Growing my own crops for the first time was a rather daunting experience. While I’ve seen how to plant them a million times and actually did it myself on multiple occasions (while working on a farm), doing it yourself for the first time, in your own garden is a whole other story. In this post, I’ll walk you through how to grow your own crops step-by-step, even if you never have grown anything before, you can start right away, grow your own food and enjoy the freshness of self-produced fruits and veggies.
How do you grow your own food crops? In short to grow your own crops follow these 7 steps:
- Prepare/Plan a growing bed
- Prepare the plants you want to grow
- Make medium sized holes, far enough apart so your plants won’t have to compete for sunlight.
- Fill the hole with compost and fertilizer if necessary
- Transplant seedling after hardening them off, or sow seeds
- Add Mulch to reduce evaporation and weeds
- Water your newly planted crops so they start producing roots
Without further ado let’s get into the nitty-gritty and look at each of these steps in more detail.
How to prepare a growing bed
Your first step, when preparing a new growing bed should be to make sure there are no buried utility lines, irrigation lines and also no roots from nearby trees or other obstacles which will make it much harder to grow crops.
Once you made sure all these conditions are met, you can start to plan the size of your growing bed, as well as the Layout of your walking Paths, which will become very important later for weeding purposes.
For bigger plants, I normally plan alternating blocks of 3×2 Plants and a 30cm wide walking path, so I can reach all the sides with relative ease, making weeding a much easier task. On the other hand, growing plants which require a much smaller area can be planted in rows instead of blocks.
Another important factor to consider is the amount of space your plants need, this is solely depending on what you choose to grow, for example, tomatoes need about 30inches(80cm) of space in between them, otherwise, air circulation will be reduced and cause diseases or lack of sunlight might kill any smaller plants.
The next step is to make sure the soil is good for planting. First, any grass or other weeds need to be removed, to expose the soil in which you want to grow in. Using a spade or a hoe will be able to cut off the top Layer of soil with all the grassroots. If you started around March or April with preparing your beds you’ll have enough time to improve the soil slowly by using this method:
Next, you want to improve the soil. My garden is plagued by heavy clay soil, to reduce the amount of clay in the soil, I put a Layer of Compost on top of the soil (around 1inch/2.5cm), and afterwards mix in into the soil with a spade, after this is finished I cover the newly prepared soil with mulch so earthworms and other critters can improve the soil structure in the next couple of weeks.
Alternatively, if you want to plant your crops, in a much shorter time frame preparing a small “Pot” in your growing bed with good soil is the way to go. I’ll go more in-depth on how to make these later in this article.
Having a general idea of where to plant your crops now, the next step is to make sure you actually have something to plant. Let’s have a look at how to prepare plants for cultivation.
How to prepare your plants
Essentially, there are two ways to prepare your plants, both come with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Let’s first have a look at indoor grown plants, that is crops which will be sowed and start to grow multiple weeks before you actually want to plant them outside. This method is mostly used for plants with a long growing period (mostly plants that get pretty big), to reduce the amount of time the plant needs before it starts producing fruits.
Important for the plants is to have a warm place (inside the house) with lots of sun in the first couple of weeks, if you have a south-facing window this is the place to go. Using tomatoes as an example you need to start sowing them around 6 weeks before the last frost in your area.
To prepare the seed first fill your containers with good and well-drained growing soil, either buy some at a local Garden center or use your own sterilized compost.
Afterward, make small holes with your finger and put one seed in each hole. Once finished, cover all the holes with more growing soil and gently water them (Best using a Growing Tray so the water can move from bottom to top). Avoid watering the soil directly as this might expose the freshly planted seed.
After the first sprout is visible, place your seedlings next to the south-facing window, or use growing lights to ensure enough light reaches your plants.
After about 3-4 weeks look at the roots of your seedling, if the cell is already filled it’s time to re-pot your seedlings into bigger individual container (Using Cow Pots will save you some time, as you can just plant the whole pot once your seedlings are ready).
In the bigger pots, your plants will need to grow another 3-4 weeks, if temperatures don’t drop below 32°F/0°C you can put them into an outdoor growing box.
It’s important to keep a close watch at the temperatures when you put your plants outside, you have to invite them back into your house every time temperature drop below freezing. Using an outdoor box will help to harden off your plants, making them much more resistant to the colder temperatures they will experience in the first couple of weeks after planting them outside.
While I used tomatoes as an example, most plants can be grown indoor before the growing season starts, the process is mostly the same for all plants with only small adjustments.
Smaller plants like Lettuce, radishes or pumpkins can be grown directly from seed and don’t need to be pregrown indoors, this will save you a fair amount of work but delays the first harvest for a couple of weeks.
Now with all your plants prepared and the last frost out of the way it’s time to plant the seedlings in your outdoor growing bed.
How to plant your seedlings
The planting really depends on the conditions of your soil, if you have well-draining loamy soil you can just dig a small hole to put your seedling in.
However, in most cases, your soil will need some amount of work so the seedling can grow optimally. In my Garden, the heavy clay soil prevents me from planting anything without some prior soil improvement.
My first 2 growing bed I prepared as described earlier and they were good to go once the planting season came around. The other beds, which I couldn’t prepare in time, so I prepared small “Pots” in the growing bed in which the plant can thrive. So here is how to prepare one such growing hole.
First, dig a hole about one foot in diameter and depth, if you should have soil which is on the verge of being good to use, just collect all the soil you dig out, you can later just mix in a bit of compost, which improves the soil. On the other hand, really clay heavy soil can’t be used for growing, as it won’t allow the roots to develop properly.
After finishing the hole fill it up with fresh Compost, or bought growing soil (etc.). I prefer to use my own Compost, for this purpose I also don’t sterilize the soil before using it. Depending on what you grow you might want to add a bit of Fertilizer, here I used half a hand full of tomato fertilizer to improve the growth of my plants and increase chances of survival.
Mix everything together, and you should have a hole, filled really nice soil, in which you can plant your seedling. Using your hand make a small hole, big enough to cover up the whole roots of your seedling (with tomatoes you can cover a bit of the stem, so more roots develop).
This way you can grow pretty much anything in your garden, even if you have really bad soil. The size of the hole also depends on the size of the crop you want to plant, or it’s root size.
After I finish planting I normally use some straw or cut grass to mulch my plants, this will reduce evaporation and growth of weeds, reducing the work you have to put into your garden to maintain optimal conditions.
Seeds can be planted in a similar way, using small growing holes to provide nutritious and well-drained soil will make those seeds grow in no time. However, it’s important to keep an eye on your seeds, as weeds will be more of a threat to them. You also should use any mulch on your seeded area, at least until the germinated seeds start to reach 2inches/5cm above the soil.
Aftercare: What to do after planting
Congratulations! You finished planting your own crops, but most of the work is still in front of you, weeding, watering and maintaining your growing bed will be more or less a daily job.
When growing tomatoes it’s also important to give them something to grow on, using either a long stick or some bought growing aids.
Watering is another really important job from now on and needs to be done daily in the first 2 weeks until a good root system is established. With enough mulch, you can reduce the amount of watering later on to 2-4 times a week depending on how dry and exposed to the sun your garden is.
What are some good crops for beginning Gardeners? While some plants might be harder to grow then other, if you inform yourself about the plant beforehand, you can grow pretty much any local crop without problems. If you are unsure of what to grow, choose something you really like, be it Tomatoes, Potatoes, Beans, Strawberries or Lettuce just give it a go and see where you can go from there.
I have lots of rocks in my Soil, what can I do? Rocky soil can prove to be quite a challenge, there are 2 options when faced with such soil: 1) Dig anyway and remove all the rocks you can find, this is really hard work and will take years to go through a whole garden.
2) Build raised beds, while you have to buy the soil to fill up the beds, you at least don’t have to work through the whole soil. There are pros and cons to both these methods so maybe just give both a go and decide for yourself what works best.