In this post, we try to make a simple guide to understand how to set up a home garden step by step, with which you can start in the world of home gardening.
This post aims to be a simple and clear manual with which we want to convey to the reader the interest that this hobby has from many points of view.
Growing at home is within everyone’s reach, we just need to be clear about some basic concepts and gradually learn from the experience.
At PlanetaGarden we understand the home garden as an exercise in sustainability, which makes us citizens more committed to the environment and more responsible in our consumption.
Do you know what you need to set up a home garden step by step?
Most of the population lives in very urban environments without any contact with the natural and rural environment, this makes more and more people feel the need to introduce a little “green” into their lives.
Having a small garden in our home will be an escape route from asphalt, cement, noise, pollution, and also from stress and worries.
It will allow us to know the life cycle of vegetables and the relationships between different living things, enhancing our ability to observe and offering us a very valuable educational resource for our children.
It will be a place of continuous learning through the experience that we acquire in the cultivation of our vegetables.
It will provide us with healthy, nutritious, and tasty food that will make us think about the origin of food, making us more responsible and demanding consumers in matters such as food security and food sovereignty.
For all this and for many more things, it is worth having a garden at home. Shall we start?
A place with direct sunlight
We can create an urban garden practically anywhere, a small garden, a patio, a terrace, a balcony or even a window will allow us to grow our vegetables. But there is an indispensable question, which is to have a place with direct sunlight.
Vegetables like the rest of the plants need sunlight to obtain energy through photosynthesis.
In principle, the best orientation will be the one that allows us a good number of hours of direct light, usually facing south or southeast, although we must also take into account the obstacles that we may have, and that may create shadows (buildings, etc.).
In most cases, we cannot choose between several locations for the garden and we have to adapt to the available space.
In any case, it will be important to assess the availability of sunlight that we have at different times of the year and assess what type of cultivation we are going to do.
It may be that our space only allows cultivation in spring-summer, a time during which the Sun’s path is highest, having sufficient light, while in winter it receives no light at all.
However, there are spaces that have sufficient light throughout the year, and seasonal crops can be grown at each time.
Therefore, depending on the insolation that we have, we will choose the vegetables that we will grow.
If we have many hours of sunshine in summer, we will resort to demanding crops such as aubergines, tomatoes, or peppers, while if we receive fewer hours of sunshine, we will opt for less demanding crops such as lettuces, onions, radishes, strawberries.
Containers and substrates
In a single-family house with a small piece of land, we can allocate an area for our garden, delimiting the space and providing the soil with organic fertilizers that improve its physical-chemical conditions and fertility.
But if we do not have soil, we can create our garden using cultivation containers and organic substrates.
We will always choose those that allow us a greater volume of substrate, depending on the available space we have, it is more important the total volume that it can hold than the depth of the container.
There are containers of all sizes and all materials, one option or another being better depending on the space and the type of crops we want to develop.
One of the most interesting is the cultivation table, with different lengths, widths, and heights, it can be adapted very well to the available space allowing us to cultivate in a comfortable position.
We can also use planters, giving better results to wooden ones due to their insulating capacity of the substrate against heat or cold outside.
Other options are geotextile containers or textile pots that have as a great advantage their lightness or vertical gardens that adapt very well to the smallest spaces.
It is best to use organic substrates, which should.
- Be light, to allow easy handling, and not overload our terraces or balconies.
- To have an adequate porosity, that allows good aeration (air circulation that allows the roots to breathe) and water retention (that allows a reserve of water to be created in the substrate available to the roots).
- Retain essential nutrients.
These 3 requirements are met by composted organic substrates, such as vermicompost (organic residue digested by the California earthworm), which will also act as a fertilizer by providing all the nutrients that the plant needs.
Another substrate that does not provide many nutrients but has some of the mentioned properties (lightness, aeration, water retention, and nutrient retention) is coconut fiber.
For this reason, it may be interesting to compose our substrate by combining one that provides good structural conditions (coconut fiber) and another that acts as a fertilizer, providing the nutrients and properties of organic matter (vermicompost).
The proper ratio could be 60% coconut fiber and 40% vermicompost.
Every time we finish a cultivation cycle and remove the plants, it is convenient to remove the substrate to avoid compaction that it undergoes over time, to improve porosity and prevent cracking, in addition to making a new contribution of compost or vermicompost, to replace the nutrients that have been consumed or washed.
FERTILIZERS AND NUTRIENTS
Garden Irrigation Systems
In the containers, the water is depleted more easily than in the soil, which will force us to be more aware of irrigation.
On the other hand, sometimes, we fall into an excess of water that can cause a washing, and therefore loss, of essential nutrients for the plant.
For this reason, one of the most important tasks and where we have to be more precise is irrigation, always seeking to maintain a constant humidity, adjusting it to the time of year, and to the vegetables, we are growing.
We can water manually, which will be a good method especially in small gardens (3 or 4 pots).
The most appropriate, in this case, is the use of the watering can and do the irrigation little by little to avoid the formation of cracks in the substrate.
On the other hand, if we have a relatively large orchard and especially if in the summertime we receive a lot of sunshine, it is helpful to install a drip irrigation system with a programmer.
This system will allow us to control the irrigation flow and frequency more accurately, providing the substrate with the water it needs, without wasting it and without causing excessive irrigation.
There are complete self-irrigation kits on the market that adapt very well to small urban gardens.
We also have the option of self-watering planters, which have a water tank in the lower part that keeps the substrate moist permanently. This system can give good results especially in vegetables less demanding with water.
Any of the mentioned irrigation systems can be good, although its good operation will depend on the substrate being of good quality and well structured since this will allow the water to have a good horizontal distribution when irrigating and not so much vertically.
If the structure of the substrate is not adequate, the water tends to filter through the cracks that form and will end up being lost under the substrate, before properly soaking it.
Seeds and seedlings
Once we are clear about the space that we are going to use, the containers that we are going to use, the substrate, and the way of watering, we can only get the plants that we are going to grow, which we can develop from seeds or seedlings.
For the beginning farmer, we recommend starting cultivating using seedlings.
More and more nurseries near the cities offer facilities (especially in spring) due to the significant increase in home garden fans.
This is an interesting option for those starting out in cultivation since, although we do not see the first part of the plant cycle, it greatly simplifies the garden tasks.
Little by little, as we gain experience, we can combine the use of seeds and seedlings, preferably opting for the use of organic seeds.
Finally, in an advanced phase of our experience as urban farmers, we can also consider obtaining seeds from our own crops, selecting the most vigorous plants that have produced the best harvest.
Planting, transplanting, and harvesting are without a doubt the most attractive tasks in the home garden.
Below, we detail each of these activities.
Planting the garden
The sowing can be done in a seedbed, protecting the plant in its early stages of development, or directly in its final location, in the case of vegetables that do not support the transplant well, such as carrots, radishes, or beans.
For most vegetables it will be interesting to do a protected planting in a seedbed, since in addition to protecting the plant, it will allow us to make better use of the garden space, making the selection of the plants that we are going to grow in the seedbed and taking them to the final container when they already have some development.
There are many types of seedlings on the market:
- Plastic sockets (in trays or individual). They have the advantage that they can be recycled, as long as they are washed well after each use.
- Peat alveoli (in trays or singles). Peat is a type of substrate, so when transplanting it is not necessary to remove the root ball but the entire socket is planted, with less impact for plants.
- Pressed peat tablets. They are comfortable since it is not necessary to provide extra substrate, you just have to wet the tablet.
- Protected seedbeds. Some nurseries include a transparent cover to prevent damage from frost or temperature changes or to advance planting.
- Electric seedbed. We ensure in winter temperature above 20 degrees, which greatly facilitates the germination of our seeds.
- Recycled seedbeds. As seedbeds, we can also use small containers such as yogurt containers.
The steps to follow when making a seedbed are:
- Find a place where the sun gets plenty of it. Although later at night (in unprotected seedbeds) you have to protect the seedbed in another place, safe from low temperatures.
- Put the substrate. The same substrate is used as in the final containers. In the case of seedbeds on a tray, a tip, once the substrate has been spread, give a few blows to settle the substrate and put more back.
- Sembrar . The depth at which the seed is buried is 2 or 3 times its diameter, but in the case of the smallest ones such as strawberries, they are mixed with fine sand and this mixture is distributed.
- Regar . In this first phase, the plant is very sensitive to lack of water, so the substrate must always be moist. When watering, the watering can must be used near the seedbed and making a pendulum movement.
- Clarear . If several seeds have germinated per alveolus, thinning should be done, leaving a seedling, the one we see the strongest.
When the newly germinated plants have several true leaves (without being cotyledons) and their height is greater than that of the container, it will be time to transplant following these recommendations:
- Remove the root ball from the socket or container. Better if the day before it has been watered because the root ball will come out more easily if it is slightly humid, on the contrary, it should not be tried if it is dry or waterlogged. If it still sticks, it will separate with a few small blows, although it must be done carefully in the case of cucurbits (cucumbers, zucchini, …). On the other hand, lettuces, onions, or cabbages carry out this operation better, being able to transplant even bare roots.
- Plant in the final container. Once we place the plant in its final location, it is convenient to crush a little around the stem to make sure that there is no air pocket left between the roots and the soil, but without going overboard because we can compact the substrate.
- Regar . The first irrigation after transplanting must be abundant so that the substrate settles and the roots are in good contact with it.
Fruit harvest in the orchard
This is the most grateful task of working in the garden, but you have to know how to pick it up and choose the best time to collect it.
The crops in which we obtain fruits, the right moment can be when they are ripe, like the tomato when it turns red. However, cucumbers and zucchini must be harvested before they ripen and form the seed.
Most leafy vegetables (lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard) will allow us to cut leaves as needed without tearing them, so if we consume according to our demand, the cultivation will last longer.
In addition, with garlic and onions, we will have a harvest of young if we collect it earlier and dry if we leave it longer.
Starting from the basis that we want to practice agriculture as ecological as possible, the first thing we have to understand is that all kinds of insects and other organisms will appear in our crops, which will make up the “microecosystem” that our urban garden will become.
This is a good thing, we should not pretend to have an aseptic space, in fact the more varied the biodiversity associated with our garden, the more stable and resistant to pests it will be.
However, to ensure success we can use products of proven efficacy and recognition:
Furthermore, the study and observation of all this “life” and the relationships established between the different living beings is one of the most enriching questions for the city farmer.
The main method of control and fight against pests and diseases that must be carried out by the organic farmer must be “doing things right”.
In other words, carry out all those practices that will make our small garden a fertile, resistant, stable, biodiverse space, etc.
Some of these practices are rotations, associations, the use of organic matter as the main fertilizer for our crops, proper irrigation, etc.
Now, even if we put all these practices into practice, some of the living things that settle in our garden can be harmful and even become a pest or cause diseases in our plants.
In these cases, we must identify the causes and act through effective products and procedures.
We can differentiate 2 types of problems in our crops :
- Diseases, caused by fungi, bacteria and viruses.
- Damage by pests, animals, especially insects and arachnids.
Diseases in the garden
They are more difficult to diagnose and to treat, since, except in some cases, we are not going to directly observe the cause of the problem and we will have to diagnose it observing its effects (eg: “stalking” of the tomato leaves produced by the virus of the spoon).
In these cases, we must act above all in a preventive way, strengthening our plants with good organic fertilizers such as earthworm humus and with ecological fertilizers such as nettle extract that enhances the natural defenses of plants.
FERTILIZERS AND NUTRIENTS
We may also use in case of fungal diseases, which are often the most common (as powdery mildew , the mildew or boldface) more specific treatments both preventive and in the early stages of development, some of them are the extract of horsetail or propolis, both natural products harmless to people.
Additionally, we can treat these problems with fungicides in a timely manner.
If we finally have affected plants, we must eliminate the damaged parts (leaves and stems) or even eliminate entire plants to avoid the spread of the disease to neighboring plants.
Pests in the garden
They are easier to identify since normally we can directly observe the agent causing the problem.
In these cases, before acting, we must assess whether the potential pest agent is actually causing a problem or is remaining in a low, stable population that does not cause serious problems.
This is important, since sometimes having a low and stable population of an insect pest such as the aphid, can be even interesting since it will attract beneficial insects for the garden such as ladybugs.
If, on the contrary, we consider that we have a pest that is damaging our crops, we will act as follows:
- Assess if we are making a mistake in any practice (excess or lack of irrigation, excess fertilizer, cultivation out of season, lack of sunshine.). This is very important since many times the appearance of a pest indicates a weakness of the plant due to poor management (a clear example is the massive appearance of aphids, which is indicative of a high concentration of Nitrogen in the plant sage. , due to an excess of a subscriber, especially if we use liquid fertilizers, which makes it very attractive to these sucking insects).
- Manual removal of insects. This is a very effective way to control pests in very small orchards, such as terrace or balcony orchards, and against highly visible pests such as defoliating caterpillars.
- Elimination of damaged parts (leaves and stems).
- Treatment with organic products. When we have widespread and difficult pests to eliminate manually, we can use ecological products, such as:
- Potassium soap: contact insecticide that weakens the exoskeleton of insects. It is mainly used to control attacks by sucking insects such as aphids, mealybugs, or whiteflies.
- Neem oil: it is a natural insecticide that is extracted from the fruit of this tree, which acts against a wide range of pests such as whitefly, miner, red spider, thrips, aphids, louse, potato beetle, bedbugs. The combined action of potassium soap and neem makes the treatment even more effective.
- Bacillus thuringiensis : it is a toxin produced by these bacteria, totally harmless to man and useful fauna, which acts in a very selective way with the caterpillars of many pest species such as tuta, heliothis, plasid, green donut, cabbage butterfly, etc.
In any case, the appearance of a plague on our crops should not discourage us, but on the contrary, stimulate our curiosity to learn and improve the knowledge of the different living things in our garden and in the management of organic farming techniques.