10 Questions Before You Start Growing Food

(Updated: April 28, 2021)

As extreme weather conditions from climate change continue to affect the whole world, the recent rise in food prices is becoming a new-normal. It is also just beginning to show the vital flaws in many of the worlds economic food and natural material industries. This among other effects makes growing food even more essential for everyone. No matter how big or small of a garden you can grow, any little bit helps. Not sure how to begin? Here’s our list of questions to answer before you start:

1. Do you have the legal right to garden and grow food where you live?

This can be as simple as having permission from your HOA (Home Owners Association), landlord, or the landowner (if that isn’t you). Remember to check your deed restrictions for easements, because you may need a city permit to garden in that area. You should also call a utility location service before you install anything for growing food, to make sure your garden won’t be ripped out to access a broken water main or to run new internet lines. 

Picture of Cris driving a short shovel into the ground to set the perimeter of a new six foot by two foot raised bed made from two-by-fours anchored by square cement pavers with slots in the middle of each side. Behind the new raised bed area is another already established raised bed made from the same kind of materials with multiple food plants already growing in it and the diverse sized and shaped pots around it.
Installing a new raised bed in my mom’s backyard. She lives in a neighborhood with a strict HOA, so we are limited on space to grow things. But that won’t stop us from growing food where ever we can!

2. What is your budget?

This is a personal choice. Many people starting out don’t have a lot of money to work with, or have no idea how much certain tools or garden improvements such as hardscaping cost. If you can only spend $100, then pay attention to that. Note that growing food need not be complicated or expensive. You can start off with as little as $10, or even barter for stuff to begin. Don’t forget the ability to rethink waste by repairing and/or repurposing objects that others are simply throwing away. Old heat-treated pallets being discarded by a nearby business? Make raised beds from them! Food scraps/lawn trimmings/leaf litter being bagged up and sent to a landfill by neighbors, friends, and/or family? Collect those bags yourself to compost it into healthy fresh soil! You can also regrow food from certain scraps!

3. How much time do you have to commit to growing food?

Be real with yourself. Don’t plan or plant a 1,000 square foot (approximately 93 meters squared) garden if you only have 30 minutes a week to tend it. Keep the size to the amount of time you can reasonably handle so you don’t become discouraged or overwhelmed. Remember that you can always extend the size of your garden later, after the plants you started with become more established and less reliant on help from you. This is also why we encourage regenerative growing practices. Plants want to grow and thrive. Growing along with Nature (like by using companion planting and native landscaping techniques for example) makes self-reliant food forests that don’t require never-ending hard labor from you to survive.

4. How long will you be there?

Many people are afraid to start gardening because they don’t know how long they will be living where they are. Plant in containers you can either take with you or gift to other neighbors. Chances are there is someone near you who loves plants and will adopt your babies if you have to leave them behind. Another option is an annual garden, since annual plants only live for a year. Many food plants are annuals, and several varieties are suitable for containers. As you advance your gardening abilities, you can also collect seeds from your established plants in order to grow the same variety at your new home. Heirloom seeds are ideal for seed-saving. Taking a cutting to regrow from is also an option for certain plants.

Picture of a small about two foot tall elderberry tree growing in a garden bed area covered by red mulch for moisture retention. In the background is the base of a large mature pine tree semi-surrounded by hedge bushes.
Our little elderberry tree that started as a cutting from an older one we had established on our previous property in Atascosa. It established roots and survived the recent Texas Freeze in a pot while we were staying in England. It’s now loving it’s new mulched bed growing space.

5. What do you eat regularly?

This is the number one question I ask people that they have a hard time answering, but it is the most important. You can grow beautiful crops but if no one will eat them, there is no point. Use your space to grow food that you will eat and enjoy. The easiest way to figure out what to grow is to track what you buy (Downloadable) for at least a month. 

6. What’s the most expensive thing you eat?

This question is another one to get you thinking. Often there is something you enjoy but rarely buy because it’s too expensive. Sadly, this will be the case for even more food items as the weather extremes continue. Chances are you can grow some of the more costly items you enjoy. Keep your grocery bills down and be able to treat yourself.

7. How much shade is there where you’ll be growing food? 

This is a technical question that helps determine what you can grow on your site. The rule of thumb is for leaves (like lettuce or other greens) you need around 3 hours of sunlight, but for roots (like carrots, potatoes or beets) and fruits (like tomatoes, squash, or cucumber) you need at least 6 hours.

Picture of a long curvy organic purple sweet potato sitting in a short  drinking glass on a windowsill with it's bottom submerged in water. The water submerged part of the sweet potato has multiple green sprouts with small leaves growing up out of the water and many white roots growing down towards the bottom of the glass.
An organic purple sweet potato we are sprouting on the kitchen windowsill for plenty of sunshine.

8. How close is your growing food site to water access?

You can have the best-laid plans for growing food but if your garden isn’t close to a water source, it won’t get watered. Try carrying a 1 gallon (3.78 Liter) watering can more than 50 feet (15.24 meters) multiple times in a row, and you’ll see what I mean. Most people would end up injuring themselves or just give up. So make it a little easier on yourself by keeping your water source in mind during the planning and building stages.

9. Do you need to protect against two-legged or four-legged marauders?

This helps you plan for protecting your harvest. Sometimes humans are a little light-fingered if your garden is within their reach, so plant and plan accordingly. You’ll also likely have wildlife that wants to sample your efforts, like deer, raccoons, or squirrels. My suggestion is to plant enough to share. Supporting a healthy community around yourself is vital to a sustainable food source. Those other living beings, especially the wildlife, have their own helpful purposes in a garden. Most fruiting plants wouldn’t produce anything with out native pollinators, like bees, ants, and wasps.

Picture of a fuzzy bee hanging onto the outside of a white dome made of multiple vitex flowers while collecting yellow pollen on it's back legs.
A bee pollinating our previous vitex tree. Vitex berries are edible and medicinal. And they would not have been available to us without this little one’s help.

10. What is your climate? (Tropical, Desert, Temperate, Polar, etc.)

This helps you determine if that plant you are desperately trying to grow will survive where you live. Gardeners tend to not like restrictions and try to grow things that don’t do well in their climate. Save yourself the heartbreak and stick to growing food plants from your local area. Bonus if they are native to your climate because they will be easier to care for.

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4 Replies to “10 Questions Before You Start Growing Food”

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