How to grow food all year long!
So you're tired of endless supermarket trips, or pulling 'fresh' herbs out of your fridge and finding them wilted, soggy, and smelly... Thankfully, there's a tasty alternative, and while gardening is admittedly a bit more time-consuming to start than turning on your car to go to the store, the benefits of homegrown food can last all year long.
Gardening 101: the basics
At the most basic high school biology level, the requirements of plants can be condensed into four main elements to successfully grow abundant harvests:
Plants need sun to photosynthesize
Plants need water and nutrients
Plants need time to mature
Plants need a compatible environment
There are a multitude of other variables which can complicate gardening, like pH levels, germination temperatures, determinate vs. interdeterminate plants, pest eradication, fertilization, pollination, etc. etc. etc... But our mission is to simplify and demystify gardening so you can enjoy your own homegrown food. So, let's keep it simple:
April showers bring may flowers... not
This old adage is certainly a helpful reminder that the Spring is an ideal time for much of the country to plant a garden, but it's a general guideline, and does more harm than good in setting the misguided notion that you can only sow seeds in the Spring. For southern states you can sow seeds as early as December or January, and for colder northern climates you might not even start until late May!
Additionally, most beginning gardeners don't realize that the Spring is just one of the many seasons where you can start a garden. If you've ever purchased a CSA, or shopped at a Farmers' Market you've seen different fruits, vegetables, and herbs sold at different times of the year. This is because agriculture is seasonal, and different plant varieties flourish during different times of the year, in different climates.
What to grow, when
To maximize your homegrown bounty, and ensure that your grocery runs are limited to the items prohibitively difficult to grow in your backyard (like bacon and toilet paper), you'll need to know what to plant when. There are 5 main types of plants which you can grow, with an infinite of sub-varieties beneath them, but to generalize they are broken up by: Leafy Greens, Root Vegetables, Fruiting Vegetables, Herb, and Flowers.
Leafy Greens are some of the fastest growing plants out there, and can provide months worth of recurring harvests if picked correctly.
This genre includes varieties like mustard greens, lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, and basically anything green you'd find in a salad! Leafy Greens are cold-tolerant plants, which make them ideal candidates for Spring, Fall, and Winter gardens. They can be grown in the Summer, but high temp climates should be avoided then to prevent plants from 'bolting', where the plants switch from leaf to flower development and turn to a more bitter taste.
Typically, Leafy Green varieties are ready for their first harvest just weeks after the seeds are planted, and make perfect companion plants when placed near slower-growing large varieties which need space to expand.
Root Vegetables, like Leafy Greens are some of the fastest growing plants out there, and are ideal candidates for Spring, Fall, and Winter gardens.
It's all about that crunch! If you enjoy sweet carrots, roasted beets, thinly sliced radishes, and garnishes of scallions (or our fave scallion pancakes!), then you need to try growing Root Vegetables! They are typically some of the easiest and most forgiving plants to grow, since they mature extremely quickly and aren't in the ground long enough for anything to go wrong. They make excellent varieties for Spring and Fall planting, and if you have a cold frame you can 'over-winter' your veggies and enjoy the sweeter taste the cold temps impart on the fruit.
Typically, Root Vegetables are ready for their first harvest just weeks after the seeds are planted, and make perfect companion plants when placed near slower-growing large varieties which need space to expand.
Fruiting Vegetables grow the quintessential produce you see in grocery stores and supermarkets... but they're always sweeter, tastier, and safer when grown in your garden!
Fruiting Vegetables are defined as any plant which produces flowers and fruit, like; tomatoes, melons, squash, peppers, peas, beans, cucumbers, corn, and pumpkins. These varieties typically take a longer time to reach maturity, require more sunlight, water, and nutrients, and due to their longer grow-time are subject to a wider variety of diseases, pests, and weather volatility. There are exceptions to that rule, like with Peas and Beans which can be ready for first harvests just 1-month after planting, but on the whole larger plants require more time to grow large fruits.
Fruiting vegetables are usually planted in the Spring, immediately after the last frost, and are ready for harvest 2-4 months after initial planting.
Herbs are some of the most popular plant varieties to grow, and with good reason! They are typically fast and easy to grow, and can provide multiple months of continual harvests.
Herbs are similar to Leafy Greens in their speed to maturity, with varieties like cilantro reaching a harvestable size 3 weeks after sowing. Some varieties like basil and parsley take a longer time to develop their iconic (and delicious) leaves, but when harvested correctly can produce abundant continual harvests.
Because of their fast-growing and vigorous nature, herbs can be planted in the late Spring, Summer, and early Fall. They do prefer warmer temperatures +60F to germinate, but once established they can survive through cooler temperatures and are an ideal container garden to bring indoors in the winter.
Flowers follow the Kindegarten limerick of April showers bring May flowers, and do best when planted in the Spring and blossom with the Summer sun.
Flowers aren't just a pretty face! While they are definitely known for their aesthetic allure, they provide a multitude of benefits to your garden, and many varieties are edible, and delicious to boot! Flowers attract beneficial pollinators which will help your Fruiting Vegetables develop, they attract beneficial insects which prey upon harmful pests, and in the case of marigolds, even thwart off deer!
Plant flowers in the Spring for optimal Summer harvests, and plant marigolds next to your tomatoes for a match made in heaven!
when to plant in your region?
Here comes the sun
Plants require sunlight to photosynthesize, by which the plant synthesizes food from carbon dioxide and water. The general rule of thumb is to plant gardens in south-facing locations that receive at least 8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Many customers ask if they can grow Seedsheets indoors, and the short answer is it depends on your light! If you have a large south-facing window then you should be fine, but if not, a LED grow light will provide synthetic light and enable you to grow anything year-round! Trust us, there's nothing tastier than a ripe tomato picked in the middle of a snow storm!
Some plant varieties like leafy greens and herbs can tolerate partial sun (4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day), but their growth will be slower than if they were planted in a south-facing location.
If you notice your plants starting to get 'leggy', where the seedlings are growing tall and spindley, that is a sign of insufficient sunlight and you should immediately move your plants to a sunnier south-facing location, or invest in a grow light. Additionally, make sure that you fill your gardening container to the brim with soil before planting! If your soil depth is below the walls of your gardening bag/container your plants will be shaded out!
Make it rain!
Seeds need to be in constant contact with moisture to stimulate the germination process, which is why our Seed Pods include coco coir which does a phenomenal job of wicking and holding moisture down to the seeds. You should water newly-planted seeds at least once daily until you begin to see sprouts emerging through the soil. If you're planting a Container Seedsheet you can even start your garden indoors, and then move it outside once your first seedlings reach 1" in height. This will help keep your garden in a stable warm environment for them to sprout, as well as mitigate any curious squirrel problems.
As your plants mature and become more established you will need to apply more water, since bigger plants need more food! Additionally, after your third week of growth you can begin to add a liquid fertilizer to your watering can once per week with your normal watering process. We include a green misting nozzle with each product which can be screwed onto any standard-top water/seltzer bottle, or if you're growing a larger Backyard Seedsheet you can water with a hose, provided you have a fine misting head so you can apply water less forcibly to delicate plants.
Patience, young grasshopper
Plants take time to grow, and while you can speed up their progress with fertilizer and good nutrient-rich soil, you have to remind yourself that patience is a virtue! Each Seedsheet comes with instructions based on the plants you selected, and we denote each plant's DTM (days to maturity). This will help you contain your excitement, and prevent you from harvesting a carrot too early and be dismayed by a tiny (albeit cute) snack.
We have your back!
We love seeing new gardeners feasting on their fresh homegrown produce, and relishing in the experience and gratification of nurturing a plant from seed to supper. We try our hardest to demystify gardening and empower anyone to be successful, which is why we offer our Greenthumb Guarantee, where we will send free seed pod replacements in the event any pods fail to sprout. Our Customer Success team is also here to help you, and answer any gardening questions you have!
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