Growing your own food is one of the most satisfying aspects of self-reliance. There is nothing quite as rewarding as serving up a meal comprised of home-grown ingredients.
Growing your own food saves money, and it provides your family with fresh, nutrition-packed produce. Plus, you get the added benefit of knowing exactly what chemicals have – and have not – been part of the growing process.
According to a five-year study by the National Gardening Association, more than 35 percent of American households grow food either at home or in a shared community garden. If you are thinking of starting a garden or adding to your existing garden, you may be wondering which of the many methods to use.
As you might expect the method you choose depends mainly on the space you have, your budget, and the types of food you wish to grow. Keep in mind that a home garden does not have to be an all or nothing enterprise. You may find that you mix these methods in order to make the best use of your space and your time.
Here are the top 10 ways to grow your own food.
1. Square Foot Gardening
The square foot gardening method allows you to make the most of your garden space by growing plants more closely together than with traditional “single row” gardening. This method uses raised beds sectioned with a wooden grid into individual square foot areas.
You can grow anywhere between one watermelon (or another large-yielding plant) to 16 herbs (or other small plants) within one square foot. You can customize your square foot garden in many ways, adding, for example, a wire frame to keep the birds and animals away or a trellis for your vining plants (such as beans or cucumbers).
Here are some helpful resources for square foot gardening.
- Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work
- All New Square Foot Gardening II: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space
- What is Square Foot Gardening?
2. Container Gardening
Container gardening involves growing food in containers rather than planting them in the ground. This method allows you to grow food just about anywhere you have room for a pot, barrel, or another container that can hold dirt.
With this method, apartment dwellers and large property owners alike can make use of patios, balconies and other small spaces for growing fruits and vegetables.
Just about anything can be used as a container, and many gardeners get creative, incorporating everything from kids’ toys to colorful ceramic or terra cotta pots, to basic five-gallon buckets as their planters. Whatever container you choose, be sure it has drainage holes. Plants in containers do need frequent watering and fertilizing.
Here are some resources to check out.
- The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible: How to Grow a Bounty of Food in Pots, Tubs, and Other Containers
- Simple Steps to Success: Fruit and Vegetables in Pots
3. Vertical Gardening
When we think of a traditional garden, we usually picture rows of plants growing side by side along the ground. Vertical gardening is the method that encourages plants to grow up, not out.
Many plants, such as tomatoes, have a natural tendency to grow up, but even plants that grow along the ground like strawberries and even pumpkins can grow upwards on a trellis. The significant advantage of vertical gardening is that you can grow more food in less space.
Once again, you can get creative with what you use to entice your plants to grow upwards. Ladders, wood pallets, window frames are all good possibilities.
Here are links for more information on vertical gardening.
- Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out, for More Vegetables and Flowers in Much Less Space
- The Vertical Garden: From Nature to the City
Did you know you could grow food without soil? You can with hydroponics.
In this gardening method, you plant seeds in a small amount of grow medium, such as coconut fiber, sand or gravel, until they sprout. Then, the roots grow through the medium into nutrient- and mineral-rich water. With hydroponic gardening, which is usually done indoors, plants grow more quickly than with traditional methods.
Other advantages of hydroponic gardening are little to no weeds, the small amount of space needed and the year-round growing possibilities. Some plants, such as root vegetables, do not lend themselves to hydroponics, and this method usually requires the use of artificial light
Here is some how-to information.
- How-To Hydroponics
- DIY Hydroponic Gardens: How to Design and Build an Inexpensive System for Growing Plants in Water
Aquaponics combines hydroponics with aquaculture, which is the practice of raising fish. In this method, fish live in the water below the plants and help fertilize the plants. Therefore, with aquaponics, you can both grow plants for food and raise fish for food.
Sound intriguing? Here’s where to find out more.
- Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together
- Aquaponics: Everything You Need to Know to Start an Expert DIY Aquaponic System from Home
Perhaps better defined as a concept rather than a method, permaculture is a way of creating a self-sustaining ecosystem to grow your own food. With permaculture, you go with the flow of nature rather than trying to control nature. For example, you use compost as a natural fertilizer and you use landscaping to help prevent erosion and to make the best use of water.
With a mix of herbs and perennials of all shapes and sizes, a permaculture garden appears more like a forest than a tended garden. If you like the idea of living at one with nature when it comes to growing your food, here is some information on permaculture.
- What is Permaculture
- Difference Between Organic Gardening and Permaculture
- Permaculture: Build Your Own Food Forest
7. Cold Frame or Greenhouse
Cold frame gardening is an excellent way to extend your growing season. You can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish, but a cold frame is a glass lid placed on top of your raised bed. The structure allows sunlight in and maintains its warmth inside for your plants.
Similarly, a greenhouse can be as basic as a plastic frame constructed around your garden or as complicated as a small house made of glass that keeps plants warm and protected outside the traditional growing season.
Here are some sources for information on these methods.
- Building & Using Cold Frames
- Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion, Revised: Growing Food & Flowers in Your Greenhouse or Sunspace
- Cold Frame Gardening
Here’s how to build a raised bed cold frame.
And here’s how to make a hoop house for a raised bed.
8. Keyhole Gardening
A keyhole garden is a specially designed raised bed with a hole in the middle for placing compost. It gets its name because the hole resembles a keyhole. The big advantage of this gardening method is that you do not have to spread compost on the surface of your garden.
Keyhole gardens are low cost and low maintenance, and they help maximize crop output in hot and dry conditions.
Here are some resources to learn more.
- Keyhole Gardening: Growing Vegetables In A Keyhole Garden
- Plant Your Garden In A Keyhole
- How to Make a Keyhole Garden
9. Lasagna Gardening
As the clever name suggests, lasagna gardening involves layering. In this case, you create layers of brown material (such as cardboard) and green material (such as kitchen scraps and leaves) in a lasagna pattern in your garden area.
Layer about twice as much brown material as green and let it all decompose into compost. Then, plant your seeds in the compost.
Advantages of this method are that you can start a lasagna bed right over a bed from the previous season (or on another area of your property) with little to no preparation or tilling. Weeding is also minimal.
Here is some background information on lasagna gardening.
- Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!
- Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces: A Layering System for Big Results in Small Gardens and Containers
- Lasagna Gardening
10. Back to Eden Gardening
If you’d like your garden to be as natural as possible, you might want to consider the Back to Eden method, which is named for the Bible’s Garden of Eden.
Back to Eden gardening is a form of organic gardening that incorporates soil covering. With this method, you place a soil covering of wood chips or straw on top of the soil and then place compost on top of that layer. The covering keeps soil moist, and the wood chips prevent the soil from becoming too compact.
Back to Eden garden is low maintenance in terms of watering, fertilizing, and weeding. To learn more, here are a few sources.
- The Back to Eden Gardening Guide: The Easiest Way to Grow Your Own Food
- Back to Eden Organic Gardening: Mastering Ways to Grow your Own Food
Of course, there are many other gardening methods and combinations of gardening methods – both traditional and non-traditional.
As you explore these and other gardening ideas, you will eventually find a combination that works well for your property, your time, and your budget.