5 Quick Tips on Starting Your Own Garden

April 21, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Brad Moldofsky

If Earth Day isn’t enough to encourage you to grow something, then I don’t know what can make you plant some seeds. But if you’re just afraid of failure, here’s a few vegetable gardening tips to help you out.

  • Start with small pots, small seeds and fresh soil. Putting seeds in a plot on your lawn leaves them exposed to whatever weeds or grass want to encroach on your little garden. Container gardening gives you the flexibility to, say, move everything to the porch if Chicago decides to host a late-May frost.
  • Go with the packaged garden. There are several novelty products designed to take the brainwork out of growing your own vegetables. Raspberries and tomatoes can be strung from the ceiling. If money is no object, a tiny indoor herb garden with its own growing light can be yours for the cost of a mid-range mp3 player. If you can’t grow something edible from one of these, well, I can understand if you wouldn’t want to tell people about it.
  • Collards, rhubarb or potatoes. Try these outdoors. They thrive in Chicagoland climate and many animals don’t find them as appealing as tomatoes or cucumbers. I personally found it difficult to kill my collards last year. They kept springing back. And not a single potato was pilfered by a rodent.
  • Provide good drainage but watch the weather. Especially if your plants are in containers, you need to assume they’ll be hit by a deluge and prepare to let that water go somewhere. Also, growing food not only brings you in touch with the soil below, but makes you more aware of the sky above. Many (if not most) plants around hereĀ don’t like to be watered every day. Keeping an eye on the weather report can help you plan ahead to avoid overwatering.
  • Consider what failure means. So you’ve wasted a seed and a little water. Big whoop. The worst thing that happens is that you learned a lesson about gardening the hard way. Every garden is its own little ecosystem and it’s your job to know your land better than anybody else. If you can’t grow food, figure out why and use that knowledge to try again next year.

Now go out and grow some local food already!



    1. Tony says:

      I planted potatoes for the first time in my little garden last year and I was delighted with the results. I had some fingerling potatoes that had a few sprouts on then, so I saved them and let them continue to sprout. Then I buried them in the ground and was rewarded with delicious little potatoes later that summer. However, I was surprised that the fingerlings I planted yielded a more rounded/oval-shaped potato and not fingerlings! Fresh potatoes are really delicious!

    2. Tim Magner says:

      Included in the reasons to grow some of your own food ought to be better tasting food. If that’s not enough, consider:
      -outdoor exercise (which can lead to better health and lower healthcare bills)
      -less fossil fuel use (which can lead to less pollution and lower taxes)

      And if not at home, ask your children’s school to add a garden (and incorporate reading, writing, math, science and social studies curriculum with it). For more information (and grants), consider:

      Valerie Keener at Illinois Department of Natural Resources:


      See you outside,
      Tim Magner

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