If you’re anything like me you have a lot of reasons to want to garden and grow your own food.
I grow my own food because:
- I know what’s in and on it – Unfortunately, even organic food can’t be trusted (look at all the “Fake” organic food in the U.S.).
- It’s less expensive – I can grow organic greens for way less than I can buy them.
- It’s a great way of life – It feels amazing to be able to provide food for my family. I like knowing we don’t rely 100% on the food industry.
- Growing food teaches us a lot – It’s a great way to teach kids about food and where it comes from. I’ve also learned a lot about the rhythm of nature among other things.
Even when I don’t have outside space I try to grow something. I have grown food in containers, raised, beds, and directly in the ground. The benefits have always outweighed any frustration for me.
What Food Can I Grow on My Homestead?
When you start going down this road, you’ll see that there are a lot of foods you can grow (or forage) from your yard or a friend’s.
This is what most people think of when they think of growing food. This is probably because most people who grow food start with vegetables. Here are some typical ones to grow:
- Zucchini & Summer squash
- Swiss chard
- Sweet potatoes
- Green beans (technically a legume, but I consider them a vegetable)
Growing fruit takes a bit more time but it’s a great way to save money (especially if you have fruit-loving kids as I do).
If your goal is to eat healthy pasture-raised and grass-fed meat, growing your own is one way to do it.
Growing meat will likely take more space and definitely more infrastructure than growing a garden but it’s well worth it if you can do it.
- Lamb & Mutton
If you include hunting you can have a lot more variety from wild game.
Eggs are one of the cheaper forms of protein, even if you buy expensive pastured eggs. But growing them yourself is still the best way to have high-quality protein for a lower price tag. What’s really cool though, is if you’re growing them, you can have a variety of different kind of eggs:
- Chicken eggs
- Quail eggs
- Duck eggs
- Turkey eggs
- Guinea eggs
- Goose eggs
Life is not just all about serious foods! You can grow or harvest your own sweeteners as well:
- Maple syrup
- Fruit (mentioned already but I wanted to note that fruit can be a sweetener as well!)
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds can be a good source of healthy fats and protein, so if you’re up for trying to grow these (and have space), they can be a good investment. It’s difficult to impossible to grow these in an indoor or container garden, so unless you have some outdoor space, I wouldn’t bother with most of these right now. Here are some nuts and seeds that you may be able to grow:
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
Grains and Legumes
If you are really serious you can start growing your own grains and legumes as well. I don’t recommend bothering doing this if you are a beginner (and often if you’re not) because grains and legumes are so cheap in the grocery store. But if you want to give it a whirl, go for it.
- Corn (this one depends on who you ask but I put it in this category because it is more similar to grains than to vegetables)
How to Choose What to Grow on the Homestead
I have written on this topic in another post, which is full of great tips for choosing what to grow in your garden. But here are the basics:
- Choose plants that are things your family likes to eat (e.g. don’t grow green beans if no one likes them. Grow lots of tomatoes if everyone loves them).
- Which plants are easy to grow in your climate?
- What can you grow that costs a lot of money to buy? (e.g. organic carrots are relatively cheap to buy so you may not want to grow them — I still do though!)
- Which plants are the least healthy in the grocery store (pesticide load, varieties that are lower in nutrients, etc)
When you decide what to grow, make a list or add them to your seed starting spreadsheet.
How Do I Grow My Own Food?
If you’re ready to jump into growing food, but don’t know where to start, these tips will help you begin your journey toward growing your own food.
Take Stock of Where You Are
I mean this figuratively and literally. Where are you physically? An apartment? A suburban home? A rural home on acreage? Do you rent or own? The good news is that you can homestead and grow food in any of these places!
I also want you to think about where you are in your journey. Are you new to gardening, or have you grown a few things? What are your goals with growing food? Do you want to only grow fruits and vegetables or do you want to raise animals for eggs and meat too?
Whatever your answers are, it’s likely that a garden is a good idea for you to start with. Even if you don’t have much space, you can still grow a garden.
Build Healthy Soil
Without healthy soil, you won’t get far growing a garden. Soil is important for providing nutrients to your plants, but it’s also responsible for helping establish healthy roots. There are a few ways you can start your garden with healthy soil. If you’re gardening in containers you can buy potting soil that will be exactly what you need. If you are gardening with raised beds, you may want to buy soil to fill them.
Soil needs these things:
- Aeration – Healthy soil needs plenty of air. Some experts say healthy soil is about 25 percent air. Aeration gives the bacteria, worms, and insects the air they need to survive and improve the soil. Compacted soil does not have much air which is why many gardeners till their soil (though I prefer no-till methods).
- Soil life – Soil is a living microbiome. Healthy soil needs worms, insects, and bacteria to keep it healthy and thriving.
- Balanced nutrients – Plants need varying amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, and calcium (plus other nutrients).
- composition – The composition of the soil depends on the size of the particles that make it up. Clay is small particles, silt is medium particles and sand is large particles. An ideal ratio is equal parts clay, silt, and sand. This helps create enough air in the soil, but not too much.
- Balanced pH – While some plants like soil that is more alkaline or acidic, most like it to be near the middle (neutral to slightly acid).
This all may sound like a lot to figure out but I will give you a short cut. Add lots of organic compost! Adding organic material to the soil helps with all of the above. Organic compost balances the soil so if it’s too acidic, or too dense, or too anything, the compost helps it balance.
Plant Seeds and Seedlings
Buying plants is a perfectly acceptable way to start a garden. If you’re new to gardening, buying plants is a good way to jump in and get your feet wet. Some plants are difficult or impossible to grow from seed, so I always buy at least a few plants. But the cost of plants adds up quickly, especially as you expand your garden. Growing from seed is a necessary skill to learn if you want to grow your own food. Here are the basic steps:
- Get a seed starting spreadsheet
- Choose your seeds
- Plant according to how long they take to germinate and grow (seed starting spreadsheet helps with this)
- Plant outside as indicated by the spreadsheet (often after the risk of frost)
I recommend starting with just a few plants and learning how to grow and care for those before adding more plants to your garden. Doing it this way means you won’t get too overwhelmed.
Looking for a free seed starting planner?
Once your garden has been put in, your main job is to make sure the plants are healthy and growing. Regular watering (and fertilizing if necessary) are important. Additionally, you’ll need to have a strategy for pest control and weed control.
- Weeding (pulling weeds as they grow) is a popular way to keep weeds away but I prefer to use mulch. Mulch keeps the weeds from growing.
- Pest control is something you have to figure out as you go since there isn’t one way to deal with pests (some you can spray with natural pest sprays while others have to be picked off). The best remedy is prevention though. Starting with healthy soil and keeping plants healthy (enough water, sunlight, etc.) is the best way to prevent pests. After that, I use a natural pest spray or other natural pest control if necessary.
Finding a mentor that can help you with any questions you have about garden care as they come up is invaluable.
When you reach harvest time and your plants are still alive (woohoo!) it’s time to collect your treasure. Harvest time happens at different times throughout the growing season. Cool-weather crops like greens and peas will be picked in the spring before it gets too hot. If you grow a fall garden, cool-weather plants can be picked just before frost too. Things like pumpkins and other squash are usually picked in late summer, and cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash are ready mid-summer. Of course, it all depends on where you live. A good seed starting spreadsheet will tell you when to harvest each crop.
If you’re growing more than you can eat, you may need to consider how to preserve the extra. There are 4 main ways to preserve garden produce:
Different vegetables and fruits can be preserved in different ways (and some in all ways, like tomatoes!). I recommend starting with freezing and then trying the others.
While this isn’t exactly about growing food, you certainly need to know how to do it if you are growing food. Cooking from scratch is not as hard as it seems. Check out my tips for beginners in this post.
How Do I Produce My Own Food?
Once you’ve got a garden going and are growing your own food, you may be wondering what else you can produce for yourself. If you have some outdoor space you can probably do a lot!
If you’re interested in producing any non-plant foods, you’ll need a game plan. Though each venture will be different, they all start with the same basic steps.
- Decide what you want to produce.
- Learn about producing that product.
- Figure out the financial aspect.
- Create a plan for making it happen.
- Execute your plan!
These basic steps are a good place to start, but if you’re looking for more specific guidance, I’ve included resources below.
Resources for Homesteading Food Production
While growing a garden is the easiest way to get into growing food, you can produce some other kinds of food on your homestead. If you want to try raising animals for meat and eggs, bees for honey, or produce any other food products from your homestead, you need lots of information to get started. Here are my recommendations:
- Raising Chickens for Eggs – Check out my blog post on raising chickens, as well as my ebook, where I explain how to raise chickens naturally for healthy eggs. Note that a lot of what works for chickens is similar for other poultry, so this is a good place to start.
- Beekeeping for Beginners – If you want to produce your own honey, this book (written by one of my blogging friends) is a great place to start.
- The Backyard Homestead Guide to Farm Animals – If you’re looking for an overview of farm animals, this is your guide.
While I always recommend getting a book on any topic you’re serious about (it saves a lot of time!) I always start my research with free blog posts and downloads. Free resources can give you a better idea if a certain animal or homesteading project is for you before you invest in a book.
How Do I Grow My Own Food? Just Start!
It may seem overwhelming to start growing your own food but it’s well worth jumping right into. Growing food is one of those things that is much easier to figure out as you go (versus trying to master through books).
Gardening especially, is so dependent on your specific climate, landscape, and even the microclimate of your yard, that no one can tell you how to garden in your yard — You just have to figure it out. That being said, some really great general gardening information is important to get started on the right foot. If you’re interested in learning to grow your own food, Check out my free mini-course below: