The three most important things you need to think about when planting an edible garden are sun, soil and water. Get these right, and you'll be feasting on homegrown veggies, fruits and herbs year-round. Get them wrong, and you'll be stuck with a yellowed, buggy patch of mess.
Almost anyone can cultivate a healthy garden—the key is not to overthink things. Here's a step-by-step list of everything you'll need to know to go grocery shopping in your backyard in no time:
Find an area that will get at least six hours of sun per day. While there are shade-loving exceptions, such as lettuce and other tender greens, most edible plants—especially tomatoes, squash and peppers—need and love the heat and sun.
At the same time, too much heat and sun can be hurtful. If you live in a hot climate, make sure to plant your garden where it won't receive more than six hours of sun a day. You can shelter your plants with a home-built shade structure if you don't have any other options. Simply put four stakes in the ground at the corners of your garden, and cover with sheer fabric or bird netting. You can also purchase this at any garden or plant store.
Whether you set up your garden in raised beds, in pots or straight into the ground, be sure to grow your plants in good soil. To determine what kind of soil you have, try this: Take a hose and wet a patch of soil, then take a pinch. If it feels slimy and kind of sticky, then you have a clay soil. If it feels gritty and the water seems to drain very quickly through it, then you have a sandy or a "loamy" soil.
Those with clay soil need to get a soil amendment to help create air and loosen things up so plants' roots can expand. If you have a loamy, easily draining soil, get some soil amendment to help retain water. Another big essential is adding compost—hopefully organic—that will add the nutrients necessary to grow a good crop. Compost is like food for soil. A good rule of thumb is to add a 1- to 2-cubic-foot bag of compost per 6 square feet of planting area. You will also want to purchase a good organic vegetable food to feed your plants once a month during the growing season.
8 organic gardening essentials
People are often daunted by the task of properly irrigating their plants, but it's actually very easy. First, consistency is key. Plants should be watered three to four times per week for a few minutes when they're new. As they mature and their roots grow, you'll want to water less frequently—possibly twice a week. It's important to achieve a deep watering, though, to help encourage the roots to go down where they can stay cool. When plants don't get a deep water, their roots will stay at the surface, which tends to dry out quickly. Plants with superficial roots will not thrive as well and will require more watering.
Always water in the morning so the leaves have time to dry over the course of the day—this will minimize pest and insect activity. If you're not sure whether your plants need watering, here are some rules of (green) thumb: Droopy plants usually need water, unless it's the middle of the day and blazing hot outside (a hot day will make any plant—even a well-hydrated one—droop). You know your plants are overwatered if their leaves are yellowed and their flowers are dropping off. It's usually better to underwater than overwater, because overwatering can lead to decreased fruit production. To check to see whether your soil is properly hydrated, just stick your fingers 3 inches down into the soil. If it feels cold and damp, you're good.