Once you’ve got the basics down, your seeds planted, and your beds watered, you might be wondering what’s next! Gardening is as much art as it is science, and there are so many ways you can personalize the experience for yourself and your family!
For the Budding Artist
Why stick to seed packets and plastic plant markers? Make some colorful labels to your sprouts apart! You can paint rocks or mason jar lids with a picture of the crop, use popsicle sticks, clothespins, or twigs and a permanent marker, or even use pieces of broken terra cotta pots. This is a great family-friendly activity and a fun way to add some personality and flair to your garden! Find more crop label ideas and activities here.
For the Upcycling Environmentalist
We’re here to tell you there’s no right place to garden. As long as you have soil, sun, and water, you can grow a vegetable in just about anything. If you’re starting seeds indoors, raid your recycling bin! You can use clean yogurt cups, milk cartons, egg cartons, even a paper towel roll! Check out some tips and tricks from Big Green here. If you’re planting permanently in containers, make sure they’re big enough for your plants to grow to maturity, and have fun with them! A wooden crate can be home to several inexpensive grow pots, upcycled barrels make great herb planters, and we’ve even seen tomatoes thrive in galvanized buckets!
For the Backyard Scientist
Want to know how you can make your garden’s soil even better? Amend it! Soil amending is the process of adding material to the soil to make it a better place to grow plants. Without amending, your plants will start to use up the available nutrients in the soil. With fewer nutrients, your plants will not grow as well and may even die. Bottom line, amending the soil is important.
The best time to amend your soil will be right before planting or right after harvesting. Plants pull their nutrients from the soil as they grow, so you will need to add those nutrients back into the soil before or after growing more food. If you do find yourself needing to add or replace nutrients to your soil while your garden is full of plants, you can ‘Top Dress’ a garden with compost by spreading it across the surface of the soil and working it into the top inch so as not to disturb the roots. You can also look to other methods of fertilizing your garden. Explore your options here.
For the Scrap Saver
Speaking of soil amendment, compost is an amazing place to start, and you can easily make your own! Composting happens when microorganisms break down organic matter into soil-like matter which we call compost. Compost is decomposed organic matter and is a great way to give your garden an extra boost of nutrients. Decomposition breaks down plants to their base elements making each available to be absorbed by new plants. Adding compost increases the amount of water that your soil can hold, improves soil structure, adds beneficial microorganisms, and contains nutrients plants need to grow.
You need space and scraps to start composting on your own, but not much else. To get started, find a spot in your backyard where you can make a compost pile or bin. If you’re feeling crafty, there are lots of different ways to make a compost bin — just google it! Once you’re ready, start layering items according to our list!
Brown Leaves. Always top it with a layer of brown leaves. (straw, shredded paper bags, or newspaper also works).
Kitchen Scraps. Cut them up small so they decompose faster.
Grass Clippings. Provides nitrogen
Brown Leaves. This layer could also be straw, shredded paper bags, etc.
Green Leaves. These provide nitrogen too!
Wood Chips/Twigs. Makes space for aeration.
You must keep your pile moist, it should be wet but not dripping. You should aerate your compost by mixing your pile at least once a week, which will help it decompose faster. Keep it covered if possible. It will take a few months to get your first compost, but it’s worth the wait! There’s lots to know about composting but don’t let that stop you from dabbling — nature will take charge! Find more resources and a handy household guide for all ages here.
For the Seed Saver
- Save you money – you don’t need to buy seed packets or seedlings each year
- Protect plant diversity – especially with heirloom varieties of plants! The practice of seed saving allows you to save and regrow specific plant varieties that you may not be able to find elsewhere.
- Adapt your plants to your environment – over time, seeds from a plant grown in a specific climate can adapt to that climate. Plants that are better adapted to your specific environment generally yield more produce than plants that are struggling to adapt.
- Build connections – seed saving allows you to be more in touch with your garden, and swapping seeds with others builds connections with your community.
However, not all plants and seeds are created equal – some require a bit more time or work in order to save seeds successfully. Here is a guide for some of the easiest seeds to save!
- Beans and peas are the easiest seeds to save! These seeds are ready to save when the pod turns brown and the seeds start to dry. Remove the beans or peas from the pod, and make sure to dry completely before storing (these are large seeds, and can take 4-6 weeks to dry).
- Herbs flower and produce seeds, which you can collect and dry.
- Flower seeds are fun to save too. Remove the dried flower pod from the plant. Open it up, and save the seeds inside. Flower seeds can be very, very small. Be careful when separating them from the plant!
- Pepper seeds should be very familiar to any gardener or chef! Pick a ripe pepper, cut it open, and carefully remove the seeds. Make sure the seeds dry before storing.
- Tomato seeds are great to save, but they’re coated in a gel that should be removed before storing. Here are some tips.
- Squeeze the seeds and gel into a jar, and add an equal amount of water.
- Leave the jar on your counter away from direct sunlight, and stir the contents each day. You’ll start to see the good seeds drop to the bottom, and bad seeds float to the top with any debris.
- After a few days, you’ll notice mold start to form on the top of the liquid. At this point, separate the good seeds on the bottom from the debris that floated to the top. Carefully rinse the seeds a few times and lay them out to dry.
For the Harvest Hoarder
With help from the Million Gardens community, you’re sure to have some epic harvests on your hands. While there’s nothing better than fresh veggies, straight from the source, perfectly pickled veggies sure come close! Pickling is a form of preservation and it’s dead easy. With some basic ingredients and a few kitchen staples, you pickle any veggie you want! Try it out! Once you’ve mastered the fine art of pickling, don’t stop! Fermentation is another way to preserve your harvest, and drying fresh herbs means you can amp up the flavor of your cooking all year long.