Few culinary delights are as rewarding as using produce that you grew yourself. A bowl of lettuce with the morning dew still clinging to each tender leaf, a radish still cool from the damp earth or a tomato picked and popped in your mouth still warm from the sun — everything tastes better when it was grown at home.
At-home gardening blossomed considerably during the COVID-19 pandemic. The August 2020 edition of The Freedonia Group National Online Consumer Survey found that a quarter of American adults took up gardening since March 2020, making gardening a pandemic trend on par with TikTok dances and sourdough bread attempts.
Bruce Frasier, owner of Dixondale Onion Farm in Carrizo Springs, Texas, says that sales of onion starts boomed during the pandemic and many customers have returned this year. (Reader primer: An onion start is just a small onion bulb which you plant to grow it into a larger onion.) When someone orders onion starts through Dixondale Farms, they receive seven weekly emails to help successfully guide them through the growing process.
Here, Frasier offers some insight on starting a vegetable garden at home.
Start with your soil
Frasier says that all good gardeners begin by understanding their soil. Most home gardens rely on topsoil procured from a garden center or local landscaping company, meaning the soil is loose and easy to till with hand tools (like a pitchfork or hoe). If your soil is dense with lots of clay and does not drain well, consider amending the soil with sand or other aggregates to aid in drainage.
Consult your local extension office
If you have questions about the nutrient content of your soil, including whether toxins are present, contact your county’s extension office (most state university systems have an extension office that can assist with gardening questions) and ask about a testing kit. Your extension office can help you understand what is happening in your garden dirt and how to optimize it for your vegetables.
Find reliable sources
With gardening more popular than ever, you may find a local gardening group in your community you can join to understand the gardening seasons where you live. (Many of these groups exist online, as well, and may have spare seeds or plants to sell or give away to help you start your garden.) Frasier says that your local, reputable gardening center is the best place for a newbie to get good, reliable information and tell you what planting zone you live in.
Sun, shade or a mix of both?
Before you plant your garden, watch how the sun moves across the area through the day. Is there a lot of sun in the morning, but little in the afternoon? Does it get full sun all day? These considerations will help you understand what plants will thrive in your garden.
The right plants for the right climate
Understanding your soil, sun and planting zone will help you decide which plants to include in your garden. Some vegetables (like onions) can grow just about anywhere, but the type of onion is critical for success. Onions are classified as long-day, intermediate-day or short-day plants and you need to grow the correct onion for where you live.
Keep it manageable
Enthusiasm is great, but it can also be the thing that deters gardening success. “Most people start bigger than they can tend to,” says Frasier, and if you can’t keep up with harvesting and weeding your garden, you lose out on capturing produce at its peak ripeness — and eventually then plants will go to seed (meaning they’ll stop producing). Frasier recommends starting small for your first year of gardening so you can get to know what you enjoy growing and how much time you can dedicate to gardening. You can expand as needed in following seasons.