Where does your food come from? For most people, the answer is the grocery store. But where did the grocery store get your fruits and veggies? Depending on what’s in your cart, your product could have traveled thousands of miles just to get to your plate.
This is terrible for the environment, but it isn’t great for our health, either. Foods grown to withstand a long journey before consumption are often genetically modified and riddled with pesticides and preservatives to ensure they can make the journey.
And the results of genetic modification aren’t pretty. People who eat genetically modified foods risk developing food allergies, antibiotic resistance, immuno-suppression, and cancer in the most extreme cases. And many of the pesticides and other chemicals used in industrial farming are known carcinogens.
Since 90% of the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified, it’s no wonder more, and more people are looking to their own backyards to produce their food. Whether they’re considering adding a mobile chicken coop, growing a garden, or planting fruit trees, more people than ever want control over the origins of their food.
Using your property to produce food is an excellent way to take control of your health while reducing your carbon footprint. But this endeavor takes research, planning, and constant attention. So here’s how you can use your own backyard to produce food.
Step #1: Research
You may think you can just go out, buy a few plants, put them in the ground, and expect results. Instead, you must research your climate extensively, learn what grows well there and when, what plants grow well together, and understand how to protect your plants from common pests and diseases.
Start by checking out USDA’s hardiness zone map. This map will tell you everything you need about your growing region. This website also has excellent information about fruit and vegetable species. Once you know your growing region, you can consult a planting calendar to determine what you should plant and when.
This calendar from the Farmer’s Almanac allows users to input their zip code before displaying a chart with appropriate growing times. You may notice you can start your seeds indoors, which is a fantastic option if you live in a climate with cold springs. Use egg cartons or another recycled material to grow seedlings safely.
Step #2: Find space
Whether you’re looking to plan your garden or need to find a spot to keep chickens or other livestock, you need to select your space strategically. This will help you make the best use of your property so your plants will grow and your animals will thrive.
Choose a flat, well-drained spot with at least 8 hours of direct sun daily for a garden. Fruits and vegetables need plenty of sunlight to grow, and only a few crops like boggy, wet soil all the time. Consider creating plots based on the planting season, with designated spots for spring, summer, and fall plantings. And if you want to diversify with perennials, like asparagus or strawberries, create specific areas for those plants, too.
Fruit trees and shrubs should also get their own space. Space trees about 10 feet apart, as they will need the extra space when they reach maturity. Berry bushes make wonderful hedges and borders, but be sure to choose a spot far from the chickens!
For chickens and other livestock, areas with a combination of sun and shade work well. They’ll need access to clean water, too.
Step #3: Plant a garden
To plant your garden, choose whether to use containers, a raised bed, or simply till the existing ground. Each type of garden has advantages and drawbacks, and they are a matter of personal preference.
Whatever type of garden you choose, prepare the ground by adding lots of topsoil, compost, and other fertilizers to nourish your plants. Their growth depends on the quality of the soil, and the more prep you do, the better your results.
As you plant, create neat, orderly rows and pay attention to the spacing guidelines on the tags. The tags will tell you how far apart to plant your seeds or seedlings. Once the plants are established and growing, you’ll need to thin them out to ensure they have enough room to grow.
Watering guidelines will also appear on the tags of each thing you plant, but generally, a good soaking every other morning will suffice. Water daily on the hottest summer days. If you’ve decided to incorporate bees, be sure to get a backyard beekeeping starter kit with a hive, provide a water source for the bees, and place the hive in a suitable location, away from high-traffic areas and direct sunlight.
Step #4: Get Livestock
If you also want to raise livestock, prepare the space you’ve set aside with a coop, shed, or barn and add fencing around their grazing area. You’ll also need a good feed supply to keep them nourished and healthy.
In the case of chickens, use a mobile coop so you can move their grazing area around your property. Chickens are hard workers in vegetable gardens, eating up all the insects and pests while providing natural fertilizer. Changing their grazing area every week or so will increase egg production, reduce waste, and help your garden grow better than ever.
The same principle applies to large livestock. Although you can’t move barns around your property, change where your cattle and other large animals graze weekly so they don’t deplete the ground cover and spread their nutrient-rich fertilizer all over your property.
Step #5: Harvest and Preserve
Harvesting is one of the most rewarding parts of producing your own food. Whether you’re picking fruits and veggies, grabbing eggs from the coop, or taking a fattened cow to the butcher, there’s no satisfaction like the one that comes from making your own food.
If you use a planting calendar, it should give you guidance on the best time to pick your fruits and vegetables. But what can you do with 10 pounds of tomatoes at once? That’s where preserving comes into play.
Whether you want to can tomato sauce, make salsa that lasts until the Super Bowl, or just preserve your tomatoes whole, there’s a world of possibilities with canning. But growers, beware, canning is a scientific process that requires great care. Do it incorrectly, and you risk food-borne illness.
If canning intimidates you, There are many fruits and vegetables you can wash, dry, and freeze so they’re ready to eat when you are. All you need is a little time and some freezer space.
Step #6: Get Cooking!
It all comes down to this: cooking the food you’ve produced! Turning your fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, and meat into delicious meals is the most rewarding part of growing your own food, and it should (literally) be savored.
Look for recipes featuring the produce you’ve grown. Be open to trying new things, and don’t worry if you make a few mistakes. You may need to do a little trial and error until you figure out how you like to prepare your freshly grown food.
Proper research and planning can make your backyard your grocery store. And doing what you can to reduce your exposure to GMOs and pesticides will improve your health for many years to come.