How to garden
A garden is a plot of land planted with vegetables, herbs or flowers. Some gardens are designed to incorporate the surrounding landscape thereby blurring the distinction between nature and cultivated plants.
Organic gardening is an environmentally conscious form of farming, relying on soil building practices, crop rotations and minimum tillage, as well as biological methods of pest control. These encourage soil biodiversity, enhance nutrient cycling and soil stability.
So you’ve decided to start a home garden. You’ve pored over seed catalogs to pick out which plants you want to grow and you’ve read some books to learn more about home gardening. But there’s one big step before digging in and growing your own food: choosing the right gardening method for your space.
From growing plants directly in the ground to making use of pots and containers, these different methods each have their benefits and drawbacks. To get started, there are a few simple questions that can help you decide which method is right for you:
- Which fruits, vegetables and herbs do you plan on growing?
- How much space can you dedicate to your garden?
- What water sources will you be relying on?
- How much time can you commit to building and maintaining your garden?
As you will see below, many of these different gardening methods are often combined — such as raised garden beds planted with a square foot garden approach or an in-ground garden that uses vertical space for climbing plants. As important as it is to choose a gardening method, you’re not locked into one type. Explore different types and combinations to find what works best for you.
In-ground gardening is when you have a cleared area of soil into which you plant seeds (or seedlings) directly into the ground. Often, these gardens feature plants in rows, similar to a farm plot but on a much smaller scale, which is why it is also often referred to as row gardening.
In-ground gardening can be a great option for beginner gardeners because it doesn’t require any special containers or construction to get started. Simply choose an area of your yard that gets good sunlight and get digging!
This method of gardening can also be less water intensive than raised beds or container gardens because the plants have direct access to groundwater and therefore do not need to be watered as frequently.
However, because this method uses the soil you already have, you may need to amend it so that it has the right composition and texture. Depending on where you live, your soil will contain different amounts of sand, silt and clay which can all impact how a plant grows. Some urban areas also might, problematically, have lead in the soil. If you plan on using an in-ground garden, make sure to test your soil texture like @learntogrow demonstrates.
Raised garden beds
Many home gardeners love to use raised garden beds which are typically made of wood but can also be metal, brick, rocks or other materials.
Since the raised beds need to be filled with soil, you have greater control over the type and quality of the soil you use, making this a great choice for gardeners who have very rocky or clay-based soil (or soil contaminated with lead). Raised beds can also be built at different heights, making them more accessible to gardeners who are limited in mobility or may want to limit how often they bend their back.
Some gardeners, like Atlanta-based Milan T., who uses the Instagram handle @atlgrow, add wheels to their raised beds so that they can be moved around, making them much more like a container garden.
It’s important to know that raised beds require more frequent watering so make sure your garden beds are near a hose or, even better, set up a rainwater collection system to water them.
Square foot gardening
Popularized by Mel Bartholomew, this gardening method is often touted as the most efficient way to grow food in small to medium sized home gardens. Square foot gardens usually use raised garden beds filled with a special blend of compost, vermiculite and peat moss (or coconut coir or pittmoss) which is supposed to boost garden productivity.
The raised beds of a square foot garden are typically built to be four feet by four feet (four feet by eight feet is another common size). This allows the beds to be broken down equally into one foot squares and lets the gardener access the plants from every side of the bed, making harvest easier.
Planting in a square foot garden means following the guidelines for how many plants should be placed in every square foot. For some crops like carrots, this means planting 16 carrot seeds in every square foot. But for other, usually larger plants, such as tomatoes, it is recommended to plant only one plant per square foot.
One drawback to square foot gardens is that building the custom raised beds and filling them with the preferred soil mix can be costly when compared with other gardening methods.
The beauty of a container garden is that there are so many different types and sizes of containers you can use which means that almost anyone can create a garden that works for their space. Container gardens can also be moved, making them a great option for gardeners who rent their homes or may not be ready for a more permanent garden solution.
While almost any type of container can be used to grow your plants, some common ones include plastic, ceramic or terra cotta pots or fabric grow bags. No matter the type of container you choose, it’s important to make sure that it has adequate drainage holes so that water does not sit in the container. Excess water can promote the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi, as well as contribute to root rot.
One drawback to growing plants in containers is that, like raised beds, they can dry out easily, meaning they need to be watered more frequently, since the plants’ roots don’t have direct access to groundwater.
For many, the lack of usable space is the biggest hurdle to growing food. Vertical gardens are a great solution for small spaces since they grow food upwards instead of taking up more square footage on the ground.
Vertical gardens come in many different forms and can be made from materials you already have at home. Popular options include fabric based growing walls and pre-built garden towers.
Aspects of vertical gardening can also be incorporated into your in-ground or raised bed gardens by using trellises, arches or other structures to help support vining vegetables like cucumbers, squash or peas.
This method of gardening has been used for centuries in Eastern Europe and Germany and is a great choice for those that have access to a lot of natural materials such as logs, tree branches and dead leaves.
The goal of creating a hugelkultur garden is to create a fertile growing space that is also low-maintenance by creating raised beds by building a mound out of the natural materials mentioned above. These leaves, tree branches and logs eventually break down and create rich, fertile soil to grow healthy plants.
As Instagram gardener @frecklesandsprouts points out, one of the benefits of a hugelkultur garden is that it can be a very low cost way to garden, especially if you have access to space and natural materials. However, building these beds require more initial labor and time for the materials to degrade into healthy soil.