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.
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!
I'm starting a newsletter specifically dedicated to gardening, in preparation for the launch of our food growing courses in early 2019. With your subscription, 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 tips, and the opportunity to share your ideas for the gardening courses. I want to make sure these courses meet the needs of our readers. This is different than your regular CSH subscription, but you are welcome (and encouraged) to sign up for both. (You can sign up for the main list here.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Garden Tools and Equipment
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gardening Book Reviews
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, updated in 2017, 2018.
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