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)

"Common Sense Gardening" text overlay of garden images

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

Tomatoes

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.

Getting Started with Herb Gardening

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

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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54 Comments

  1. What great photos! That was fun! I love the idea of a round garden. I do everything on the side of hill so it’s all in raised beds that are sort of terraced. Your garden is beautiful! Love the 360 view from the center of it! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I have moved my tomato seedlings from a milk jug to a big plastic tote, holes in the bottom for drainage. My question is I move about 40 small ones in this tote that is 14 inches deep and 20 inches wide have I over crowded them? I planted so many ran out of little pots and containers so went to the much bigger ones, your advise on this would be appreciated. Thanks Ellen from Georgia

    1. It’s rather hard for me to visualize exactly the size of everything, but it does sound like they may end up overcrowded as they grow. If you transplant outside before they get too big (after hardening them off), you may be okay.

    2. CHERRY TOMATO CERISE (100 Seeds Approx) The smallest variety, producing sweet tasting red tomatoes. Delicious eaten raw or cooked, very popular with children.

      Indoor Planting: Sow seeds 1.5cm deep in pots or trays of moist compost, be careful not to over-water. Store in a warm location at an approx. temperature of 18c (65f). When the seedlings are approx. 6″ high, transfer to larger pots and reduce the temperature to 16c (6f). The plants can be moved to an unheated glasshouse in April or hardened off and planted out from June. Support the plants when needed. Limit each plant to 4-5 trusses and pinch out the sides hoots. Feed regularly with a tomato feed.

      Sow Indoors: March , April.

      Harvest: June , August.

  3. You have amazing garden photos! I’m going to bookmark your website and I will open each links in this topic. This is really interesting. Keep on posting! 😀

  4. Hi I live in apartment building.Love to grow my vegetable .I am very new to it What can i grow in the pot ,and from where should i start?I need help.I live in chicago.

    1. You might start with the Container Gardening Alliance on Facebook to get some ideas – https://www.facebook.com/willemvancotthem

      This time of year in Chicago, you’re not going to have much luck growing things unless they are inside and require only low light. Sprouts, greens and some spices might cooperate.

      You may want to check out the post Early Green from the Garden – https://commonsensehome.com/early-greens-from-the-garden/
      and Fresh Food in Winter – Sprouts – https://commonsensehome.com/fresh-food-in-winter-sprouts/

  5. I just got an email from you about your garden and all the rain. I’m surprised you are planting crops like broccoli and cabbage at the same time as beans and corn. If I tried that my broccoli and cabbage would bolt before I got any while the beans and corn are loving the warm weather.

    It also seems a bit early for parsnips as I usually plant them in September for harvest the following Spring. I’m in NW AZ at 3700 ft elevation so we do get into the 20’s and once in awhile the teens during December and January.

    I like the climate here as I can grow food outside year-round. Where are you located?

    1. I’m in northeast Wisconsin. Generally speaking, our summers don’t tend to get very hot, so bolting isn’t usually an issue for the cabbage and broccoli, although Chinese cabbage is more fussy. Ideally, we would have had the cool weather crops in a bit sooner, but we were busy putting in all the new trees and shrubs this year. The growing season is fairly short, and the winters are cold. I put my parsnips in now, they grow to maturity over the season, and then I mulch to protect them over winter and dig them in spring. Without protection, little survives over winter.

  6. Last year we planted 3 types of cabbage red, flat dutch and early dutch. We were unable to enjoy any of them, because every head had the same musty almost roten taste. Do you have any ideas on what could have caused this and how to prevent it this year?

  7. What a beautiful garden! I love how you made your garden look that way as it is very unique, thank you for taking the time into sharing these great photos.

  8. I recently did a test on my garden soil. I was totally shocked! After years (6), of dumping compost, chicken, horse and quail manure all over my garden The N came back as “nil.” In fact it barely registered which on my chart was nearly”0″. Phosphorous was the only thing that there was a abundance of. In 2015 I went around town collecting bags of leaves. Eventually, I ended up with 120 bags…BIG BAGS! That next spring my wife and I spread those leaves all over the garden. We ended up with about a covering of 4-5″ deep. I think it is the only thing that saved what little we had of a garden last season due to the drought that lasted all summer. That fall I turned all of that under hoping to build humus in the soil. Not sure it was all that beneficial. I am considering sowing rye or buckwheat this fall and turning that under in the spring. I did add “triple 19” to the garden for this season. I had to do something. I have access to tons of newspaper. I have thought of getting that to cover the garden with and then covering that with straw. What are your thoughts?

    1. I do use newspaper in the garden, but sparingly as mulch. It’s organic matter, so it will rot down, but I’m not 100% sure what dyes are being used in the print process, and if that’s something I want in my garden. The newspaper will not address your nitrogen issue. If you want to cover crop to add nitrogen, look to legumes and/or annual clover in combination with your rye and buckwheat.

      Some other sources of nitrogen:

      Composted Manure
      Poultry Manure
      Blood Meal
      Fish Emulsion
      Crab Meal
      Feather Meal
      Alfalfa Meal
      Soybean Meal
      Cottonseed Meal
      Chilean Nitrate

      Also, the large amount of carbon you added will tie up free nitrogen, influencing your test results.

  9. Wonderful writing ..from it i learn many more.i hope it will help everyone who reads it,, Thanks a lot for nice writing.Best of luck.

  10. Do you have a vegetable garden book? It would be a lot more organized for me if there was a book with all this information in one place verse clicking around. I have learned so much much from your website!
    Thanks 🙂

    1. Not yet. I’ve thought about it, but there are so many books out there already that I didn’t know if it was worth it to throw my hat in the ring, so to speak. We’ve had really difficult gardening seasons the past few years, so I’ve been focused on simply getting a harvest and the book or course was put on hold. (Torrential rains, spring blizzards – it’s been nuts.)

      If I did pull something together, what would you find most useful?

  11. Wow that weather sounds crazy! I would find it useful maybe by vegetable like everything to do with tomatoes how to grow them proper fertilizers for best results, what they grow well with and what not to grow with tomatoes, what herbs to place near them to help keep critters away. I just used tomatoes as an example. Do you suggest using raised garden beds or just plant straight into the ground? I live in central Florida if that makes a difference. Thanks for responding! I would much rather invest money into someone who has so much experience and has taken the time to share at no cost, and I’ve also conversed with rather than some big company who is out to make profit and doesn’t care. Thanks again
    ~Josh

    1. Josh,

      We need to make money, too, otherwise we can’t pay the bills. Profit enables us to tackle projects on our homestead so we can share our experience. Profits are not evil.

      As for tomatoes (your example) please see – https://commonsensehome.com/gardening/#Tomatoes for our tomato related posts, and specifically https://commonsensehome.com/grow-tomatoes-organically/

      Other articles on specific vegetables are listed in the Vegetable Garden section – https://commonsensehome.com/gardening/#Vegetable_Garden

      My top recommendation is to talk to gardeners near you who are successful and see what tips they recommend and challenges you may encounter. I’d suspect that fungal diseases would be a concern in your climate.

  12. Hi Laurie,
    Just read your post about the coronavirus in Washington. I pray that you and your family will stay well.
    We have moved from Oregon near Medford to the Dallas Texas area. Because we are renting, I will be doing all of my gardening in containers this year. I aj trying to find seed potatoe for Russets and also sweet potato starts. Is there any internet site that you could recommend for me to look? Sure would apreciate your input.

    Thanks for your help.
    Suzanne

    1. Hi Suzanne.

      We usually get our starts from Pinetree Garden Seeds, but maybe Southern Exposure Seed exchange would be a better fit for your new location? You could also try and make contact with local gardeners to see if they have a source they love.

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