Tending your own vegetable garden is surely one of the most relaxing and satisfying pastimes, taking care of it day by day and following it through the cycle of the seasons. With a little effort, anyone can do it. You just need to take a few simple precautions, especially if it’s your first attempt – and as spring is here, now is the perfect time to get your fingers green!
We’ve got seven tips you should keep in mind as you embark on your new adventure in the soil, in anticipation of this year’s Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, held in Turin from September 22-26. The theme of the event is loving the Earth, and it’s a golden occasion to reflect on what we’ve achieved in our gardens, share our experiences with others and continue the never-ending learning process in our workshops and meetings on the subject of DIY farming!
Making your own vegetable garden at home: seven tips from seed to harvest
- Location: The first thing to do, naturally, is look around and work out where to position your plants. Do you have your own garden or just a terrace? Is the spot sunny? Protected? What’s the soil like?
- Soil: Once you have identified the place your vegetable patch will be located, you have to start from the ground up. If you already have soil available in which to plant your seeds, you must assess its quality. If it is too clayey and hard, it might need to be lightened with mature manure or river sand. Or it might need to be replaced or supplemented with good garden soil that you will probably have to buy. Mature manure is also a good solution for soil that is too loose and sandy. The secret, as always when you’re talking about slow agriculture, lies in being patient. By persisting with remedies and experiments, without overdoing it, and with the addition of organic fertilizers and compost (maybe obtained from your own home compost bin, with the help of a few worms!) you’ll get there in the end.
- Seeds and positioning: When you’re ready to start planting your garden, you might decide to buy seedlings or to use seeds, which will take a bit longer. Transplanting a seedling from a pot, however, is not always simple. It is advisable to water the soil, dig a small hole and handle the plant very carefully, making sure that the roots have not gotten too tangled in the pot and that the surrounding soil is nicely compacted. Transplanting should be done early in the morning or in the evening, to avoid overly stressing the plant. If instead you decide to start with seeds, it is a good idea not to plant them too deep, but to cover them with a thin, protective layer of soil, allowing them to easily reach the surface. Make sure you leave enough space between the plants, so that even the shyest can still get enough sun and air. An important tip, which is also relevant if you are planting on a balcony: The plants should be moved to a different position each year, just as crops are rotated in the fields, to avoid diseases developing. And as an added bonus, your garden will get a new look every season!
- Plant choice: It is best to choose native species of local origin, which will have developed and diversified by adapting to the climate and soil type of your area. If you’re cultivating a food garden on a terrace you might also want to choose plants that look pretty. If the climate allows it, cherry tomatoes make a good choice, and they can also serve all kinds of last-minute uses in the kitchen, as a snack to go with drinks, to top a buffalo mozzarella pizza or to add a splash of color to a salad. Not to mention aromatic herbs like basil, rosemary and mint are useful in the kitchen as well as deliciously scented.
- Water: Take care not to waste water while irrigating. Though your garden on its own is not going to exhaust water resources, each individual’s sustainable, conscious use can make a real difference. Simple tricks can help, like capturing rainwater and limiting evaporation by using mulch, which will also prevent the growth of weeds. The water used should never be too cold, watering should be done in the evening or early in the morning, and take care not to water the leaves. Find out what the advice is for different plants, as they all have different needs.
- Tools: You don’t need many tools to tend your garden, but they should be maintained carefully and used with awareness. If you have a garden on your balcony you might not need anything more than a trowel for transplanting plants, a small fork for moving the soil around and ventilating it, gardening shears, covering, a watering can, and some string!
- Harvest: When the plants finally produce their eagerly awaited fruit, it is time for the harvest. However, don’t let yourself get carried away by enthusiasm and risk ruining all your previous care and attention. The plants mustn’t be pulled up in their entirety; instead, just take a few leaves or fruits at a time, so as to extend their life and productivity.
So what are you waiting for?
The only way to learn is by doing – so dive in head first, and good luck!
Learn more here: Seeds According to Slow Food