Backyard vegetable garden

Imagine a life where you do not have to go to the grocery store to buy food … ever. The only time you need to venture to the store is for a non-food product or for an indulgence like chocolate, ice cream, cheese, or whatever other cravings you have. This is the life that I currently live. I grow all of the food that I eat year-round in the backyard of my typical American house. You can do this too by converting your grass lawn to a vegetable garden.

Grass backyard before urban farm
My backyard when it was still grass, July 2016.
Backyard urban farm
My urban farm, three years later, July 2019.

Get Planting

To truly replace the food you buy at the store with what you grow yourself, you’re going to need a 4,000 square feet (40 feet x 10 feet) space for one person. Add an additional 1,000 square feet (10 feet x 10 feet) for each additional person. Some vegetables, such as broccoli, take up a lot of space. Other vegetables, such as lettuce, take up a very small amount of space. They even grow back after you cut them, giving you multiple harvests in a small amount of space.

You can grow food in the space you have available, whether it’s a front yard, backyard, patio, or deck. Don’t just think about growing your vegetables horizontally, expand into vertical gardening. Beans and squashes can very easily be grown vertically, which dramatically expands the amount of food you can grow in a small space. This type of thinking is particularly helpful for apartment dwellers.

What you can’t grow yourself (or what fails), buy from your favorite local farm that has sustainable growing practices that you want to support. This will give you the lowest carbon footprint — and the tastiest food.

Planting Choices

Urban farm in 2020
Vegetables and flowers growing on my backyard urban farm in 2020.

Each type of vegetable requires a certain temperature range to grow properly and also requires a certain amount of growing time before it is ready to harvest. You can grow most vegetables almost anywhere in the world but you have to learn what the vegetables like so you know when to plant them based on the weather cycles where you live.

Of course, you want to plant only foods that you know you’ll eat. Here are other tips to help your homegrown veggies flourish

Learn About Companion Planting

Companion planting is important for keeping your plants happy. Not all vegetables get along with each other so plant them next to their friends.

Keep Your Soil Healthy

Soil health is the secret key to having healthy vegetables. Your vegetables pull the nutrients they need out of the soil which also helps them to fight off pests. If your soil is not diverse and does not have life in it, then you will not have healthy vegetables Build up your soil health by composting your food scraps and rotating your crops. It can take years to build up your soil so patience is needed but it is worth the wait as your plants get healthier and more bountiful each year.

Provide Windbreaks

Perennials, such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, make great additions to your garden and help protect it from strong winds and storms. Plant these tasty perennials on the side of the garden that the wind comes from. Perennials also pull a lot of carbon out of the air and leak it into the soil. The carbon, combined with the very long roots of perennials, helps improve your soil.

Protect Your Veggies From Pests — Naturally

Plant fragrant flowers and herbs (such as marigolds, mint, bee balm, and borage) among your vegetable paradise. While pollinators love them, most pests hate these types of fragrant plants. So by planting them throughout your garden, you are building in a natural pest control system while also giving your honey bees more food.

Enjoy Your Harvest

One weekend harvest in October
A single weekend harvest in early October of 2021, which came out to a whopping 64 pounds (29 kilos).

Cooking with fresh vegetables is very easy. If you ask any self-respecting chef how to make good food, the very first thing they will say is you get the freshest ingredients you can. When your vegetables are fresh, they are already full of flavor. The best recipe for most of your vegetables is to add a little bit of olive oil to a pan, slice your vegetables, then add them to the pan with a dash of salt. Once the veggies are soft, they are done; get ready to experience a flavor explosion that you’ve never had with store-bought produce.

Throughout the growing season as you harvest your food, preserve what you can’t eat now for use in the winter. Blanching and freezing is the easiest way to preserve your bounty and can be done with anything except for lettuce (lettuce is too thin to make it through freezing/unfreezing intact). Juice your lettuce (along with other greens), add a little lime, put it in a jar, and freeze it. (Add the thawed juiced lettuce to rice, quinoa, couscous, or other dishes to add some garden-fresh zest to your winter cooking.) It won’t take long before you have a freezer full of vegetables that you can easily and quickly thaw and cook during the winter.

If your freezer is full and you still have more vegetables than you can use, you can share the bounty from your vegetable paradise of a yard with your neighbors, friends, family, or food bank. Or you could sell the excess food at your local farmers market, giving you a brand-new side hustle in addition to a year’s worth of food. Now that is something that grass will never provide you with!

Photos courtesy of James Lissy. Feature image: Adobe Stock

About the Author

James LissyJames Lissy is an avid urban farmer who is able to grow over a year’s worth of food in the backyard of his typical American house. James writes about these adventures on his blog, Grass to Veggies, which also contains a free guide that shows you how you can grow your own food too.

 

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