If you’re looking for a new hobby, consider starting a home garden to grow edible plants. In addition to getting to spend some time outdoors and work up a sweat, growing your own food can save you money and give you greater control over the quality of the fresh produce you eat.

A Guide to Edible Plants and Herbs

Depending on the climate and the quality of the soil where you live, certain plants will grow much better in certain seasons. A great way to discover which plants thrive in your area at different times of the year is to visit a farmer’s market and talk to the local farmers since they will have experience with growing a variety of plants in your climate and soil.

Once the final frosts of winter thaw, you’ll finally be able to start working in your garden, and spring is when you’ll plant a majority of your seeds. Different plants have different growing periods, so be sure to plant seeds that take a long time to grow early in the season. Also check how heat tolerant the plants you choose are. For instance, bell peppers require a hot growing season, but lettuce actually fares better in cooler temperatures.

Even though the return of cool weather in late fall means you’ll have to put your garden on hold for a few months, it doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to enjoy your homegrown produce into the winter months. Look into freezing or canning extra fruits and vegetables from your garden while the weather is still nice so that you’ll have a supply in the winter.

Although you won’t be able to plant anything in winter (unless your area is warm year-round), a few crops, such as carrots, can be harvested in early winter (before the ground freezes). Broccoli and cauliflower are fairly frost resistant as well. Consider using the winter to try growing herbs indoors. Chives, thyme, mint, oregano, and rosemary are all good choices for a kitchen herb garden. Just make sure to set them up near a window that gets good sunlight, and don’t forget to water them. Harvest herbs before they bloom for the best flavor.

Helpful Hints for Maintaining a Home Garden

Choose plants native to your area. If a certain plant is known to grow well in your area, it’s a pretty safe bet for your garden—even if you’re a beginner. Using native plants means you won’t have to take any extra steps to ensure that your plant can adapt to your area’s climate and soil.

Include some bug-repellent plants. In order to keep your garden healthy and organic, avoid using pesticides. Instead, opt for cultivating plants that naturally repel insects. Some edible bug-repellent choices are garlic, chives, and basil. If you’d like to incorporate flowers into your garden, chrysanthemums are a great option because they produce a natural insecticide called pyrethrum.

Diversify your plant selection. Growing several different kinds of plants in your garden can also help keep pests at bay. If you choose just one type of plant to harvest and it gets invaded by insects, your hard work will have been for nothing. Because it’s unlikely that the same pest would be attracted to all the different varieties of plants in your garden, having more than one type of plant ensures that you won’t end up with nothing at the end of the season. Rotating the crops from season to season can also reduce the chances of repeat insect infiltrations, and the process promotes healthier soil as well.

Water in the morning, and focus on roots. Morning is the best time to water your garden because it’s still cool enough that the moisture will not evaporate too quickly. Watering at night is not ideal because leaving the soil damp for many hours in the dark could promote fungus growth. Focusing the watering on the roots will cultivate the healthiest plants, and healthier plants are more resistant to disease. If you water from above, a lot of the water will collect on plant leaves and blossoms, where it will quickly evaporate in the sun and never be able to nourish the plant.

Use mulch to limit weeds. Applying a layer of mulch to weed-prone areas will keep the weeds suppressed while also keeping the soil cool, which helps lock in moisture for the roots.

Growing your own food can be as small or as large of a commitment as you want and will depend upon the space and time you have to dedicate to the task. However, regardless of the scope of your project, it is sure to be a fruitful endeavor.

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Sources: Better Homes and Gardens; Cooking Light; Good Housekeeping; HGTV; Reader’s Digest; University of Illinois Extension.

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