as well. If nothing else–the composter always needs more green feed to balance all of these leaves.

    My problem here is that I have no good cool dark place to put my canning or place to store potatoes, onions that we want to keep fresh. Our house only has a crawl space–even the garage is hot. No extra cupboard space–and I need (because of dietary restrictions) to be able to can and keep vegetables). Is it more important to be dark or moderately cool? Any good ideas?

    • Oli says

      could you make your own little outdoor cellar? tuck it away in the cool corner of the yard and pop a “potting house” over the top so you have access inside the little house and storage for tools. It might cost a bit at first but in the long run everything will be fresh and safe as you can lock it up too.

      • Cheryl says

        I have wondered the same thing–a cave like place. We are close to the coast–so all sand. That is why no basements are possible. So I don’t know how deep we could dig. Maybe I will go for another visit with the extension agent. So many crops like potatoes and onions, squash, sweet potatoes get ready here so early–mid July. The good news is that you can double crop your garden–but the down-side is how to save anything that gets ready so early. The garden shed over it is a good idea. That would provide shade. Like there is no shade in our yard–with over 50 trees!!! Our problem is too much shade–but no where cool.

  4. says

    I could never let anything go to waste or spoil that I spent so much work growing. It would break my heart! What I can’t preserve or give away, I plan on juicing. I run everything through my juicer before it goes bad. You can even freeze the juice in glass mason jars if you don’t think you can drink it right away (when it’s most nutritious). Then the pulp goes back into the garden/compost pile!

  5. Sue says

    Share extra produce with the local food shelf or food bank. Check with the volunteer staff about what they could use, because sometimes there are different cultural aspects to foods and cooking. Maybe include some recipes with the produce or package the produce with the extras that are needed to add to make a whole meal.

  6. Kelly says

    Thanks for the candidness of this article. I have been almost dreading starting our garden this year because our family has shrunk, which not only means fewer eaters but also fewer helpers. I feel relieved with the idea of scaling it down, but what are your ideas for keeping the rest of our (unused) garden space from going to weeds?

  7. says

    It was a great timing, for I have just started a small gardening( I just finished ploughing the land).

    Yesterday, I learned from a friend of mine who had several years of natural farming that the philosophy of natural farming is different from that of organic farming.

    While the latter views weeds and insects as enemies basically, the former sees them as friends or co-producers of natural products. I was not aware of the difference.

    It seems I have a lot to learn yet, and I am really excited to learn new things!

    Happy farming to all the aspirants!

  8. Lori says

    I read in a book that if you have left over tomatoes that look really good to put them on a cookie sheet with some space between them and into your freezer whole. The next morning take them out and put them in freezer bags for later use. Thaw them and the skins will slide right off. Also, if you have left over herbs, chop them up and fill up an ice cube tray with the herbs and enough water to cover them. Freeze them, then put them into marked freezer bags. When you want to flavor recipes with fresh herbs in the winter, you have them. Found this out in the book “Straw Bale Gardens” by Joel Karsten.

  9. Bev says

    I had a garden for a couple years but can t keep my tomatoes from getting a blite so now I haven t gardened in a few years . Does anyone know how to prevent the blite

  10. Stephanie says

    My family uses the teachings of Square Foot Gardening, this has worked out so well in the past, with very little waste. Most of the waste we do have is because of animals, which we do not keep out of the garden, but their damage is minimal.