Common Sense Gardening – Home Garden Ideas from Planting to Harvest

Gardening has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, with folks tackling everything from small container gardens to large scale permaculture landscape transformations. No matter what your growing space or budget, if you're willing to invest some time and effort, you can get a harvest.

basket of brightly colored home garden produce

My home garden is in northeast Wisconsin, zone 4/5, about 15 miles from Lake Michigan. Our winters are somewhat tempered by the lake, but our location along the Niagara Escarpment puts us in one of the windiest areas of Wisconsin.

Our last frost date is generally around mid-May, our first frost date often hits mid-September. There are also some articles from my brother in zone 3, and my friend, Amber, in zone 8.

We'll continue to add to the gardening posts  as time and inspiration allow, but if you have a specific question or request, please leave a comment and let us know!

With your subscription to Common Sense Home, you'll get free access to the Common Sense Home Garden Planning Kit, which includes:

  • Seed purchase log
  • Planting and Germination record
  • Seed Starting and Transplanting Calendar
  • Customizable seed sowing schedule
  • Seed longevity chart
  • Seed germination rates after storage
  • Plant spacing chart

You'll also get regular updates throughout the year with gardening and food preservation tips in our weekly newsletter, and the opportunity to share your ideas for upcoming gardening courses.

Free gardening journal templates, including seed sowing schedule, plant spacing and seed longevity charts, seed purchase log and planting and germination records - plus other record keeping tips.

Getting Started Gardening

Is your gardening goal to feed your family or have a few fresh tomatoes, or something in between? The bigger your goals, the more time you're likely to need to spend in the garden.

I suggest starting small and scaling up, focusing on some of your favorite crops. Herbs and flowers should be welcome in every garden, even if you don't use them for cooking. They often help repel pests and create a habitat for pollinators.

How to Start a Garden – 10 Steps to Gardening for Beginners

Free Gardening Journal Templates and Other Garden Record Keeping Tips

Companion Planting in the Garden (The Easy Way) – Includes Printable Chart

Small Garden, Big Yield – 10 Tips for a Great Harvest

Introduction to Aquaponics: Growing Fish and Vegetables Together

Phytophotodermatitis – Plants That Cause It, How to Treat It

Bumblebee – Super Charged Pollinator for Your Yard and Garden

Soil Health and Fertilizers

Soil Testing – 5 Easy Tests for Your Yard and Garden

Organic Fertilizer – Feed Your Plants, Soil and Microbes

Composting 101 – Easy Compost Making and Troubleshooting Tips

Music for Plants – What Helps Plants Grow and What Doesn’t

The Right Way to Use Wood Ash in the Garden

Seed Starting

Some crops are best direct seeded in the garden, and some do better as transplants. Which crops fall into each category will also vary depending on your growing conditions.

As a northern garden, I start many of my heat loving plants inside. I love having plants growing while waiting (somewhat impatiently) for spring.

Starting my own seeds also allows me to choose from a much wider array of plant varieties, including hard to find heirlooms and rare plants.

Build Your Own Simple Seed Starting Shelves

Starting Seeds Indoors – 11 Steps to Help You Plant Seeds with Confidence

10 Heirloom Seed Companies You Don't Want to Miss

When Should I Start My Seeds? Printable seed starting calendar

Grow Tomatoes from Seed – Save Money, Get More Varieties

How to Store Seeds (for Next Year or Long Term)

How Long do Seeds Last? (with Printable Seed Viability Charts for Veggies, Herbs, and Flowers)

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Vegetable Garden

Veggie gardens are probably what most people first think of when they think “home garden”, and for good reason. With only a modest commitment of growing space and effort, you can pick your first harvest in a matter of weeks.

Some crops mature more quickly (like salad greens and radishes), some require more time (like parsnips and pumpkins). Check the “Date to Maturity” listed on the seed package for an estimate of time to harvest.

I've grouped asparagus and rhubarb with the veggies, even though rhubarb can be used in both savory and sweet recipes. Tomatoes are also here, since they are typically used more like a vegetable than a fruit.

Pepitas (hulless pumpkin seeds) also get to go with the veggies, since to grow the seeds, you need to grow the right pumpkins.

18 Fastest Growing Vegetables (Indoors, Garden, Containers)

Summer Gardens – Dealing with High Temperatures in the Garden

Too Much Rain in the Garden – Managing Wet Dirt and Waterlogged Plants

Damaged Crops – What to Do When Hail and Wind Damage Your Garden

Growing Asparagus – Planting, Care and Harvesting a Perennial Favorite

5 Tips to Grow Bigger Broccoli Heads

How to Grow Lots of Pole Beans for Easy Picking and Preserving

Growing Carrots – Quick Guide, Step by Step Instructions and Carrot Q&A

Early Greens from the Garden

Growing Onions from Seed – 5 Tips for a Great Harvest

Planting and Growing Peas – What You Need to Know

Grow Your Own Pepitas (Hulless Pumpkin Seeds)

Growing Potatoes the Easy Way – Potato Towers

The Complete Guide to Growing Rhubarb

Strawberry Spinach – Add Some Variety to Your Salads

Before You Plant Sunchokes, You Need to Read This Post


Types of Tomatoes (Best Uses, Flavors, Plant Sizes)

How to Grow Lots of Tomatoes Organically, Plus Innovative Gardening Techniques

Tomato Flowers But No Fruit, or No Tomato Flowers – 9 Troubleshooting Tips

4 Reasons your Tomatoes Aren't Ripening

7 Steps to Stop Blossom End Rot & Get Rid of Black Bottomed Tomatoes

How to Ripen Green Tomatoes at the End of the Season

How to Save Tomato Seeds – Easy to Follow Guide

Fruit Garden

Homegrown fruit is wonderful, but it often takes a more long term commitment. Our perennial fruit crops are still young, so I'll be adding to this section as they come to maturity.

Growing Blueberries – Quick Guide and Master Grower’s Tips

How to Grow Elderberries for Food and Medicine

How to Grow the Best Raspberries You’ve Ever Tasted

How to Tell Watermelon is Ripe – 4 Tips for Picking Good Watermelon

Herb Garden

Most of the herbs I've grown over the years have done well with little help from me. I tend to tuck them here and there in my vegetable gardens, orchards and wherever else there's room. If you have a specific herb growing request, let me know.

Herb Garden Ideas – Fun and Functional

Borage – Growing Tips and Uses

How to Grow Garlic – From Planting to Harvest

Grow Stevia and Make Your Own Liquid Sweetener

Sage Benefits for Home, Health & Personal Care

Vertical Garden

Because of our strong winds, any vertical gardening I do has to be very sturdy. I can't take advantage of as many options as someone in a more sheltered location, but I still make use of trellises and other plant supports to maximize my gardening productivity.

Raised Garden Beds – 5 Steps for Surefire Success

11 Vertical Gardening Advantages

Vertical Vegetable Garden Ideas (Over 20 Photos)

5+ Terrific Tomato Trellis Ideas

5 Reasons the VineSpine™ is the Best Garden Trellis

Tools last longer when cleaned and sharpened, plus a well sharpened edge makes gardening easier - learn how to maintain your tools in a step-by-step process.

Garden Tools and Equipment

Self Watering Planters – DIY Demo, How They Work, Tips for Use

Compost Tumblers – Pros and Cons – Best Tumbling Composters

Cleaning and Sharpening Garden Tools

My Favorite Gardening Tools – Save Time, Boost Yields, Enjoy Gardening More

Digz Gardening Gloves – Review and Tips for Use and Care

5 Ways a Roo Gardening Apron Makes Gardening Easier

Rainwater Harvesting Guide – Rain Barrels, Maintenance and More

Pest Control

My first level of pest control is to try and get everything growing so healthy the pests don't bother it much.

Unfortunately, gardening happens – drought conditions, extreme heat or cold, too much rain or other plant stress creates conditions favorable to garden marauders. Usually some minor intervention and TLC gets things back on track and saves the harvest.

Blueberry Netting Tips – Protecting Blueberries from Birds (& Deer)

Attracting Beneficial Insects for a Better Garden

The Ultimate Guide to Natural Pest Control in the Garden

Duck Pest Control – Working with Ducks in the Garden

Flea Beetle Control (with Tips for Saving Damaged Plants)

Homemade Bug Spray for the Garden – 3 Easy Recipes

6 Ways to Use Garlic in the Garden

Keep Deer Out of Your Garden – 5 Deer Deterrent Strategies

Papaya Ringspot Virus in the Garden – Control and Prevention

Eating Bugs – Free Food from Your Backyard


Permaculture is more than a gardening style, it's a way of life. Based on the root words of “permanent culture” or “permanent agriculture”, it uses a systems approach with a heavy reliance on perennial plantings.

The design ethics combine earth care, human care and return of abundance or surplus. The soil is protected and enriched, not destroyed. Water is gathered and filtered, recharging aquifers.

Sound impossible? People are applying the principles around the planet – with amazing results. We've only just begun changes on our land, and already I can see a notable difference.

Introduction to Permaculture

Permaculture Design Elements – 3 Keys You Need to Know

Self- Reliance Starts at Home – Introduction to The Permaculture Student

Sustainable Methods for Dealing with Drought

Our Homestead Permaculture Project – Site Overview

Holzer Permaculture – A Lifetime of Food Growing Innovation

Restoration Agriculture

The Minimalist Gardener – Gardening with Less Work and Fewer Inputs

Forest Gardening, Farming the Woods

Biochar – Amazon Secret Rediscovered

Beyond the War on Invasive Species – A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration

Sustainable Methods for Dealing with Drought

Season Extension

With a little protection, cold climate gardeners can get a jump on spring planting and not be “stopped cold” by fall frost. We have a small attached greenhouse, a larger detached greenhouse and a couple of cold frames to help with season extension.

Plant Hardiness Zones and Microclimate – Creating Your Best Garden

Protecting Plants from Frost – 12 Ways to Beat the Cold Weather

Build a Secure Greenhouse Foundation That Preserves Your Growing Space

The Practical Greenhouse Guide – What You Need to Know Before You Build a Greenhouse

Indoor Garden – 12 Reasons to Grow Organic Food Indoors

Crop Storage

You don't have to grow year round to eat year round from the garden. A number of crops lend themselves to easy storage “as is” when properly cured.

Some require cool temps and high humidity, others store fine at regular room temp. Parsnips are a favorite of mine, as they overwinter right in the ground. As soon as the ground thaws in spring, we have one of our “first” garden harvests of the season.

The 5 Easiest Vegetables to Store

Root Cellars 101

Above Ground Root Cellars – Enjoy Your Local Produce Longer

Build Your Own Walk In Cooler with a CoolBot Controller and A/C Unit

How to Harvest, Cure and Store Onions

When to Harvest Pumpkins (and the Best Ways to Store Them)

What are shell beans? (Growing Tips, Usage, Storage)

How to Store Potatoes Long Term

The Parsnip Squid and the Rock That Moves

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Preserving the Harvest

Some crops require a little more effort to enjoy in the off season, but once you taste the difference in homegrown fruit and vegetable quality, you'll be hooked. Our family uses a variety of food preservation techniques, for a variety of flavors and textures.

Home Food Preservation – 10 Ways to Preserve Food at Home

How to Can Food at Home – Quick Guide to Safe Home Canning

Home Food Drying – 6 Things You Need to Know to Dehydrate Food at Home

Home Freeze Drying – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Favorite Garden Cookbooks

Harvesting Peas and Carrots and How to Freeze Peas

How to Grow and Cook Nutrient Dense Foods

How to Infuse Herbs in Oil, Water, Vinegar, Alcohol or Honey

Don't forget to check out the recipe page for recipes that use fresh garden produce, including canning and preserving instructions for several crops.

Home Garden Inspiration

Musings and ideas, why “soil” is more than “dirt” and tips for our winged friends and other wee beasties.

Garden Gifts They'll Love – Practical, Beautiful and Unique

5 Tips for a Bee Friendly Yard

Dirt Therapy – 8 Reasons You Need to Have a Garden

5 Reasons I Want Weeds in My Garden

Confessions of a Messy Gardener

What if I Told You Weeds and Bacteria Could Save Your Life?

Giant Vegetables – How Big Do the Record Holders Get?

Stop the Dandelion Madness! Making Peace with Dandelions and Bees

What is terroir? (And Why You Want to Know)

"Common Sense Gardening" text overlay on garden images

Gardening Book Reviews

Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist

Building Soils Naturally – Innovative Methods for Organic Gardeners

Working with Nature – Shifting Paradigms and The Essence of Organic Gardening

The Planet Whizbang Idea Book for Gardeners

The Bio-Integrated Farm – Water Gardening Like You Never Imagined

Restoration Agriculture:  Real World Permaculture for Farmers

The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming

The BackYard Orchardist – Learn to Grow Over 10 Different Fruits

Wildcrafting – Using Your Weeds

Although not standard “garden” elements, my weeds are also harvested for culinary and medicinal use. You can view the Weekly Weeder and Herbal Posts for more ideas on how to put your weeds to work.

Originally posted in 2012, last updated in 2019.

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