Few things are as rewarding as planting your own vegetable and fruit garden. Home gardens not only provide healthy food at a minimal cost, but give you the added satisfaction of tending for and harvesting the "crop" yourself. We've assembled some simple guidelines to help you begin.
Follow the light
The first step in deciding what you want to grow is assessing the dominant light type you have to work with. Which fruit and vegetables you plant will depend almost entirely on this simple fact. If you're like most people, your yard is a combination of lights, which shift over the course of the day. Ideally, you will have at least one portion of your front or backyard that will be in the sun for at least six hours a day, but there are many plants that will do well in shadier areas.
What's your zone?
The U.S. is divided into 11 growing zones, which delineate which fruits and vegetables should be grown in which climates and when to plant them. Learn about your zone and what is grown best there. Web sites such as Garden.org and BackYardGardener.com can help you identify in which zone you live.
Plan in advance
It's never too early to begin planning your garden. Don't worry what your outdoor temperatures are -- some of your summer seeds will need to be started indoors, while other seeds do fine sown straight into your garden soil. What kind of vegetables and fruits do you want to plant and how best to care for them?
Read, read, read! Gardening is one of mankind's oldest hobbies and there is a limitless amount written on the subject. Online resources are located on a plethora of gardening sites such as Your Vegetable Gardening Helper, About.com's Gardening section and TheGardenHelper.com.
Ask yourself how much you have to spend on seeds and plants and what time you'll have for weeding, watering and general maintenance. Even if your funds and time are unlimited, start smaller than you think you should. Planting too many tomato plants, for instance (a common occurrence) is a problem when tomatoes start coming in faster than you can pick and use them. If this is your first time planting, be modest and plan on expanding a bit more every year. The information on your seed packet or plant tags will give you a good idea of how much yield to expect from each plant.
You don't need a lot of tools to get started: a shovel, a hoe, a spade, a weeding tool, a watering can and a pair of gloves with rubber fingers make a good basic kit.
Once you've determined where the best light is in your yard and made sure you're within reach of water, you can begin selecting which fruits and vegetables will do best there, according to climate. If this is your first garden, you'll want to prepare the ground especially well, removing rocks and weeds and adding nutrients such as compost and fertilizer. GardenWeb.com and eHow.com have more details about amending your soil, visit these sites.
Raised beds are a good way to keep the soil well drained and your garden organized. For examples and possible materials, check out About.com's Organic Gardening section or EarthEasy.com. Smaller yards can benefit from vertical gardening or container gardening.
In any case, be sure to purchase the necessary supports for your plants before they get too big. Beans, tomatoes and other vegetable and fruit plants require frames or supports to keep them from falling over.
Keeping the bugs away
You can purchase netting to keep the bugs off, though there are other natural ways to stop them from nibbling on your precious produce. From homemade remedies of garlic and cayenne to special oils, you can find information on the safest available choices on sites such as eHow.com, The Texas A&M Horticulture Department site, and the Vegetable Garden section of Suite101.com.
Get your family involved and create a new hobby for everyone. Few things are as educational or inspiring as watching a tiny seed grow into a dinnertime dish. Do your research, start small and get growing! You won't believe the rewards that even a tiny bit of farming will deliver.