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New to growing food? If you’re just starting your first garden or relatively new to growing edibles, it can feel overwhelming. Once you get started, I promise you it’s not only an addictive hobby (in a good way) but also incredibly rewarding for your physical, mental and emotional health. You’ve made an empowering decision to become somewhat self-sufficient. Congratulations! Whilst it’s likely you’ll make a few mistakes along the way, don’t let that stop you from getting started or trying again. If you lose a few plants, consider those moments as learning opportunities to do better next time rather than failures.

This 10 Tip Guide for Beginners will help fast track your new garden with easy steps & advice.

This 10 Tip Food Gardening Guide for Beginners will help fast track your new garden with easy steps & advice.

Easy Food Gardening Guide for Beginners

Everyone was a beginner gardener at some point but it doesn’t last for long! There are some key guidelines to keep in mind when you first start a food garden. I hope these ten tips will shortcut you to successfully growing an abundant productive kitchen garden.

1. Start Small … Really Small!

Starting a food garden is exciting and overwhelming all at once! Think of yourself more like a new plant ‘parent’ starting out and preparing for the arrival of your new plant ‘kids.’ It’s unlikely you would cope with a whole tribe from day one, right? So, plan where your new babies are going to live first and start with just one or two pots and plants. Maybe a couple of your favourite herbs or a few leafy greens to add to daily salads.

Gardening Guide for Beginners Tip: Start small with a few fresh ingredients like herbs or leafy greens for salads

Start small with a few fresh ingredients like herbs or leafy greens for salads

Keep it really simple and get to know the basics first in a small space. You can always grow your plant ‘family’ once you know what to expect and have ironed out any teething issues! Go slow and gain your confidence gradually. It’s better to lose one or two plants than a whole garden. That could be an expensive lesson to learn.

2. Choose the Best Location

It’s exciting thinking about picking your own food. However, just like the home where YOU live, plants have needs for their personal space too! Especially plant ‘babies’ or seeds and ‘toddler’ seedlings. You need to care for them and provide a protected ‘room’ or spot to live in.

Pick the sunniest location in your garden, courtyard or balcony for most plants, ideally out of the wind. Food plants need adequate sunlight or good natural light to grow. If you have a lot of shade, don’t despair. There are plenty of edibles that will do well in partial shade too.

Once you’ve got that figured out, make sure you have easy access to water nearby so you can keep the moisture up to your plants.


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3. Start Growing Food in Containers

Next up is the ‘bed’ or room where your little ones will grow. Pots, planters, tubs and containers are ideal for new gardeners. They don’t have to be expensive, fancy or even new. There are plenty of repurposed and upcycled options and container garden ideas you can get inspiration from. There are many benefits of container gardening but be aware you WILL have to water more often than in a garden bed. Ideally, keep your pots close to your kitchen or around your home so you can keep an eye on them every day.

Opt for a few larger containers rather than several smaller pots and ideally, self-watering ones. These will hold more water for longer and enough soil to produce healthy plants. A time and money-saving tip! Learn more about the pros and cons of different types of containers so you can make an informed choice for your needs and budget. Remember to choose safe containers for growing food too. Once you choose your container, follow my easy DIY Tutorial for Growing Healthy Fast Food.

 

Grow food in container gardens for easier protection in hot and dry climates

Grow food in container gardens to get started especially if you have limited space

4. Potting Mix and Healthy Soil

To grow healthy nutritious herbs and vegetables you need moist, living soil with good drainage and plant food. You don’t want your edibles to die of hunger or drown in a pot with no plughole to let the water out! Think of the ideal soil as a ‘pantry’ with nutritious food for your plants and room for roots to grow. It needs to be ‘alive’ with a community of mostly invisible soil microbes. These soil critters like earthworms, bacteria and fungi are ‘friends’ that help feed and protect your plants.

When you first start your garden, your garden soil may not yet be prepared and ready to grow food. That can come later. You probably won’t have a compost system or worm farm either. These are cheap ways of making your own free soil and plant food. So, to shortcut your journey so you can get started right away, you will likely buy some potting mix or compost to plant into.


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What to Watch Out For

While buying a bagged soil mix is convenient, one of the common problems with commercial mixes (compost, potting mix, garden soil etc) is that they dry out very quickly. Bagged soil mixes may contain synthetic chemicals which you don’t want in your food garden. Most potting mixes also start to repel water after a few months and dry out, even when you water them. I don’t want you to blame yourself for killing your crops just as you are about to harvest them when it’s actually the soil drying out and starving your plants!

So, let’s prevent that problem before it happens. Firstly, I suggest you buy certified organic products (look for a logo) to ensure you start with safe ingredients. I have designed a simple DIY potting mix recipe you can follow to improve any bagged potting soil mix you buy. It will help your soil mix last longer, require less water and save money over time.

The potting mix recipe I use is easy to follow and has carefully selected moisture-holding ingredients that allow your plants to grow to maturity without turning into ‘dried arrangements’! Let’s try to keep the ‘kids’ alive right? Learn more about making your own basic potting mix. You just gather the few ingredients, mix together and plant with confidence.

5. Starting with Seeds vs Seedlings

Once you’ve got your healthy soil sorted, it’s time to decide if you are going to grow your garden from scratch from seeds or ‘adopt’ a plant someone else has raised as a seedling or full size. Growing food from seed is much cheaper than buying plants ready to put straight into your pot or garden bed. However, you need to be patient while you wait for the seeds to germinate and grow to a size you can transplant. There’s a bit of a learning curve to raising seeds and it takes time. That’s where the name ‘plant nursery’ comes from. Seeds are just sleeping plants. You need to ‘wake’ them up so they can grow. However, you get to choose exactly what variety you want and have total control over the way they are raised and healthy soil is part of that.

Raising seeds is kind of like keeping babies at home until they reach the ‘toddler age’ before they confidently interact with the big wide world out in the garden! By that stage they are seedlings.

One of the advantages of planting seedlings is you save time. Instead of waiting 3-6 weeks for your plants to grow big enough with roots and leaves, you can plant straight away. If you have a tight budget, maybe sow some seeds and buy some seedlings as well. That way you will learn both skills, as you get to know your young ‘toddler’ plants from ‘birth’ to planting. The disadvantage of buying seedlings is that you need to trust your supplier has used safe seeds and not grown or treated them with any chemicals.


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Once you’ve had a season or two growing at least a few herbs or vegetables, you’ll likely be confident to grow your food from seeds. Start from safe seeds (free of chemicals) and look for certified organic or open-pollinated varieties.

Gardening Guide for Beginners Tip: Planting seedlings saves time and sowing seeds save money

Planting seedlings saves time and sowing seeds save money

6. Decide What to Grow

A few considerations to think about:

  • What do you love to eat? If you cook with lots of herbs, it makes sense to grow these varieties.
  • What do you spend the most money on? Perhaps grow one or two vegetables or salad greens you buy every week. If you waste most of a bunch of herbs because you never use it all, you can save money by just picking what you need, when you need it.
  • How much time do you have? If you work full-time, how many hours a week can you spare to care for your new food garden? Be realistic! Plants are like children. They need your attention to thrive!
  • How much space do you have? If you have limited space, this may impact your plant choices. Pick your favourite plants first so you can prioritise the space available.
  • What is your climate like and how much sun do you have? Temperature and sunlight hours affect how well many plants grow. So research your climate and growing zone to get an idea of what grows well in your area at different times of the year. Just like humans, some plants thrive in warm weather and others prefer the cold! Learn more about what to plant and when. If you live in subtropical Queensland, Australia, check out this Subtropical Planting Guide for what to plant throughout the year.
  • How confident are you and how much support do you have? If you have never grown anything before, start with easy plants like herbs, lettuce, rocket, spring onions and radish. There are also many fast-growing vegetables to get food on your table quickly.
Gardening Guide for Beginners Tip: Start with easy to grow herbs in pots

Start with easy to grow herbs in pots

7. Grow Herbs for Health and Flavour

A herb garden is a simple way to get started so you gain confidence without feeling overwhelmed. Herbs provide you with fresh flavours to add to meals, herb teas and medicinal benefits to improve your health. They are multi-functional plants! A herb like mint, for example, is perfect to add to salads, drinks and to flavour meals with fresh leaves for digestive enzymes. Use mint leaves to make a healing herbal tea while adding beauty and fragrance to your garden. So many benefits!

If you use parsley and basil regularly in your cooking, it makes sense to grow them rather than buy them, right? So start growing herbs you eat the most often. Then you can move onto a few vegetables and expand from there. Herbs have SO many uses!

I have written a step-by-step easy to follow eBook that takes you from being a new gardener to confidently selecting the right location for pots, knowing what soil to use, how to plant, care for and use 25 kitchen herbs that you can grow indoors and out. It’s written as if I’m there chatting with you and walking around your home, balcony or backyard so it’s easy to digest the tips in small bites! I cover all the advice I share with my face-to-face consultation clients to help them grow bountiful healthy edible herb gardens. You can then take those principles and apply to grow any vegetable you choose to grow too! Learn more about my Guide to Growing Kitchen Herbs for Health. You can download a complimentary sample of content from my book by joining my newsletter.

8.  Grow a Pot of Flowers

Flowers have many benefits. They not only add colour, fragrance and pretty blooms but also attract beneficial pollinators like bees by providing nectar and pollen as food. You need these insects to help some food crops get pollinated so they produce fruits and vegetablesFlowers also lift your spirits and have a positive impact on your emotional wellbeing and mental health. Pick your favourite annual or long-lasting perennial flowers and pop in a pot. You’ll get far more joy from your garden especially in a tiny space.

Gardening Guide for Beginners Tip: Sweet alyssum white and blue lobelia flowers in container garden attract bees and pollinators for a better harvest

White sweet alyssum and blue lobelia flowers in a container garden attract bees and pollinators for a better harvest

9. Sow Little and Often

One of the biggest mistakes almost every new gardener makes is biting off more than they can literally chew! Avoid the temptation to go straight out and buy lots of different vegetable seedlings. Each plant has a life. Some short and some long. Lettuces, for example, are quick to grow but you need to replant new lettuces often as they only last a few weeks for harvesting. However, capsicum or eggplant are long-lived plants that will produce vegetables over a longer period of time. They’re really good value.

Only grow what you eat and try to match the number of plants to the quantity of that food you eat. If for example, you eat lots of salads, then planting 6 lettuce seedlings, 2 rocket and 1 tomato will probably get you started. Then you will need to plant more of the salad greens every 2-3 weeks for a continuous supply. If you live alone or have a small family and only occasionally eat eggplant, don’t buy a punnet of 6 or 8 seedlings! You probably won’t ever eat that many and just one or two plants might suit your needs much better.

When you grow too many plants all at once, this sets you up for a ‘feast or famine’! You will either have too much of one food or you will run out because you didn’t continue planting. So my tip is to research what you want to eat and ‘sow little and often’. That’s been my motto for years. Keep planting foods each month that grow in that season.

10. Set realistic expectations

Now it’s time for a reality check! Don’t expect perfection from day one. A few casualties are to be expected. You can learn as you go. When things go wrong, you’ll discover how to do things better next time and make better choices. So go easy on yourself and don’t expect too much at the beginning. Just get started.

Quick Tips Guide for Beginner Gardeners

If you want to avoid common pitfalls and succeed quickly, a little planning and preparation will help tremendously.

  • Gardening is much more fun when you connect with other gardeners rather than trying to go it alone. Join a gardening community locally and online. You’ll learn much faster and feel more supported!
Gardening Guide for Beginners Tip: Learn from more experienced gardeners in your community and online

Gardening Guide for Beginners Tip: Learn from more experienced gardeners in your community and online

I hope these tips and suggestions help you get started with your food garden and shortcut your journey to success.


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