Mindfulness, Miscellaneous, Zero Waste Living

The ‘So Big it Should’ve Been an E-book’ Guide to Growing Your Own Vegetables (Zero Waste Style)

You ready to learn everything there is to know about vegetable gardening?

Ok, so maybe this guide doesn’t include EVERYTHING, but I have to admit, it’s pretty dang close. This guide is so huge, that it honestly should have been broken up into at least 3-4 different posts, or even put out as an e-book, but here we are.

When I first started out writing this post, I never imagined it would get to be so, well, jam-packed full of information. But as I just kept writing, I kept coming up with things I just HAD to include!

This guide is perfect for if you are brand new to gardening, or even an intermediate gardener. This guide is also perfect for gardening in any sized space! Seriously – apartment, community garden, a yard, whatever you have, I’ve got information on how to do it.

Of course, being in the business of helping you and others learn how to reduce, I included tips on not only how to grow a veggie garden, but also how to keep it low/zero waste!

Gardening is a great way to reduce waste through less food packaging, fewer emissions from traveling (did you know the average food item travels 1500 miles from farm to table?), and more.

You also know exactly where your food has come from, exactly how it has been treated for pests and diseases, AND, it’s full of fresh nutrients because you’re eating it right from the source.

And I won’t even get into the physical and mental health benefits of gardening, because there are so many that it would be a separate post. Just know that it’s super good for you! And it’s fun! And it’s a great activity to get the whole family involved! And it’s fun!

Ok, I’m done.

Let’s get into gardening!



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how to help fix climate change


How to get your vegetable garden started

Determine what vegetables you want to grow by looking at the following criteria (I will go into detail of each one):

  • analyze your space (balcony or yard?)
  • figure out what type of gardening will work best for you: container, raised bed, or directly into the ground?
  • how much sun do you get?
  • what zone are you in?
  • how much time can you spend?
  • budget


Analyze your garden space availability

How much space do you have to devote to a garden? This will greatly determine the types of vegetables you will be able to grow.

Apartment/condo balcony (or other small space): Have a small space? Have no fear! There are lots of vegetables and herbs that can be grown in pots – tomatoes and peppers just to name a couple of popular ones. In fact, while I have a yard for a garden, I only grow peppers in pots because I have had more success that way!

Depending on the size of your balcony, you could even use a raised bed.

Supplies recommended:

  • Pots/containers: If you’re going the pot route, check in your local community through Craigslist, Buy Nothing groups, Freecycle.org, or Facebook Marketplace for anyone giving away pots. You can even join local gardening groups on Facebook – often gardeners have a ton of pots to get rid of. I’ve received all of my pots secondhand and for FREE!
  • Raised garden bed: If you have space and are looking for a little more room for planting, you can opt to build/purchase a raised garden bed. Places from your local hardware store to Amazon have raised garden bed kits. You could also look secondhand for one, or locally for someone to build one for you. Or, you can look on Pinterest for a ton of great DIY tutorials to build your own and tips including what type of wood to use (untreated, preferably) and other helpful information!





  • Dirt: Whether you decide to go with pots or a raised bed, you’re going to need dirt! The thing to keep in mind about dirt is that it can be expensive and you may be surprised as to how much you will need. You can get dirt from any garden or hardware store. There are a ton of options and price points, so you’ll need to do some research as to what kind will work best for you.

There are some tricks to reducing the amount of dirt you will need to help save money and reduce waste.

Depending on the size pot or raised bed you have, you can put a layer or two of rocks along the bottom to take up some space. I have also used small containers (like a 16-ounce yogurt container) to reduce the amount of space in a large pot.

Finally, before buying any dirt, you can check locally to see if anyone is giving some away. If people are re-landscaping they will often have a ton of dirt they are anxious to get rid of. Head over with a handful of buckets or boxes and fill up!

  • Tomato cages: The only other piece of equipment you may need are tomato cages, depending on what type of vegetables you are planning to grow. If you are growing, well, tomatoes, or peppers, you will need one for each pot. You can find these at any garden or hardware store, or secondhand (check first) through local community groups or by asking friends or family. This is how I got ALL of my tomato cages!
  • Trellis: If you’re planning on planting something like beans, cucumbers, or peas, you’ll want a trellis. Again, look second hand, or you can easily DIY your own with scrap wood and some yarn/twine/string.
  • Plant markers: It is very helpful to keep track of what is growing where, especially when your seedlings/transplants are small and hard to differentiate. There are tons of options for plant markers including wooden spoons, plastic silverware, popsicle sticks, rocks, corks, and more. A Pinterest search will give you TONS of ideas.
  • Gardening gloves: Gardening gloves aren’t necessary, but I personally prefer using them. I don’t use anything fancy, just regular ole gardening gloves. You should be able to get them at garden centers, hardware stores, Target, etc. Don’t forget to look for them second-hand first at your local thrift shop or local community groups!
G & F 1852-3 Women Soft Jersey Garden Gloves, Women Work Gloves, 3-Pairs Green/Pink/Blue per Pack
  • Hand tools: Hand tools come in really handy (ha!) when gardening. When looking for hand tools, not all items are made equal. Like most things, some are better quality than others, which means they will last longer than others. I’ve had some tools that were a great deal, but broke after one season. To keep your garden as waste-friendly as possible, if you can, opt for a better quality item so it lasts as long as possible. I’ve had some of the same tools for over 10 years, and others that have been passed down from my dad after years of use.

As always, I would highly recommend checking second hand first at your local thrift store, through friends and family members, or in your local community groups. And remember, if you using a community garden, check to see if they have garden tools for use!

I have two Friskars brand hand shovels, and they are great. They are really heavy duty and high quality. I’ve had them for years.

Fiskars Softouch Garden Tool 3 Piece Set, 70676935J

The three tools pictured above are the ones I find that I use the most. The hand shovel on the left is for general, everyday digging.

The rake-type tool in the middle is great for loosening the soil and digging out weeds.

The shovel with the ruler on the right is great for planting seeds or live plants. You can use the ruler to determine how deep you’re planting, as well as for how far apart you’re planting (important factors – see below).

Additionally, I was gifted a garden tool set similar to the one below:



  • The clippers (pruning) tool is helpful for harvesting herbs, but regular scissors would do as well.
  • I found that I didn’t use the spray bottle for gardening – it ended up being a toy for my son.
  • The flat looking rake (second from the bottom right)? I *think* it is another way to work the soil, but I just use it similarly to the other rake.
  • The tool that looks like a snake tongue (middle, bottom row) is great for weeding!


When it comes to tools, while it is nice to have all of the fancy options, you don’t NEED to have them. Figure out what will work best for you. A lot of it will depend on the space you’re dealing with too. If you’re working with containers/pots or a smaller raised bed, you probably won’t need to be working the soil or doing major weeding all that often.

One final thing about tools: take care of them! Make sure they are stored clean and dry somewhere that will protect them from the elements. If you do so, they should last you a long time!

  • Water: Finally, no matter what type of gardening you are planning on doing, you’re going to need access to water. Whether that is through a hose attached to an outdoor water spiget or by filling up watering cans from inside your home, make sure you know how you’re going to give your plants something to drink!


Hose: If you need to purchase a hose, there are a couple of different options. A regular ole hose, or a soaker hose. A soaker hose has small holes all around it that slowly release water to provide your plants a nice, slow drink.

A soaker hose is not necessary but can be nice. I have one that was passed down from my dad and use it if I’m going on vacation. That way our house sitter can just turn on the hose and an hour later turn it back off (I’m telling you, it is a slow soak of water). Other than that, I don’t find I use them very often.

A sprinkler would also work well for large spaces!

Whether you decide to get a regular hose or a soaker hose, I would HIGHLY recommend looking second-hand before buying new. Hoses can be expensive! I see them so often on local community buy/sell/trade sites. This is especially true if you’re looking for a hose reel.

Spray nozzle: If you’re using a regular hose, a spray nozzle can be super helpful because it distributes the water over a large space. If you’re using containers or a small raised bed, a spray nozzle probably wouldn’t make as much of a difference. Again, check for these secondhand. I see them so often in thrift shops, online communities, and garage sales.


Remember: if you are able, higher quality means it will last longer which saves you money and reduces waste. Yet another reason why second-hand shopping is so great. You can find lots of awesome, high quality items for a great deal.

Watering Can: For smaller containers/raised garden beds, you may find that a watering can will suit you just fine! I have a couple that I use for some of my hard to reach containers. I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but look second-hand first! I have found both of my watering cans for under $1 at garage sales.


Yard/Community Garden Plot: Looking for a little more space to have a larger garden? Designating a portion of your yard or signing up for a community garden plot* (a simple Google or EcoAsia search can direct you to plot options in your local area) can be a great way to grow your own vegetables and herbs.

Having a bit more space can also expand the types of vegetables you are able to grow!

*Not sure what a community garden plot is? A community garden is pretty much just what it sounds like, a garden in your local area where you can rent a ‘plot’ for the season and grow your own vegetables. Many community gardens provide gardening tools for use, water, and a compost bin. I rented one for a couple of years at our local co-op when I lived in a condo, and it was great! I would just run home on my way to work to water and do a bit of weeding and then harvest as needed. Most plots (at least in my area) are very affordable; I think I paid $30 for each season.


The type of gardening you can do in a yard or community garden is pots/containers, raised bed, or directly into the ground (sod removed).

Supplies recommended:

  • Pots/containers: If you’re going the pot route, check in your local community through Craigslist, Buy Nothing groups, Freecycle.org, or Facebook Marketplace for anyone giving away pots. You can even join local gardening groups on Facebook – often gardeners have a ton of pots to get rid of. I’ve received all of my pots secondhand and for FREE!
  • Raised garden bed: If you have space and are looking for a little more room for planting, you can opt to build/purchase a raised garden bed. Places from your local hardware store to Amazon have raised garden bed kits. You could also look secondhand for one, or locally for someone to build one for you. Or, you can look on Pinterest for a ton of great DIY tutorials to build your own and tips such as what type of wood to use (preferably untreated), and other helpful information.





I opted to do a raised bed in my backyard because we had just moved into the house and I didn’t know what (if anything) had been done to the soil/grass (fertilizer and other chemicals). Part of growing my own vegetables and herbs is knowing where it comes from and knowing what type of chemicals are used (hint: I don’t use any), so this was important to me. Other benefits include:

  • Less weeds from the yard
  • Less pests that are ground dwelling such as slugs
  • Good drainage
  • You control the type of soil used – great for if you don’t have optimal growing soil


This is not to say growing directly from the ground is bad. I grow flowers and herbs directly into the ground, so if you don’t want to or can’t go the raised bed route, it certainly isn’t necessary!

  • Shovel: Whether you’re using a raised bed or going directly into the ground, you are going to need a shovel! The easiest way to get started is to dig up the sod. If you are using a raised bed, you can use the sod in the bottom of the beds to take up space and reduce the amount of soil/dirt you’ll need. If you’re sowing directly into the ground, you can compost the sod, use it somewhere else in your yard, or offer it up on a local community group for free. You can get a shovel at any home supply/garden store, or check around for a second-hand one (try this first)!
  • Dirt: Whether you decide to go with pots or a raised bed, you’re going to need dirt! The thing to keep in mind about dirt is that it can be expensive and you may be surprised as to how much you will need. You can get dirt from any garden or hardware store. There are a ton of options and price points, so you’ll need to do some research as to what kind will work best for you. If you’re planting directly into the ground, you likely won’t need to get any dirt (score!).

And remember, before buying any dirt, you can check locally to see if anyone is giving some away. If people are re-landscaping they will often have a ton of dirt they are anxious to get rid of. Head over with a handful of buckets or boxes and fill up!

  • Tomato cages: As with container and/or raised bed gardening, if you plan on growing tomatoes and/or peppers, you’ll need tomato cages! Again, you will need one for each plant. You can find these at any garden or hardware store, or secondhand (check first) through local community groups or by asking friends or family. This is how I got ALL of my tomato cages!
  • Trellis: If you’re planning on planting something like beans, cucumbers, or peas, you’ll want a trellis. Again, look second hand, or you can easily DIY your own with scrap wood and some yarn/twine/string.
  • Plant markers: It is very helpful to keep track of what is growing where, especially when your seedlings/transplants are small and hard to differentiate. There are tons of options for plant markers including wooden spoons, plastic silverware, popsicle sticks, rocks, corks, and more. A Pinterest search will give you TONS of ideas.
  • Gardening gloves: Gardening gloves aren’t necessary, but I personally prefer using them. I don’t use anything fancy, just regular ole gardening gloves. You should be able to get them at garden centers, hardware stores, Target, etc. Look for them second-hand!
G & F 1852-3 Women Soft Jersey Garden Gloves, Women Work Gloves, 3-Pairs Green/Pink/Blue per Pack
  • Hand tools: Hand tools come in really handy (ha!) when gardening. When looking for hand tools, not all items are made equal. Like most things, some are better quality than others, which means they will last longer than others. I’ve had some tools that were a great deal, but broke after one season. To keep your garden as waste-friendly as possible, if you can, opt for a better quality item so it lasts as long as possible. I’ve had some of the same tools for over 10 years, and others that have been passed down from my dad after years of use

As always, I would highly recommend checking second hand first at your local thrift store, through friends and family members, or in your local community groups. And remember, if you using a community garden, check to see if they have garden tools for use!

I have two Friskars brand hand shovels, and they are great. They are really heavy duty and high quality. I’ve had them for years.

Fiskars Softouch Garden Tool 3 Piece Set, 70676935J

The three tools pictured above are the ones I find that I use the most. The hand shovel on the left is for general, every day digging.

The rake-type tool in the middle is great for loosening the soil and digging out weeds.

The shovel with the ruler on the right is great for planting seeds or live plants. You can use the ruler to determine how deep you’re planting, as well as for how far apart you’re planting (important factors – see below).

Additionally, I was gifted a garden tool set similar to the one below:



  • The clippers (pruning) tool is helpful for harvesting herbs, but regular scissors would do as well.
  • I found that I didn’t use the spray bottle for gardening – it ended up being a toy for my son.
  • The flat looking rake (second from the bottom right)? I *think* it is another way to work the soil, but I just use it similarly to the other rake.
  • The tool that looks like a snake tongue (middle, bottom row) is great for weeding!


When it comes to tools, while it is nice to have all of the fancy options, you don’t NEED to have them. Figure out what will work best for you. A lot of it will depend on the space you’re dealing with too. If you’re working with containers/pots or a smaller raised bed, you probably won’t need to be working the soil or doing major weeding all that often.


One final thing about tools: take care of them! Make sure they are stored clean and dry somewhere that will protect them from the elements. If you do so, they should last you a long time!

  • Water: Finally, no matter what type of gardening you are planning on doing, you’re going to need access to water. Whether that is through a hose attached to an outdoor water spiget or by filling up watering cans from inside your home, make sure you know how you’re going to give your plants something to drink!

Hose: If you need to purchase a hose, there are a couple of different options. A regular ole hose, or a soaker hose. A soaker hose has small holes all around it that slowly release water to provide your plants a nice, slow drink.

A soaker hose is not necessary but can be nice. I have one that was passed down from my dad and use it if I’m going on vacation. That way our house sitter can just turn on the hose and an hour later turn it back off (I’m telling you, it is a slow soak of water). Other than that, I don’t find I use them very often.

A sprinkler would also work well for large spaces!

Whether you decide to get a regular hose or a soaker hose, I would HIGHLY recommend looking second-hand before buying new. Hoses can be expensive! I see them so often on local community buy/sell/trade sites. This is especially true if you’re looking for a hose reel.

Spray nozzle: If you’re using a regular hose, a spray nozzle can be super helpful because it distributes the water over a large space. If you’re using containers or a small raised bed, a spray nozzle probably wouldn’t make as much of a difference. Again, check for these secondhand. I see them so often in thrift shops, online communities, and garage sales.

Remember: if you are able, higher quality means it will last longer which saves you money and reduces waste. Yet another reason why second-hand shopping is so great. You can find lots of awesome, high quality items for a great deal.

Watering Can: For smaller containers/raised garden beds, you may find that a watering can will suit you just fine! I have a couple that I use for some of my hard to reach containers. I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but look second-hand first! I have found both of my watering cans for under $1 at garage sales.

What zone are you in? And how much sun?

Let’s talk about the sun – and I’m going to cut to the chase. MOST vegetables require full sun (6+ hours) for ultimate growth and production. I personally have a pretty shady backyard, and to be honest, I’m pushing the 6+ hours of required sunlight for almost all of the vegetables I grow.

Does this mean I can’t grow them? Nope! I can and I still do. It just means that I probably don’t get as high of a yield (how many vegetables I get) as I would if they were in full sun.

Unless your yard/patio is completely in the shade, or gets less than four hours of sun a day, I would suggest trying a small garden there and see how it goes.

Note: this is one benefit for community gardens; they are almost always in full sun ALL DAY LONG.




Now, what about this zone thing?

The USDA hardiness zone has to do more with when you’re planting perennial plants (meaning, the plants come back year after year) versus annual plants (grows only one season and doesn’t survive the winter to come back the next one). Almost all vegetables fall under the ‘annual’ category.

However, I wanted to mention the hardiness zone because many fruits can be perennials (in case you were thinking of planting fruits). Additionally, the hardiness zone will most likely be listed on a seed packet if you are planting by seed (see below).

The zone map can also tell you when your first and last frost date is – which is important for when you can start planting certain plants.

If you’re interested in learning more about the USDA hardiness zones, check out this zones map. You can enter in your zip code and it will provide you with a ton of really helpful information!

Here is what it looks like for my area which is 5b:

Finally, it provides this super helpful guide about when and how to start seeds indoors, direct sow into the ground, etc for a ton of different vegetables/herbs:


The guide also repeats the same information (obviously with different dates) for fall.



Time and Money

The final two factors in determining what type of vegetables to grow is time and money. Let’s break the two down.

Time: How much time are you willing/able to devote to your garden? While gardening certainly isn’t hard work (and I actually think it is fun), those vegetables you are growing will require SOME of your time and energy. Here are some of the things you’ll need to consider:

  • Watering: the amount of time spent watering ultimately depends on the weather. If you get into a stretch where it is dry and hot, you’ll likely need to water every day. Got a rainy day? Take the day off! A large chunk of my backyard is garden, and it probably takes me on average 30 minutes to water it. I also usually have approximately 6-7 pots on my front porch, and that takes me 5-10.
  • Weeding: This is pretty easy to think about: the more space and plants you have, the more time you’re going to spend weeding. It’s as simple as that.
  • Harvesting: This is usually pretty quick, because luckily all of your plants don’t usually have vegetables ready to pick all at once. But, it is important to devote time to harvesting, because if you don’t, the veggies can go bad or become food for some sort of critter (looking at you squirrels).
  • Planting: This is probably the most time consuming piece in gardening, but luckily you only do it once or twice. Again, the less you have, the less time it will take.
  • Covering for frost: Once you get into the fall (or even sometimes in the spring), you can extend your vegetables out by covering them on really cool nights. I usually just use old sheets and blankets, and run out to quickly cover. That’s it! In the morning, take off and you’re good to go.





Money: Having a garden costs money. From buying supplies (if needed – and hopefully for a great deal or free second-hand), seeds or plants, and water, there are items you have to purchase each growing season.

That being said, if you take a look at the cost breakdown of the items, you’ll find it is much more cost effective to grow your own food (even with having to buy items) than it is to not.

Additionally, once you buy your main supplies (pots, tools, etc), the cost goes down even further.

Gardening versus buying vegetables in the grocery store:

I’ll give a quick example of how much money you can save by growing your own tomatoes versus buying them in the store.

In this example, I am assuming you already have your supplies and other equipment, so we’re just looking at the cost of vegetables.

  • Tomatoes from the grocery store: $4 for 4 organic tomatoes. Depending on what meals we are eating, those four tomatoes can last us 1-2 weeks.

What we are paying for when we buy tomatoes from the grocery store: cost of planting, labor during growing, pest control, harvesting, organic certification (if buying organic), transportation, packaging, etc.

Now, let’s look at tomatoes grown in your garden.

  • Tomatoes from the garden: $2 for a packet of organic seeds, which contain anywhere from 10-20 seeds, which break down to 5-10 separate plants (if you are planting more than one seed in the same hole – more on that later).

It is hard to say how many tomatoes you’ll get from one plant, but let’s average 15-20 (that’s a conservative guess as there are truly so many variables).

According to one source:

” Depending on the variety and the care it receives, one tomato plant can yield more than 10 pounds of fruit…”

We can take a look at other factors such as water cost (which for my large garden, only costs us an extra $3 a month for watering – so per plant the cost is minimal), time and energy (but you get a lot of health benefits from gardening as well so that would have to be factored in), etc.

Finally, even if you don’t start your plants from seed, and instead buy transplants from a garden center, you will still be ahead on saving money.

In my area, a transplant costs on average $3-$4 dollars. Again, that tomato plant transplant can give you 15-20 tomatoes, or 10lbs of fruit throughout the whole summer.

Do I have you convinced?

Let’s talk about different type of vegetables you can grow, where to get seeds/transplants, and how to actually plant your garden.



What can I grow?

There are a ton of different vegetables you can grow, but here are some of the more common ones (keep in mind that within each vegetable category, there can be tons of different varieties):



Starting vegetables by seed & how to read a seed packet

For the past three years, I have been starting my vegetables by seed. At this point in the conversation, I feel it is necessary for me to point out the importance of reading a seed packet.

If you’re planting by seed, some seeds can be started indoors (and it is recommended) and some can only be planted directly into the ground.

Here is an example of some lettuce I plan on growing this spring:

how to read a seed packet

The front is usually pretty self-explanatory. You can see what type of lettuce it is, the price, and that these seeds are organic.

Now, let’s take a look at the back:



The back contains a wealth of information about how to plant these seeds.

Let’s start with the text at the top. Again, you’ll see the type of vegetable it is, along with a short description of what kind of lettuce you can expect from this seed.

Below the vegetable description is information about how to grow this seed.

Sow = when to plant (either in the ground or indoors)


Where/Sunlight: Basically, the growing instructions are telling me that I should plant the seeds in average soil that receives full sun. What is full sun?

If you look at the top right-hand corner of the packet, you’ll see full sun means 6+ hours of sunlight.

When: Next, the instructions say to plant in early spring for a crop, and then I can plant again in late summer if I want a fall crop. At the end of the text, it also says I can plant every two weeks for continuous harvests throughout the season.

The colored map on the packet is also helpful for determining estimated planting time.

Also – don’t forget the super helpful guide from the USDA that I mentioned earlier, that tells you exactly when to plant and how.




How: Now that we’ve taken of where you should plant the seeds and when, let’s take a look at how.

The instructions say to plant in rows approximately 12″ apart (see where that handy shovel with the ruler on it become?).

After you’ve planted 12″ apart and in a row, the instructions say to cover with approximately 1/4″ of soil. Then, press down lightly to firm up the soil above the seed.

For this particular vegetable, you don’t need to make a small hole to drop the seeds into. Instead, you can just drop the seeds right onto the soil and then cover.

Some vegetables do require being planted into a hole, and for those, the seed package will mention a ‘depth’ as to how deep the seeds should be planted.


How many: A misconception in planting seeds is that you plant one per hole or spot that you want the vegetable to be. However, not all seeds will germinate. To be safe, you’ll want to plant 2-3 seeds into each hole or spot in order to ensure germination.

One other thing I want to mention about how to plant them is the little ‘cheat sheet’ as I call it in the upper right-hand corner. You’ll see information such as how much sun, how many days you can expect the vegetable will grow before harvesting (although with leafy greens, you really can harvest any time there is a leaf), the depth, and that it is container friendly.

The container friendly piece is good to be aware of, especially if you’re only doing container gardening! The packet also tells you how many plants you can have in a pot (of the specific sized mentioned) in order to get a good yield. In this case, you can have up to four plants in a 12″ pot.


Thinning: What is thinning?

Remember how I said it was important to plant more than one seed for each hole/spot? Well, often, both seeds will germinate and you will have two seedlings in one spot.

In order for those two seedlings to not compete for the same resources, and thus not grow to their full potential, you will need to ‘remove’ one or more of the seedlings.

On the right-hand side of the packet, you’ll see ‘Thin 8″‘.

This means that after thinning, your plants/seedlings should be approximately 8″ apart.

If you’re into gambling, and want to just plant one seed every 8 inches in hopes that they all germinate, you could just go with that instead.

Finally, how do you know when it is time to thin? After your seedlings have come up and they have at least two true leaves, or at least a couple of inches tall, they are ready.



Storing your seeds: If you have any leftover seeds that you’re not going to use, you can either give them away to a willing friend, family member, or neighbor, OR, you can store them in the fridge until next season.

Don’t have any left over? Notice the cute little recycling symbol at the bottom of the seed packet! You can recycle it! See? Low waste as possible!

Starting seeds indoors

Starting seeds indoors before the official growing season starts is a great way to get a head start on your seeds!

While it may seem like a lot of work, it’s actually very easy to do.

Here is some of the equipment you’ll need:

  • Something to start the seeds in! I have been using these seed starting trays for years (acquired before I started my low/zero waste journey), and instead of using something new, I reuse them each year by just buying the peat pellets (if you go this route, make sure you buy the correct sized pellet for your tray).





Other options include egg cartons, toilet paper/paper towel tubes, or even recycled cups (I use leftover SOLO cups from an event we hosted for when I need to transplant my seedlings – more on that later).

If you’re not using a growing tray with peat pellets or another type of soil/peat, make sure you get some soil.

There are great options specifically for starting seeds – look for those! I usually use one similar to this.



Don’t want to buy soil? No problem. Just make sure you have access to some!

  • Grow lamps: If you’re interested in getting super serious about growing seeds indoors, you can invest in a grow lamp setup. Grow lamps can be beneficial for the following reasons:


“…grow lights deliver more energy in the red part of the light spectrum, they may promote blooming and fruiting. They are used as a supplement to natural daylight in greenhouse lighting and full-spectrum lighting(metal halide) or, as a standalone source of light for indoors/grow chambers.” (source)

Does this mean you need a grow lamp? No.

I personally don’t use a grow lamp. I find that using the seed trays (with the included top), it creates enough of a greenhouse effect that promotes the seeds to grow.

Even if you don’t have anything to create a greenhouse effect with, your seeds can still grow without any assistance. They might just take a little more time.

That all being said, I have seen some really affordable grow light setups for sale in local community groups and/or in thrift shops. If you’re thinking of investing in one, I’d highly recommend checking these places first.

You can also DIY your own. I found this guide to creating a really affordable set-up and bonus: a lot of the items you could probably find even cheaper second-hand!

  • Water and sunlight: However you decide to start your seeds indoors, you’ll need to make sure they have adequate lighting and access to water (ie: you!).
  • Seeds, of course!: Where can you get seeds? There are many options!

Here are some of the places you can get seeds:

  • Local garden centers
  • Online (there are a number of big seed catalogs that you can order from online such as Baker Creek and Seed Savers)
  • Local gardeners! Check with your neighbors or in a local gardening group (I am part of at least 2-3 on Facebook)
  • Do a Google or EcoAsia search for your area for garden nurseries, centers, or shops
  • Big box stores such a grocery stores, Target, hardware stores with garden centers


One benefit to getting seeds at a local garden center or a smaller online shop is that often they will only carry seeds that do well in your area. They can also offer advice about planting, or answer any questions you have.




Now that you’ve got your supplies, let’s get planting!

To start planting, simply follow the instructions on the seed packet. If you need a bit of a refresher, be sure to check out ‘how to read a seed packet’ above.

Note that you will want to be able to plant your seedlings within a couple of weeks either outside into the soil or into a larger pot. This is called ‘transplanting’.

Transplanting: Depending on the vegetable, you may need to consider transplanting your seedlings.

In my case of the more cold tolerant plants (leafy greens, peas, and brussels sprouts), I transplant them right into the ground. This means that I take when the ground is thawed (on average), and count back 2-3 weeks from there to figure out when I should start my seeds indoors.

In the case of less cold tolerant vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers), I transplant them into a bigger container inside so they can grow larger before planting into the ground outside.

Here are some container ideas you can use to transplant your seedlings into:

  • Upcycled solo cups (this is what I have used the past couple of years and they have worked great. I just reuse them each year)
  • Containers such as yogurt containers, butter containers, etc. Ask friends and family to save them for you if you don’t buy them yourself
  • Peat pots
  • Other plastic pots
  • Plastic pots from garden centers (call your local garden center to see if they have extra, or ask friends/family/neighbors/local gardeners if they have any to part with. Many have a stash in their garage!



How to do you know when it is time to transplant?
You know it is time to transplant when there are two ‘true’ leaves on the seedling, OR, by the time the seedling is at least 2″ tall.


Climatizing: One final thing regarding seed planting/transplanting, is that for the less cold tolerant vegetables (again, tomatoes, peppers, etc), you’ll want to climatize them to get them acclimated to the outdoor elements (sunlight, wind, temperatures) before planting them.

If you don’t do this and instead plant them outside, they may go through a period of shock where they look wilted and like they might die. This can last a few days. While the plants will likely bounce back, that is time that is taken away from being able to grow. And when you’re in an already short growing season like I am in Minnesota, each day matters!


How to climatize
Climatizing is actually pretty easy.

I start by bringing the seedlings/transplants outside for a couple of hours, in the sun, for a few days. After those few days, I’ll start leaving them out longer and longer, until eventually, I’ll leave them out all day.

Before they find their permanent home outdoors, I’ll leave them out a night or two in their current pots.

That’s it!

In the case of cold-tolerant plants such as peas and leafy greens, I don’t bother climatizing before planting directly from the seed starting container to the soil.




Buying Pre-Grown Transplants

You can buy vegetables and herbs pre-planted and partially grown from garden centers. This option is good if you’re starting your veggie garden mid-season or if you simply don’t want to plant via seed!

To plant a pre-grown transplant, just follow the instructions on the tag which will include information on the following:

  • How much sunlight is needed
  • How much water is needed
  • Spacing information
  • Approximate time until harvest
  • How much space is needed
  • How deep to plant


The information on a tag of a pre-grown transplant is usually more self-explanatory than a seed packet because most of the work is already done!

For these guys, all you need to do is follow the tag instructions, plant, and you’re ready to go!


Growing vegetables from vegetable scraps

Did you know you can grow vegetables from scraps? You can! I am not an expert in this, but a quick Pinterest search brought up a ton of results.

The process seems pretty simply, it just requires a little bit of time.

But this would be a GREAT way to save money and reduce waste!



Caring for your vegetables and herbs

No matter how you got to this point, the result is the same: plants in the ground and starting to grow and produce vegetables!

Here are some tips on how to maximize your yield.

Water and weed daily. 

Water: Self-explanatory. Those vegetables get thirsty!

The rule of thumb I follow is what I call the soil test. I press gently into the soil, and if it feels dry, I water. If I can feel moisture, I don’t.

I have found that this usually equates to me watering every day that it doesn’t rain in the summer months.

In the spring and fall, or on cooler summer days, I can usually get by with skipping a day.

Note: there is such a thing as over-watering. If your plants appear to be wilting, but the soil is wet, you’re probably over-watering. If you start to see a lot of yellow leaves on your plant, the culprit could be over-watering.

One final note about watering: the best time to water is in the morning, before it gets too hot.

Why?

Because at night, the moisture can just sit on your plants and sometimes fungus, mold, or mildew can develop.

In the middle of the day, a lot of the water just evaporates, leaving your plants with less.

This is not to say that if you missed the morning period you can’t and shouldn’t water the rest of the day. I honestly almost always water in the evening, because that is what works best for me. I just wanted to throw it out there so you were aware.



Weeding: When it comes to weeding, you want to make sure to try and do a little bit each day to stay on top of it. I like to try and do a little section each time I water.

To pull weeds, I (with gardening gloves on) grab the weed stem at the base by the soil, and pull up. You’ll find that some weeds are harder to pull than others. Sometimes it’s easiest to just get one of your small shovels or weed tool and use that. This is especially true if the weed has thistles or thorns on it.

The important thing with weeds is that you want to make sure and get the roots, so that the weed doesn’t just grow back in the same spot.

Controlling weeds: There are some things you can do to control weeds throughout the growing season (non-herbicide). You can put down straw, hay, or grass clippings (which I use) throughout the season to keep the soil covered and minimize weeds.

You can also put something like newspaper down under the soil before planting to help combat weeds.

I personally find just adding grass clippings after I mow works just fine.

Some people use landscaping fabric or plastic under the soil, but I am not personally comfortable putting that material underneath my vegetables.

What is considered a weed?
A weed is anything that is growing where it shouldn’t be growing.

That means that if you have a plant growing in your vegetable garden that shouldn’t be there, pull it! If it is a flower or something you want to keep, you can dig it up and replant it in a pot or somewhere else.

Remember that weeds are plants that will be competing for resources with your vegetables, so use that as a factor in deciding whether or not something should stay.




Pest control. The great thing about herbs is that many of them are natural pest repellants. Some examples are lavender and lemongrass. The bad thing about vegetables is that many of them are pest magnets. However, there are some natural pest-control methods you can use if you find something unwanted on your vegetables or herbs.  

  • Marigolds: Marigolds are a natural deterrent. I grow them all over my veggie and herb garden. I usually start them by seed when I start my other veggies indoors so they are ready to go when the plants are!  
  • Make a DIY garden spray such as this oneI haven’t found that I need to use a spray on my herbs, but this spray is made with all natural ingredients (and ones you likely already have at home) in case you do.
  • Herbs: As I mentioned above, some herbs can be great pest repellents. Plant items such as lavender and lemongrass amongst your vegetables to help keep pests at bay.
  • Plastic owls or other ‘predatory creatures’: You know what I’m talking about, those creepy plastic owl statues that you can put in your garden. I have one, but honestly not sure how well it works. But I got it for free so I figured it definitely can’t hurt.
  • Predatory Insects: There are some predatory insects out there that you can purchase to try and combat certain pests. Ladybugs and praying mantises come to mind. While these are natural pest control options, I would urge you to do research before releasing bugs shipped from who knows where into the environment. This is a recipe for an invasive species takeover (have studied and done two internships on invasive species, I’m on my soapbox for this one). While ladybugs and praying mantises may be found naturally in your area, you also run the risk of the insects not actually staying in your area. There is no saying they will just fly somewhere else, and then you’re out money and you still have pests. I’m not saying 100% don’t do it, I’m just saying do your research, and be a responsible environmental gardener!
  • Live traps: In my area (Minnesota), we’ve had a huge increase in Japanese Beetles the past couple of years. These things are seriously THE. WORST. They demolish vegetation, they bite, they’re just nasty. And there are few natural predators. One of the options to try and get rid of them are natural pheromone traps. These traps attract the insects and then they go into a little bag and die. While this may seem like a good option, I have read conflicting research on whether or not they actually help, or whether or not they just attract more beetles to your area. Again, do some research. For things like insect control, talking with master gardeners (see more below) or joining a local gardening group (even if just on Facebook) is super helpful. You’ll get tried and true tactics that people have tried in your area!
  • Dog/cat hair in the garden: This is another trick I’ve tried that didn’t seem to have much effect, but again, it doesn’t hurt, so I thought I’d throw it out there. After brushing your cat or your dog, spread their hair around your vegetables. Supposedly, the critters will smell your animal, and it will scare them away.
  • Eggshells: Eggshells can be a great way to deter pests such as slugs. Adding eggshells can also add nutrients into your soil.   
  • A dish full of beer: No, I haven’t gone crazy. This works for slugs! I promise. Just pour a can or bottle of beer into a bowl, and leave it out for a day or two. If you have a slug problem, they like the sugar/yeast in the beer and will come on down for a drink.   
  • Alliums (see photo below): These are super cool pom-pom looking type (like something out of Dr. Seuss) flowers known as alliums. Alliums are part of the onion family (which are natural pest deterrents).   
  • Diatomaceous EarthDiatomaceous Earth can be a good natural pest deterrent for lots of insects. However, it does not differentiate between beneficial and problematic insects, so use this only if you must outside in your garden.



Allium


Fertilizer: Adding fertilizer to your soil can provide some added nutrients to your plants to help them grow. However, when I say fertilizer, I am not advocating you go out and get some toxic kind and throw that on your vegetables.

On the contrary, there are a lot of all-natural fertilizers out there that you can use to provide additional nutrients to your plants, and BONUS – that you probably already have on hand!

Double bonus: some can also help you reduce waste!

Here are a few ideas:

  • Eggshells: grind up eggshells to add calcium to your soil
  • Coffee grounds: used and rinsed coffee grounds are not acidic and can be added to your soil for additional nutrients
  • Compost: Compost is an AMAZING fertilizer, and bonus, doing so can help you reduce waste BIG time. To see my ultimate guide on composting, check out my post here.
  • Manurer: Yep, poop can be a good fertilizer too. Rabbit poop, alpaca poop (what I use), and sheep poop are just a few examples of ones that are good for the garden. I am by no means an expert on this, so if you want to go this route, do some research.
  • Glass clippings: If you don’t fertilize or put chemicals on your lawn, grass clippings can be a great thing to add to your garden. I do this throughout the entire summer. Each time I mow, I sprinkle grass clippings around my vegetable plants. This not only adds nutrients to the soil, but also protects roots (tomatoes, for example, are finicky about their roots getting too hot). The grass quickly breaks down into the soil, bringing with it all the wonderful nutrients it holds on to!


Other than making sure you weed and water daily, adding fertilizer, and watch for pests, there isn’t much else to do when it comes to daily maintenance.



Diseases: There are a handful of diseases certain vegetables can get, however, the list is so long and so specific that I felt it would become too overwhelming in an already long post. If you notice something goofy going on with one of your vegetable plants, Google or EcoAsia is your friend.

Another option (which I think is a great one, if I do say so myself), is to ask a master gardener.

What is a master gardener?

Master Gardeners are a group of volunteers that are usually associated with a State University, and provide location-specific gardening advice.

You can talk with them at local events, or they usually have an email address that you can send questions to and someone will respond.

They are a GREAT resource, and they LOVE talking about gardening.

To find a master gardener or program in your area, check out this website here.



Harvesting your vegetables

Harvesting is literally reaping the fruits of your labor. I would say this is the ‘fun’ part, but the truth is, I love all parts of gardening.

Harvesting is pretty easy, so I’m not going to go too much into it, and there really isn’t a wrong way to do it!

The main tip I’ll give you is that once a vegetable is ready to be picked, pick it right away. If you wait, something else might enjoy it (looking at you, squirrels).

However, ever since I read the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, I have started leaving a handful of produce for the furry friends and critters outside. The idea, according to Kimmerer and Native American traditions, is that by sharing some of the yields with other organisms, they will leave the rest alone.

I have done this with raspberries especially, and we have never had an issue with the bird and other animals getting them all first.

Just something to think about!

(Also, if you have never read that book, it is amazing and I would highly recommend you borrow it from the library or a friend ASAP.)

If you have too many vegetables, consider giving them away to friends/family/neighbors, bringing them into work, or offering them up for free in your local community.

There may also be some non-profits in your local area that will either come and harvest your produce for you (this is beneficial if you have a large fruit-bearing tree), or pick up the harvest for you. Check around your area to see if this is the case.

You can also look up ways to preserve your different vegetables, either through freezing or canning.

There is nothing better than fresh, garden produce in the middle of the winter!

This also helps you save money and reduce waste!



Whatever you do, DON’T LET THE FOOD GO TO WASTE!



End of season cleanup

Once the growing season is over, it is time to clean up your garden.

Take down any trellises, tomato cages, pots, or other equipment you may have up somewhere that they will be protected over the winter/non-growing season. Remember, the better you take care of your items, the longer they will last. The ultimate zero waste goal.

As for clean-up in the actual garden, honestly, I leave most of the vegetation until spring. A lot of organisms, including birds and rodents, use the vegetation as cover or food over the winter. There really isn’t any good reason you need to remove it ahead of time!

However, if you feel like you need to remove them in the fall, or whether you wait until spring, be sure to dispose of them properly.

Here are some different ideas:

  • a yard waste pickup through your local waste company
  • yard waste drop-off through your local county, a co-op, farmer’s market, or community garden
  • composting through your own yard, a pickup service, or a drop-off in your local community
  • break it up enough to use as ground cover in next year’s (or this year’s) garden!

Phew! That was a lot of information. Feel free to save this post, pin for later (below), and share it with anyone who may be interested in starting their own garden!



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Learn how to grow your own vegetable gardening in any sized space. This post is perfect for beginners or for those who consider themselves intermediate gardeners. This post is also good for anyone looking to garden in their yard, in containers or pots, or in a community garden. Additionally, learn how to keep your garden low waste friendly! #lowwaste #garden #vegetable #veggies


Learn how to grow vegetables in pots, containers, a yard, or a community garden! This post is perfect for anyone looking to learn how to grow their own vegetables - whether you're a beginner or intermediate gardener. Also learn how to keep your gardening zero waste friendly! #zerowaste #container #pots #garden


Have you ever wanted to grow your own vegetables in a garden? Whether you are creating a garden in your yard, containers, pots, or a community garden, this post is for you. This post also includes tips on how to garden zero waste friendly! #zerowaste #garden #vegetables


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I juts started growing my veggies! It’s my favourite hobbie

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