Urban Farming

How a Family Garden Will Improve Your Health

Dig in the Dirt Together to Add Physical Activity and Subtract Stress

By Catherine Holecko

Catherine Holecko

 Fact checked by Cara Lustik on June 08, 2020Print 

Family garden - father and daughter gardening together
Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Whether you have an acre of land or a few pots on a balcony, plant a family garden: You’ll all live healthier! Gardening is an easy activity to share and you’ll harvest benefits along with your fresh vegetables, colorful flowers, and aromatic herbs. Even better, you don’t have to wait for your plants to bloom to see those benefits. Some of them (like stress relief) are almost instantaneous.

When parents and kids work together to plant and care for a garden, they can all enjoy these perks.

Physical Activity

Gardening and yard work are moderate-intensity exercises, which we all need every day (for at least 30 minutes). While tending your family garden doesn’t require the vigorous activity of, say, running or playing singles tennis, it’s still beneficial to your body.

Once you start gardening, it’s common to continue for more than the recommended 30 minutes. And gardening incorporates fine-motor skill strengthening and stretching.

Lower Stress, Better Mood

Gardening is an excellent stress reliever for a combination of fascinating reasons: exposure to fresh air and sunlight, relaxing and repetitive tasks, and even contact with harmless bacteria in the soil that helps release serotonin in the brain.

Outdoor Time

Children are prone to spending a lot of time indoors, which can negatively affect their behavior and health. A family garden gets them outside enjoying and experiencing the natural world.

Better Sleep 

All of the above (physical activity, reduced stress, being outside) can contribute to more and better sleep for everyone. And better sleep, in turn, can improve kids’ behavior and performance at school.

Healthier Eating 

Kids who grow vegetables eat vegetables—or at least, they are more willing to taste unfamiliar veggies, which is the first step to incorporating those new flavors into their diet. Adults who garden are also more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables than non-gardeners.1

Family Time

Planning, sowing, and tending a family garden offers physical activity with a purpose shared by everyone.

Gardening helps teach kids responsibility and gives them a sense of accomplishment. It gives all of you a project to work on—and enjoy—together, which reinforces your family bond.

Projects for Your Family Garden

Consult with an expert neighbor, a family member, a local nursery, or a cooperative extension service to find out what plants will grow best where you live. You might consider investing in a rain barrel and starting a compost pile to make your garden more Earth-friendly, too.

If you have limited outdoor space, planting in containers is a good way to try out gardening. Even if you do have space, starting with containers can be a good introduction to gardening for little ones.


Start them from seed, or purchase seedlings to get a jump-start. If your kids have a favorite vegetable it’s definitely worth letting them try to grow their own. You can find favorites like carrots, string beans, bell peppers, and potatoes in kid-appealing purple hues. Tomatoes, too, come in dozens of colors, shapes, and sizes.

Quick-growing plants, such as radishes, peas, cucumbers, and many herbs, are satisfying for kids to grow. And if your children are very small, remember that it’s easier for them to plant veggies with larger seeds, like peas, corn, and beans.


There are lots of options for involving kids in flower gardening. Let them pick out some seeds based on the pretty pictures on the packets. Or opt for drama with easy-to-grow sunflowers, which can reach as high as eight feet tall. Simple daisies produce lots of blooms for kids to enjoy, display, and craft with. Other blooms that are easy to grow (and thus less likely to lead to disappointment) are marigolds, snapdragons, and geraniums.

You might also decide to plant with a goal in mind, such as creating a butterfly garden full of plants that attract and nourish butterflies. You’ll get the satisfaction of growing beautiful things while welcoming beautiful creatures.


Fruit trees can be difficult to care for and may take several years to yield a harvest. But strawberries are a snap to grow from seeds or seedlings, and blackberries or raspberries can also be an option (plus they’re perennial and will come back year after year). If you live in a very warm climate or keep them indoors, you can grow your own citrus fruits too.

Family Garden Chores for Kids

Kids can do a lot of the work for your family garden, either independently or alongside an adult. While you don’t want them to burn out on tedious tasks like weeding, taking responsibility is part of what makes a family garden meaningful. Set a goal, such as clearing one small, designated area or working for 15 minutes, then do something else.

Depending on their ages, kids can:

  • Collect sticks and other debris
  • Spread bark or mulch
  • Sprinkle plant food
  • Bring compostables to the compost pile
  • Water plants with a watering can or hose
  • Rake leaves
  • Weed (with good instructions on what to pluck and what to keep)
  • Dig holes for seeds or plants
  • Harvest fruits or vegetables from the garden
  • Snip flowers for a bouquet (again, good instructions will be important!)
  • Mow the lawn (age 10 and up)

Whatever you choose to do, make sure to educate your child along the way, too. You’ll be growing his brain right along with your family crops. Surprising Reasons Why You Should Garden With Your Teen

Urban Farming

5 Benefits of Growing a Vegetable Garden

I have always thought that our family was fairly healthy when it came to what we ate. We have the occasional bowl of ice cream, but don’t pig out all the time. We don’t eat out every day, and I never make hamburgers for dinner.

But then my husband got his cholesterol and blood pressure checked. Oh. Suddenly my assumptions about our diet quickly crashed down around me and we have had to reevaluate how we eat. My husband is on a crash course with a heart attack in 20 or 30 years unless we change something now.

So that’s what we are trying to do. To accomplish this we have to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into our diet. Every meal suddenly has to revolve around vegetables instead of meat and bread.

So, to help offset this, I began a patio vegetable garden. And along the way have learned some surprising things.

5 Benefits of Growing a Vegetable Garden



Yes, we have the intention of eating more vegetables and fruit. But that doesn’t mean it always happens. Having a garden right outside my kitchen door however, it forces me to use vegetables in every meal.

Suddenly I have 30 cucumbers and have to be creative in using them before they go bad. So by having an abundance of vegetables, it forces me to use them when I otherwise wouldn’t think about it.

And by having 30 cucumbers that need to be eaten in a few days, it allows me to be creative and find new favorite recipes to use. I get to experiment and make vegetables taste great! And thus we want to eat them more.

Growing Vegetables


This was my number 1 reason for starting a garden. I wanted to save money, and I have. I invested a small amount of money in some seeds, soil and a few containers. And now I can have an entire season’s worth of vegetables out on my patio. All for pennies compared to what it costs to buy this much fruit and veggies in store.


Growing a garden can be a wonderful way to show kids the value of working with their hands (and a great homeschool project). Having kids plant seeds, watch them sprout and grow into large plants, and then harvesting vegetables that they get to eat teaches them that with hard work, determination, and sticking with projects, the benefits can be great. By investing some time and energy, they actually grew something to eat.

Child Helping With Garden


Sometimes you will end up with too many tomatoes at once. You simply can’t eat them all at once so you share them with others and bless them.

When you invite a new family from church over for dinner, send them home with a nice package of homegrown tomatoes and a cucumber or two. Share the fruit of your labor and bless those around you.

Chocolate Mint good for much more than tea!



Often, the fruits and vegetables that are store-bought are pumped full of all kinds of chemicals and additives to plump them up, help them grow unnaturally fast, or improve their color. Well, this just means that you are consuming that many more chemicals into your body.

This can be so harmful in the long run. The more vegetables you try and eat to be healthy, the more chemicals you are also ingesting, which practically counters the value of the vegetables.

By growing your own fruits and vegetables, you can control what goes on and in your plants. You know where they have been and what has been done to them.

I hope that I have inspired you to start a garden. It can be so rewarding to kids and parents alike. And you would be surprised; anyone can have a garden!

Urban Farming

Benefits of Growing Your Own Food

There are many reasons people begin a backyard vegetable garden. Some may want to learn a new skill, or start a new hobby. Others may want to teach their kids how plants are grown. And then there are those who do it because they simply want to reap the benefits of their harvest season after season.

Yes, there are many benefits to growing your own food. If you are just starting a vegetable garden, or if you are a seasoned pro at growing your own food, here are the top five benefits you might find when growing your own food. So break out your spades, seed packets, and watering cans and get ready to create your own backyard garden.

senior man with his grandaughter planting a seedling
  1. Healthier food

When you plant your own food, you know exactly what goes into the gardening process. You know the seed types you selected and where they came from. You’re aware of any challenges that came along the way. You can make sure to create an organic garden – and reduce the use harmful chemicals. This is good for you, your family, and the environment.

Organic gardening can be a fun and easy way to keep the whole family healthy. And when you grow the fruits and vegetables as a family, kids are more likely to be excited to eat the produce they helped grow! This will help everyone get more vitamins and minerals that are important to proper nutrition and good health.

A little girl helps her parents harvest tomatoes
  1. Physical activity

When you take the time to prepare, plant, weed, water, and harvest your own garden, you are getting sunshine, fresh air, and physical activity. The exercise you get can help you stay in shape, but also relax and de-stress. Because your garden needs to be tended, you are guaranteed to have some active time each week outside, either on your own or with your family. Be sure to practice safe heavy lifting practices, use sunscreen to protect against the sun, and drink plenty of water while outside. Also invest in organic soil that will not only be good for your plants, but will also be safe for your whole family to handle.

  1. Family time

If gardening is your hobby – or a hobby you want to start – it could be fun to make it into a family hobby and set aside gardening time as family time each week. It’s an activity that kids of all ages can take part in, as they can help with weeding or watering, planting, or even harvesting, depending on their ages. It gets everyone together, active, and engaging with each other and nature. Gardening can create memories that last a lifetime for you and your kids.

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Pickled Marinated Fermented vegetables on shelves in cellar
  1. Financial savings

When you have a full, healthy garden, you will find yourself spending less money at the grocery store! When you have all the ingredients you need for your favorite salad, or when you can harvest carrots to roast from your own backyard, you won’t need to buy as much when you do your weekly shopping. Especially when organic gardening, the cost of a packet of seeds is far less than what you would spend on organic veggies and fruits at the store.

Beyond the initial crop, you can learn to dry, can, and preserve your produce to keep feeding your family from your own garden long after the growing season is over! This can extend your savings in the longterm, too.

  1. Sense of accomplishment

The sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from eating that first tomato or snap pea from your backyard will amaze you. It doesn’t just have to be that first ever crop either – that feeling often extends year after year. Gardening can teach your kids the value and benefits of hard work, and help them to achieve a similar sense of pride and accomplishment come harvest time. You will be able to nourish your family and ensure everyone is eating a healthy diet when you have an organic garden at your fingertips to incorporate those fresh fruits and veggies into each meal.

Many people find gardening very rewarding, from the physical health side to the nutritional meal side. The benefits of organic gardening extend beyond the garden itself, into the kitchen, living room, and even daily life.

Share The Garden Love

vegetable harvest pinterest image
adult and kid gardening pinterest image

Urban Farming

The Benefits of Growing Your Own Food

Growing fruits and vegetables seems overwhelming to most people, but it’s actually much simpler than it sounds. (Plus, you don’t have to trade in your suburban or urban lifestyle in the name of self-sufficiency or savings.) All you need is a few square feet of the great outdoors, a water source, and a little time.

Consider these benefits of backyard gardening:
 Improve your family’s health.
Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the most important things you and your family can do to stay healthy. When they’re growing in your backyard, you won’t be able to resist them, and their vitamin content will be at their highest levels as you bite into them straight from the garden. Parents, take note: A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that preschool children who were almost always served homegrown produce were more than twice as likely to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day—and to like them more—than kids who rarely or never ate homegrown produce.
 Save money on groceries.
Your grocery bill will shrink as you begin to stock your pantry with fresh produce from your backyard. A packet of seeds can cost less than a dollar, and if you buy heirloom, non-hybrid species, you can save the seeds from the best producers, dry them and use them next year. If you learn to dry, can or otherwise preserve your summer or fall harvest, you’ll be able to feed yourself even when the growing season is over.
 Reduce your environmental impact.
Backyard gardening helps the planet in many ways. If you grow your food organically, without pesticides and herbicides, you’ll spare the earth the burden of unnecessary air and water pollution, for example. You’ll also reduce the use of fossil fuels and the resulting pollution that comes from the transport of fresh produce from all over the world (in planes and refrigerated trucks) to your supermarket.
 Get outdoor exercise.
Planting, weeding, watering and harvesting add purposeful physical activity to your day. If you have kids, they can join in, too. Be sure to lift heavy objects properly, and to stretch your tight muscles before and after strenuous activity. Gardening is also a way to relax, de-stress, center your mind and get fresh air and sunshine.
 Enjoy better-tasting food. 
Fresh food is the best food! How long has the food on your supermarket shelf been there? How long did it travel from the farm to your table? Comparing the flavor of a homegrown tomato with the taste of a store-bought one is like comparing apples to wallpaper paste. If it tastes better, you’ll be more likely to eat the healthy, fresh produce that you know your body needs.
 Build a sense of pride. 
Watching a seed blossom under your care to become food on your and your family’s plates is gratifying. Growing your own food is one of the most purposeful and important things a human can do—it’s work that directly helps you thrive, nourish your family and maintain your health. Caring for your plants and waiting as they blossom and “fruit” before your eyes is an amazing sense of accomplishment.
 Stop worrying about food safety.
With recalls on peanut butter, spinach, tomatoes and more, many people are concerned about food safety in our global food marketplace. When you responsibly grow your own food, you don’t have to worry about contamination that may occur at the farm, manufacturing plant or transportation process. This means that when the whole world is avoiding tomatoes, for example, you don’t have to go without—you can trust that your food is safe and healthy to eat.
 Reduce food waste. 
Americans throw away about $600 worth of food each year! It’s a lot easier to toss a moldy orange that you paid $0.50 for than a perfect red pepper that you patiently watched ripen over the course of several weeks. When it’s “yours,” you will be less likely to take it for granted and more likely to eat it (or preserve it) before it goes to waste. 

Even if you don’t have a big backyard—or any yard for that matter—you can still grow food. Consider container gardening if you have a sunny balcony or patio or an indoor herb garden on a windowsill. You’ll be amazed at how many tomatoes or peppers can grow out of one pot. Or find out if your city has a community garden, where you can tend to your very own plot. Check out to locate a community garden near you.

Whatever your motivation for breaking ground on your own backyard garden, chances are good that you’ll take pleasure in this new healthy hobby, and that your wallet, the environment, your body and your taste buds will thank you.
Urban Farming

The Importance of Home Gardens

Here’s some guidelines for gardeners.

Statistics bear out the significant increase in human population and the millions of acres each year that are taken from native habitat for housing, commercial and industrial uses. Along with these numbers research shows that song birds, meadow birds and their food sources are in great decline.

Beyond the benefits of home food production and increased property values, today suburban landscapes are becoming the lifelines for plants and animals that have lost their native habitat to development. As development continues wildlife is forced to depend upon our human-dominated landscapes for their continued survival.

What is planted in home landscapes plays an important role in determining the future of wildlife. “[G]ardeners have the power to make a significant contribution” toward variety in both plants and animals wrote Dr. Douglas Tallamy in his book, “Bringing Nature Home.” Establishing areas of biodiversity is important to saving our wildlife.

“Biodiversity refers to the richness or variety of animal, plant, and other life in a given area, from the tiniest snail or plant to the largest predator,” wrote Dr. James Finley, Professor of Forest Resources at Penn State. Biodiversity embraces all living things, including humans, and how their existence and survival are interconnected. What each plant and animal provides and needs creates a web of interdependence. As an example, plants need insects for pollination and insects need plants for food. Birds need insects and the berries and seeds from plants as food.

Tallamy, Professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, notes that historically home gardens focused on creating beautiful surroundings, expressing artistic talents with design, and making areas for fun and relaxation. Recent trends show a new focus on design to provide refuge for wildlife and support animals including birds, pollinators and other insects as well as native plants.

The Herb Society of America’s Green Bridges Program™ promotes the idea that individuals can contribute to building a national chain of yards, gardens and communities that support biodiversity, especially for native plants and pollinators. There are four key things that home gardeners can do to support biodiversity: add native plants, support pollinators, reduce lawn area and create an environment that supports the needs of wildlife.

One of the most important things to do is to add native plants, those that grow naturally in our area. Native plants are the most hardy and likely to thrive with less disease or insect problems. Some native plants also filter air and water as well as help maintain soil health. Many ornamental plants, though beautiful, are from Asia and Europe and are avoided by native insects.

Tallamy describes the importance of native plants by explaining that “[a]ll animals get their energy directly from plants, or by eating something that has already eaten a plant. The group of animals most responsible for passing energy from plants to the animals that can’t eat plants is insects. This is what makes insects such vital components of healthy ecosystems. “

Insects, as reported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, make up 99.5% of pollinators. “Pollinators are the very foundation of biodiversity. Almost 90% of flowering plants require animal assisted pollination,” said Laurie Collins, Master Gardener. “In addition to one third of our food, they pollinate other species of plants that provide food and shelter to wildlife.”

Collins also noted that pollinators – bees, other insects, butterflies, birds, bats, and mice – need the plants for shelter and food. Adding host and nectar plants that support pollinators is only half the solution. Correct use of herbicides and insecticides is just as important.

A typical suburban lawn does not support biodiversity. Cornell University reports that compared to native vegetation, non-native heavily treated turfgrass is a biodiversity wasteland. While some sources suggest replacing lawns with native grass, Dr. Peter Landschoot, Director of Graduate Studies in Agronomy at Penn State, notes in our area native grasses are warm-season species. “They stay dormant for most of the year and become overrun by weeds.” He says that property owners need to be comfortable with having grass at heights of 6-18 inches, not always welcome in residential neighborhoods.

Instead convert lawn areas by adding native trees and understory plants to the landscape. This can be along the perimeter or in small areas throughout the property. Tallamy notes that studies show that modest increases in the native plant cover in suburban yards significantly increases the number and species of breeding birds. Additionally, by using lawn space for native plants home owners can reduce the costs of lawn maintenance such as heavy watering, mowing, pesticide and fertilizer applications.

Native trees such as white oaks (Quercus alba), black willows (Salix nigra), red maples (Acer rubrum), green ashes (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), and river birches (Betula nigra), under-planted with woody perennials like serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), and blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are excellent choices for Pennsylvania properties.

Landscape design can help reverse the human-caused habitat loss by providing some or all of the four needs of wildlife: food, water, shelter and nesting areas. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) website has practical suggestions for meeting those needs. Once gardeners have met these needs they can apply to the NWF for a Garden for Wildlife ™ certification.

Providing food can be as simple as seed and suet feeders but including native plants with seeds and berries is important as well. Bird baths are typical for home gardens but rain gardens or ponds can provide water sources that serve frogs and other wildlife. Providing water year-round is important and for bird baths this can be accomplished with a heat source or by swapping out containers during the day.

A rock wall, evergreen tree, wooded area or water garden offers cover from predators. From plain to decorative, birdhouses are some of the best nesting areas when placed correctly. Other nesting sites include mature and evergreen trees, dead trees and even caterpillar host plants such as milkweed. It is also important to make the garden safe for wildlife by protecting the air, water and soil by eliminating or reducing herbicide and pesticide use and adding compost to the soil.

The shifting relationship between humans and the environment has changed the balance of nature. Home gardens are an important building block, along with community gardens, parks and other natural spaces, to replacing lost habitat. Gardeners can help restore some of nature’s balance by designing their landscape with the needs of wildlife in mind.

Urban Farming

Six Benefits of Growing Your Own Food

Get out your gardening tools and stock up on seeds. Growing your own food provides fresh ingredients for your meals, but you’ll soon see other benefits of home gardens that you may not have expected. Here are six ways to make the most of growing your own vegetables:

1. Control your crops

Growing your own produce lets you control what ends up on your family’s table. You decide what fertilizer, water and pest control to use, as well as whether to grow organic. Be sure to do research on the following:

  • Your hardiness zone
  • Plant water needs
  • Plant sunlight needs
  • Fertilizer safety and types
  • Pest and weed control options

2. Live the ‘fresh is best’ lifestyle

Nothing beats flavor-and-nutrient-packed power of fresh-picked fruits and vegetables. Once harvested, produce begins to lose moisture and nutrients. At the grocery store, the freshness of your vegetables is largely out of your control. But when you’ve grow your own fruits and vegetables, you can know exactly when they’ve been picked and how fresh they are.

3. Make your yard inviting

A vegetable and fruit garden can add life, color and beauty to your backyard. The smell of ripening strawberries and the sight of crisp cucumbers are a warm invitation to people and pollinators alike. Plants that sport beautiful flowers to encourage pollination—like beans, peas and fruit trees—can really make a splash in your backyard. Plus, the insects they attract will likely pollinate other plants as well, making your whole garden grow faster.

When you decide where to put your garden, keep in mind what plants may need. Do plants need a lot of sun or a lot of shade—or a little of both? Depends on what you’re growing. Read the tag that comes with the plant or look it up in a gardening guide. Give plants the right amount of sun exposure they need to thrive. Also be careful not to place plants too close together. Follow the spacing instructions to allow plants room to flourish fully.

4. Cut down on your grocery budget

One of the biggest advantages of growing your own food is that it can save you money. The price of a pack of seeds is almost equivalent to what you would pay for a single vegetable or fruit at the store. It may even cost less when you factor in the money spent on the gas used to drive to the supermarket. Plus, you can grow organic vegetables for a fraction of what they retail for in store. When taking food costs into consideration, gardening can become an appealing option to cut back on your grocery bill.

5. Make gardening a family hobby

a girl holding a vegetable in a garden

Gardening is a fun, family-friendly activity that allows kids to get their hands dirty and learn where their food comes from. From planting seedlings to building salads together, starting a vegetable garden is a great way to get your family off the couch and onto their feet.

6. Make your health a priority

There’s one important nutrient gardening can give you before you even take a bite of your produce: vitamin D. The sun’s rays promote vitamin D production, which is vital to our health. Tending a backyard garden for about 30 minutes daily can promote better sleep and positive energy. Just remember the sunscreen.

Now that you see the benefits of starting a vegetable and fruit garden, learn how to plant one in 10 simple steps.

Urban Farming

Backyard Vegetable Garden: Getting Started

How to locate and layout your garden, and prepare your new garden beds.

Working in the garden is also a shared experience for the family, and instills in children an understanding of the natural cycles of growth, which provide lessons of lifelong value.


Our backyard food factory: This is how our family refers to our small backyard vegetable garden. In just 500 square feet (20′ x 25′), we enjoy a wealth of fresh vegetables up to eight months of the year.

Consider the benefits of growing your own vegetables at home:

  • Lowers the cost of providing your family with healthy, organic vegetables
  • Reduces the environmental impact of transporting and warehousing food
  • Makes your meals more personal, tasty, and interesting
  • Connects your family to the natural cycles of weather, growth, and renewal
  • Cultivates mindfulness and provides healthy outdoor exercise
  • Provides wholesome activity and lasting memories for your children

Garden layout: siting and size

Ideally, a backyard vegetable garden should contribute to your family’s well being without taking too much of your scarce free time. This can be achieved with a little planning to get started out right, and a commitment to low-maintenance organic methods, which save time and ensure a healthy garden year after year.

Whether you are growing a single bed for salad greens or a multiple bed “backyard food factory,” consider the following tips before you start digging.

Garden Size

The size you choose for your vegetable garden will be determined by the amount of available space and the amount of energy you wish to commit to the project. Even a 100 square foot garden, grown intensively, can produce a steady supply of salad greens for a family.

Our backyard garden is 20′ x 25′ (500 sq. ft.), and this is an ideal size which provides a variety of vegetables for a family of four, with enough extra to share with neighbors.

Orientation to sun and shade

The plants in your garden will want to face south, and will require a minimum of five hours of direct sunlight per day. Observe the path of shadows during the day from any trees, fences, tall objects, or adjacent buildings in your yard.

Sunlight calculators are available to give you a more precise measurement of sun exposure for choosing ideal planting locations. The area of maximum continuous light will likely be the best location for your garden.

Proximity to trees and root systems

Besides the shading effects of trees, consider the spread of their roots. Locate your garden plot at least 10′ beyond the drip line of any nearby trees. If you must grow close to any trees, you may need to dig a barrier around your garden to block root incursions.

This can be done by digging a narrow trench to hard clay, or at least deeper than existing roots. Set a sheet of galvanized metal roofing, or any inert heavy material that roots cannot penetrate, on edge. Then fill in the trench with the barrier material even with the soil level or slightly above.

Future trees

Planning on adding fruit trees in the future? If so, plan for them now by envisioning a 20′ root spread and the future shading effect of the tree.

Wind exposure

In windy areas, a fence or berm can serve as a wind barrier.


If land is sloped, you will need to terrace the beds. The beds should be level or you will encounter problems with uneven water distribution and erosion. To terrace a bed, build up the low side with boards, flat rocks or wood slabs which are often available for free at sawmills.

Future crop rotations

Reserve space for an extra bed for next season’s use, where some of your plantings will be relocated. When not in use, this bed should be planted in a ‘green manure’ cover crop, which builds soil tilth and adds nutrients while keeping the bed free of weeds.


The design of your garden beds will also influence how you water your crops, so it’s important to think about irrigation when planning your garden. If you’d like to use automated watering, including drip irrigation and soaker hoses, ordering your beds in long, straight rows will save you time and money.

If you plan to use overhead sprinklers, larger, more centrally located beds with smaller paths may be a better option for you.

Garden bed and soil preparation

Any seasoned gardener knows that successful gardening is all about the soil. Once your beds are prepared and the soil is enriched and ready to plant, the bulk of your gardening work is finished. To ensure a healthy, productive garden, consider these basic tips.

How many beds to plant?

Unless you’re planning on planting one very long bed, you’ll need to establish several beds to fit the shape of your garden plot. It’s useful to grow in multiple beds because plants with similar requirements can be grown together, and then rotated to different beds in successive years. Rotating crops is key to retaining healthy crops year after year.

Leave adequate pathways

The pathways between beds should be just wide enough to allow your wheelbarrow to get in. In our garden, this is 21″. If space allows, a 24″ width is ideal. Be careful not to overdo your paths, since weeds can creep in.

How big to make the beds?

Vegetable beds can be any length, but keep the widths under 4′ for ease of weeding, mulching, and tending the plants in the middle of the bed. Longer beds are good choices for gardeners opting for drip irrigation.

How deep to make the beds?

The soil depth depends partly on the crops you want to grow. For raised beds, the height of the beds depends on your preference: taller beds require less bending over for the gardener. To learn more about the ideal depth for planting various crops, see our article Soil Depth Requirements for Raised Beds and Planters.

Raised beds vs. in-ground beds

Colder climates benefit from raised beds because the soil warms faster in spring, which lets you start planting sooner. In hot climates, in-ground beds require less watering than raised beds. Some pros and cons of bed types are listed below, or learn more about raised beds.

In-ground garden beds

  • Easiest way to get a bed established; nothing to build
  • Cheaper than buying lumber for raised beds
  • Pathway weeds can creep into the bed
  • More likely that pets and children will walk on the beds
  • You have to reach further down to tend the plants

Raised garden beds

  • Provide the best drainage and prevent soil compaction
  • Soil warms up more quickly in the spring
  • Prevent weeds from creeping into the bed
  • Are easier to tend the plants because the soil level is raised
  • Serve as a barrier to pests such as slugs and snails

‘Sunken’ raised garden beds

  • By digging down, the pathway topsoil is added to the beds; this is a way to fill raised beds without importing soil.
  • Same benefits as raised beds, but less drainage in wet months
  • Less of a visual impact in the yard. While the beds are 12″ deep, the surface of the beds is only 4″ – 6″ above ground level

Prepare the soil

If the soil in your yard has never been gardened, chances are your vegetables will do well in the first year. This is because untapped nutrients and minerals are available. In subsequent years, however, the gardener’s adage applies: “you get out what you put in.” Taking the following steps will help you get the most from your new garden.

Determine soil pH: acid vs. alkaline

Soil test kits are available for this purpose, although we have never used them. Dandelions thrive at a pH level of about 7.5, and are a sign of alkaline soil, while the presence of moss indicates acidity. Acidic soils (low pH) can be sweetened by adding lime. Alkaline soils (high pH) need gardener’s sulfur and rich organic matter and should be mulched with acidic materials such as pine needles and forest duff. Alkaline soil is more common to arid regions.

“Double-dig” new garden plots

Dig down 12″ – 18″ for first time beds. Turn the soil and remove rocks and roots. Use a pitchfork instead of a shovel because the fork is easier to penetrate and turn hard soil and separate out the rocks. Also this minimizes harm to the valued earthworm population.

Check moisture level

Soil should be dry before planting. It shouldn’t clump or stick to your boots. Provide drainage if necessary by digging a shallow drainage trench alongside the bed, or grow in raised beds for improved drainage.

Develop the right soil texture

Garden soil should be well aerated to promote root growth and worm activity. The soil should be crumbly, not clumpy. Add peat or coir as needed.

Add organic matter

Once the soil is turned and any large clumps are broken up, you can enrich the soil with organic matter. This material should be dug, or hoed, into the top 6″ of soil where is will be available to the root systems of young plants. The best sources for organic matter are:

  • Compost: Compost adds nutrient-rich humus which fuels plant growth and restores vitality to depleted soil. The compost bin is an essential part of any backyard vegetable garden. In close residential neighborhoods, sealed compost units are best because they don’t smell or attract pests or flying insects.There are two basic types of sealed composters: units that stand on the ground and have open bottoms; these usually sell for $50 – $400. Compost tumblers are fully sealed and off the ground, and they sell for $150 – $850. Compost tumblers also speed up the composting process.To learn more about compost and composters, read our Composting Guide. To see our collection of composters for sale, visit our store for Composters and Composting Accessories.
  • Animal manure: cow or horse manure are good sources of organic matter. Ideally, the manure should be well aged so it doesn’t burn any tender transplants. The liability of bringing manure into your garden is the weed seeds it may contain. This can be mitigated through the use of mulch, which covers the ground and blocks light from reaching any weed seeds.
  • Green manure: these are fast growing plants from the legume family that can be easily chopped up and spaded into the soil, adding green organic matter that readily composts into humus. Green manure plants are commonly planted in fall and tilled into the soil in early spring. More information on green manure is on page three of this guide.
  • Sea soil: Many garden centers carry ‘sea soil’ which is a combination of fish by-products and sawdust. Sea soil is rich but not too hot; it can be applied directly to beds.

Add any additional soil amendments

Your garden center will carry products such as bonemeal, bloodmeal, and a variety of amendments, which address specific soil needs. Glacial rock dust is particularly valuable as a soil amendment, especially after the first year of gardening has absorbed available minerals and nutrients.

Rock dust is organic, slow release, and loaded with essential nutrients that your plants need to be healthy throughout the growing season. It will encourage the root systems of trees, lawns, flower, and shrub beds, and of course, vegetable gardens. After a season of gardening you’ll have a better idea of any specific soil deficiencies you may want to address.

Level the soil and rake it smooth

This final touch only takes a few minutes but this enhances uniform water absorption from rain or the sprinkler and encourages more uniform sprouting.

Mulch the paths between beds

Wait until the bed preparation is complete before mulching the pathways. This is because any dirt clods that may fall onto the pathway will encourage weed growth. Scrape away any grass or surface weeds and cover the pathways with two layers of landscape cloth. Then cover with a 2″ layer of bark mulch. This will keep weeds from sprouting in the paths and migrating into the beds.

Avoid stepping on the finished beds

Once the soil is prepared for planting there should be no further need to step on the bed. Stepping on the beds will compress the soil and reduce aeration. If you need to stand on the bed, lay a plank across for walking on. This will spread the weight and minimize soil compaction.

Doing it right the first time

While it may seem like a lot of work to get the beds established for planting, this can be done in stages. You can start with a small plot and enlarge the garden as time and inspiration allow. Remember, the bulk of the work, establishing the beds, only has to be done once. Once in place, nutrients can be added by ‘top dressing’, and will not require heavy digging or strenuous work.

The best advice we can give is to put your attention to building rich, organic soil. It is amazing how plants which are bedded in rich soil will grow vigorously and have a natural resistance to insect pests and plant diseases. And as plants grow rapidly and their vegetative growth expands, soil-borne weeds become blocked out and less of a nuisance.

How to Build and Nourish Healthy Garden Soil
6 Tips for Building Soil in your Raised Garden Beds and Planters

Rich, organic soil is not something you buy in a bag, it is developed and nurtured year after year, using strategies such as crop rotation, green manures between crop rotations, and the occasional applications of peat to reduce compaction and rock phosphate to ensure adequate phosphorus.

Learning the basics of soil development is not difficult, it just requires some attention early in the season, before planting any crops, and during the season in between successive crop plantings. To learn more about about this important aspect of gardening, read our articles:

A well-planned and prepared garden will provide many years of productivity with relatively minimal routine maintenance.

Backyard vegetable garden series:

Getting Started

Garden Layout
Garden Bed and Soil Preparation

Growing Your Garden

What to Plant
Planting Basics

Enjoying the Bounty

Simple Maintenance
Harvesting and Storing

Urban Farming

8 Surprising Health Benefits of Gardening

Planting flowers and vegetables can reap bountiful bouquets and delicious harvests for your dining table. But did you know gardening also can do wonders for your well-being? Here are eight surprising health benefits of gardening.

1. Gardening can build self-esteem. 

Maybe you don’t think you were born with a green thumb, but after tilling, planting, nurturing and harvesting plants, you might see a slightly different person in the mirror: a person who can grow things and is a little more in tune with the earth. 

It always feels good to accomplish new tasks, and if you can grow a garden, what can’t you do?

2. Gardening is good for your heart. 

All that digging, planting and weeding burns calories and strengthens your heart. 

“There are physical benefits from doing the manual labor of gardening,” says UNC Health internal medicine physician Robert Hutchins, MD, MPH. “It’s hard work to garden, and it provides some cardiovascular benefit.”

3. Gardening reduces stress.

Gardening can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

“Gardening gives you a chance to focus on something and put your mind to work with a goal and a task in mind,” Dr. Hutchins says, “which is helpful especially now with so much illness and death and talk of death, just to see things growing and things thriving.” 

4. Gardening can make you happy. 

Getting dirt under your nails while digging in the ground can make you pretty happy. In fact, inhaling M. vaccae, a healthy bacteria that lives in soil, can increase levels of serotonin and reduce anxiety. 

5. Gardening can improve your hand strength.  

All that digging, planting and pulling does more than produce plants. Gardening also will increase your hand strength. What a great way to keep your hands and fingers as strong as possible for as long as possible.

6. Gardening is good for the whole family.

Gardening can be a solo activity or an opportunity for bonding with your family and friends. The happiness and stress relief that gardening provides is a great thing to share with loved ones. Also, gardening has special benefits for kids. Early exposure to dirt has been linked to numerous health benefits, from reducing allergies to autoimmune diseases.

7. Gardening can give you a boost of vitamin D. 

A healthy dose of vitamin D increases your calcium levels, which benefits your bones and immune system. Exposure to sunlight helped older adults achieve adequate amounts of vitamin D. Just don’t forget your sunscreen.

8. Growing your own food can help you eat healthier. 

If you have a vegetable or herb or fruit garden, you’re getting fresh produce that you know hasn’t been treated with pesticides.

“It’s essentially as farm-to-table as it gets,” Dr. Hutchins says, “if you’re eating what you’re growing.”

Talk to your doctor about the benefits of gardening. If you need a doctor, find one near you.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published April 20, 2017 and was updated on May 18, 2020.

Urban Farming

The Advantages of Home Gardens

Home gardens take on many forms, from a few plants in containers to large garden plots in the backyard. Beyond the reward of homegrown produce, the benefits of gardening as a hobby include health, environmental and enjoyment advantages for the gardener. The benefits of a home garden make the physical exertion and costs of gardening worth the effort.

Easy Access to Produce

A home garden gives you instant access to fresh produce, so that you’re not forced to visit the grocery store or farmers market to find it. You save time and money on gasoline rather than driving somewhere else to buy your produce. Depending on the type of vegetables you plant, you’ll also save money on the food itself.

Growing vegetables at home does cost money on seeds and supplies, such as fertilizer, but a single plant often produces lots of produce, so that you often save money by growing your own. A backyard garden opens up new flavoring options or recipes. For example, if you feel like serving salsa but don’t have a jar on hand, you can use tomatoes, peppers and onions from your garden to make your own.

Among the benefits of gardening for students and kids, The University of Vermont notes that those who grow their own food tend to eat more fresh produce. Having a hand in the production of fruits and vegetables increases the likelihood that kids will experiment with new foods.

Control over Inputs

Growing your own food gives you complete control over the chemicals and products used during the growing process. Organic produce typically costs more at the grocery store, but you can grow your own organic fruits and vegetables at home by skipping the chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

A home garden allows you to pick the produce when it is ripe, unlike produce at the store that is often harvested before it is fully ripe. The flavor and quality of the freshly picked produce from a home garden is superior to store-bought produce with unknown chemicals that was likely picked several days or weeks before being sold. The produce retains more nutrients when consumed shortly after harvesting, making your homegrown vegetables a healthier option.

Less Environmental Impact

garden provides the opportunity to make a positive environmental impact. A compost pile allows you to recycle certain kitchen and yard waste products into a nutrient-rich additive for the garden. This reduces the waste you produce and provides natural fertilizer for your plants.

If you choose to avoid or limit chemical use, you reduce pollution and groundwater contamination from your gardening activities. Garden plants often help reduce erosion by holding the soil in place. Mulching around plants in your home garden further reduces erosion and runoff.

The importance of gardening at home extends beyond human health and diets. Planting native species and plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife helps support the birds and other animals that live among us, notes PennState Extension.

Benefits of Gardening as Hobby

For many homeowners, planting a garden provides enjoyment. Watching your garden go from bare ground to ripe produce or beautiful plants offers a sense of satisfaction. Some gardeners find the activity relaxing and stress-relieving, for overall mental health benefits.

Caring for the plants gives the entire family a chance to work together. If you have neighbors who also garden, the activity sometimes offers social interaction. Gardening also offers a form of moderate outdoor exercise.

Urban Farming

Everything You Need to Know About Backyard Farming

Why you should convert your lawn to food production

 pri02 Send an emailAugust 24, 20192 4 minutes read

Yearning for more sustainable living, an organic garden, but don’t know where to start? Dreaming of eating healthy vegetables and less processed foods?

The solution lies in your backyard. Whether you live on a small lot in the city or a piece of land outside town, there’s a lot to benefit from by having your own backyard farm.

Here is a quick start-up guide that will help you learn more about backyard farming.

Why you need to start backyard farming

Converting your lawn to a garden requires time, effort and will even suck up your resources. But, there’s a payoff.

Here’s are the benefits of backyard farming;

– Saving on groceries

One of the benefits of growing your own vegetables is reducing your monthly food bill. You can grow your own groceries at a fraction of the cost in the stores. You will also be reducing your carbon footprint by reducing food miles. 

– Get to increase your physical activity

Before you even take a bite, you will benefit from vitamin D from the hours spent outdoors, which is vital for your health. Tending your backyard for 30 minutes daily is also a good source of physical activity which can help you burn calories and eventually lose weight and live a less sedentary lifestyle.

 Eat Healthily

Reducing your intake of processed foods and vegetables is a great step towards healthy living. Picking vegetables right from your garden will reduce your chemical intake from pesticides used on the vegetables. Vitamin and mineral content is also higher for freshly picked vegetables.

– Stress reliever

Gardening is a hobby to many and a stress reliever that leaves them feeling rejuvenated and happy overall.

Getting started

As a new gardener, starting on the wrong foot is a common fear that you might experience. Here are a few points to help you when starting a backyard farm.

Start small

Most new gardeners have high expectations when starting backyard farming. While it is important to have lofty goals, don’t set the bar too high when starting. Having high expectations might kill your motivation when the results turn out to be small or slow in coming.

You will be surprised at how much you can grow in a small area using the latest backyard farming techniques. Think of starting with a raised bed, or even a collection of container plants. All that is needed is a little creativity to trade in your high expectations and watch your garden become lush with beautiful plants.

Commit to 30 minutes a day

Or even less, depending on your yard size.

It is common to feel overwhelmed by the things that need to be done when starting out in backyard farming. Well, you don’t have to do it all at once. Have a 30-minutes-a-day strategy and you will realise how much you can get done when doing it consistently.

What should I grow?

Grow what your family likes eating.

No one would love to watch their family at the dinner table forcing themselves to eat what they don’t like just because you grew it.

So, be honest. Only grow what your family will enjoy eating.

Make a list, of what your family loves and needs in most of their meals. This will save you the agony of watching your hard work go to waste just because your family doesn’t like it.

After making a list, now figure out what does well in your climate and grow it. You can try growing plants that don’t do well in your climate with greenhouse techniques later, but for now, go for the easy wins.

Think of the perennials

All that most new gardeners see is growing vegetables. But what they later learn is that annual vegetables need to be worked on a lot. And, it might be unnecessary to do so much work when there are other low-maintenance crops they can plant.

Avoid getting overwhelmed by giving perennial crops a chance. You will benefit from products that come year after year without so much work. Some examples of perennials are strawberries, herbs, artichokes, asparagus and fruit trees.

If you have little time for your yard, perennials should be your top priority.

Get creative ideas from books

Get a book to read about backyard farming and watch your creativity soar with ideas.

You can also scan a lot of online resources for great farming ideas, especially small personal gardening blogs and YouTube videos. You will be amazed at how much people have been able to grow in even tiny yards.

Learn to deal with bugs

Avoid pesticides and research organic pest solutions and preventive ways to deal with any pest outbreak.

In conclusion

Backyard farming should be fun, don’t let it feel like it’s a chore. Just start small, incorporate all these concepts one at a time, and watch your yard flourish with healthy, nutritious plants you can use for your meals.