Nutrition: How to Start a Sustainable Garden at Home

Gardening is great for many reasons!  Growing your own food can save you money while also providing exercise and time outside.  Some even find gardening to be a relaxing activity to problem solve and relieve stress. If you’re not sure where to start, consider a couple of the following questions.

What would you like to grow?

One of the first steps is deciding what you would like to grow.  Don’t feel limited to one thing, you can pick a variety of vegetables, herbs, and flowers within the same space.  Thinking ahead will give you an idea of how much space you need in the garden.  A 3’ x 6’ area is large enough to plant a variety of vegetables and flowers for a small family, but you can always start smaller! Not sure how to lay it out? An article from The Spruce highlights websites which are free to use and will visualize where to plant-based on your garden size.

Here are a few of the most popular plants to give you some ideas.

Kale (May through Mid-July)
Lettuce (April through late-July)
Broccoli (April through August)
Eggplant (May through June)
Peppers (May through June)
Tomatoes (May through June)
Cauliflower (March through August)
Celery (April through June)
Brussels sprouts (June through July)

What information can you dig up?

Before running to the store, take some time to look up care instructions for each plant. This could include the amount of sunlight and water required, special soil conditions, and how to harvest.  There are all kinds of blogs, websites, and resources to help with this task. Even consider asking family or neighbors who have had success.

Where will you be planting?

After looking at your space, think about what the best spot for your garden would be. One of the biggest deciding factors could be how much sunlight each area of your yard gets. For those with limited space or sunlight in an odd place, container gardening might be a great option as well. Most plants need 6-8 hours of sunlight, while some plants like tomatoes need full sunlight for the entire day.

Container Gardening Basics

Did you know you don’t need a large yard to have a garden? Whether you don’t have a yard to plant in or there’s only a small patch of sunlight, containers are a great solution. They can easily fit on a balcony, in the driveway, or near a sunny window.  Don’t feel limited to raised beds or pots, almost anything can be repurposed like a plastic tote, larger bowls, and buckets.

What size should I use?

Small: Best for herbs

Small containers have less soil, which means the soil can dry out quickly if not watered enough. Most herbs would do well in a small pot or window box if watered properly once a day.

Large: Best for produce, flowers, and small bushes

Larger containers can simply hold more. The soil will hold water longer, which is good for warmer temperatures and larger plants.

What type of soil is best?

Because the containers are smaller, using soil from the ground will most likely be too heavy. This is very important if your containers will be on a deck or porch. The planting soil should be light enough for air and water to move freely.

Less than 1 gallon, then look for “potting mix” or “houseplant soil”.
More than1 gallon, then look for a soil-less mixture, usually called “raised bed” or “indoor/outdoor container” mix.

What are the different types of containers?

** No matter what kind you use, make sure that there are drainage holes at the bottom!

Clay or terracotta: They are nice to look at, but can break or crack easily, especially in a colder area.

Concrete: These come in all shapes and sizes and can handle the weather but may be too heavy for balconies or decks.

Plastic or Fiberglass: Affordable and lightweight in many sizes, but thinner options can become brittle.

Wood: Can protect roots from quick temperature changes but be sure to choose a wood that doesn’t rot easily.

About the Author: Emilie Burgess, MS, RDN, LDN s a Registered Dietitian within Home Base’s Warrior Health and Fitness Program and Intensive Clinical Program. Emilie brings her love for performance nutrition, wellness, and cooking to Home Base to help each person find a healthy relationship with food. She has volunteered for two NCAA Division-I Sports Nutrition programs around the country and is currently a Registered Dietitian specializing in sports nutrition and eating disorders at Laura Moretti Nutrition, a private practice in Somerville, MA. She believes in an individualized approach to nutrition counseling and wellness to help each person achieve their goals. Emilie is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as well as the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA).