The food that makes up the average American meal travels 1,500 miles from farm or factory to your table, using an abundance of energy and racking up costs the farther it journeys from its source. Fortunately, you don't have to go far to cut your grocery costs―in fact, simply step out your back door. It's surprisingly easy to cultivate a garden with enough vegetables to feed your family, even if you've never done it before. Follow these steps, stick with it for a season and reap a home-grown bounty.
1. PLAN YOUR GARDEN
Where will it go? What size will it be? Use these tips to design a successful plot that's easy to maintain.
Start small. A 10-by-16-foot garden is adequate for a family of four, but go smaller if a plot that size seems too big a task.
Choose your location. Dig your garden close to the house to make caring for your veggies easier. Don't plant too close to trees and shrubs, which rob soil of nutrients. Be sure the plot gets at least six hours of sun each day.
Map it out. Using graph paper, make a scale drawing of your garden's layout to decide where your plants will go and how far apart they should be.
Head south. Make the southern side of your garden the "front," and plant your rows so they run north and south, allowing them to get the full effect of the sun.
Consider footpaths. Try to avoid walking near the plants―which would compact the soil and suffocate the roots. Plan walkways around or within your garden so you can tend to your plants with ease. The paths can be made of dirt, wood chips, brick or any other material that you can safely walk on.
2. PREPARE THE SOIL
Before digging a hole and plopping in a seed, make sure the dirt will provide the best growing conditions.
Don't start too early. Wait until after the frost, when the soil is no longer wet. Otherwise, the dirt will become hard and compacted, and plant growth will be limited for the entire season.
Test your soil. Take a sample to a local nursery. The experts there can help you determine if you need to add anything, such as fertilizer, to create an environment in which your plants will flourish.
Dig the dirt. Excavate down 12 to 18 inches, turning over each shovelful and removing any grass, weeds, roots or rocks. Chop the dirt with the shovel to loosen it. Then rake the soil and break up any additional clumps until smooth.
Add bulk. Every kind of soil can benefit from added microorganisms and nutrients. To get the most from those natural garden boosters, and to keep the dirt moist, apply a 1-inch layer of compost, mulch or peat moss on top.