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Quick Start Guide to Growing Food

It is possible to grow enough food to feed your family even if you live on a small piece of property. Maybe not 100% of your fruit and vegetable needs but, honestly, I don’t know anyone who grows 100% of their food.

image of baskets with jalapeno and serrano peppers in them and a bushel basket of edible hibiscus

This is a really long article, so you might want to grab a cup of tea along with a pencil and paper to take notes. Some of the things I’m going to suggest are not how you’re “supposed” to garden. Just bear with me, don’t get hung up on doing everything “correctly”, and let’s just get started on growing some food.

The reality is…growing some food, even a small amount of food, is better than growing no food. Let’s explore how you can grow more food in less space by making good plant choices, succession planting, and using a little creativity.

Keeping Notes

The best place to start a garden is on paper. Now, you can certainly plan so much that you never actually start so I’m not suggesting that. But if you plan to garden year after year, keeping notes will save you a lot of headaches.

My favorite way to plan is with plain ole pencil and paper. Over the years the notes that I’ve kept have become an an important gardening tool. If you need help organizing your garden plans and notes, The Gardening Notebook is just what you need.

This 120 page printable notebook will become your custom planner over time. Print the pages you need, as you need them, and add other notes and articles that are important to you. In time, you’re garden notebook will be just as unique as your garden.

The Gardening Notebook binder and planning pages on table

Start small

If you’ve never grown food before, do not go till up your whole front yard and put in 22 raised bed boxes. You can grow more food from a couple of well tended garden beds than you can from 20 unkept garden beds.

When you start small, you’ll have successes which is what you need to continue. If you try to do too much at one time, you’ll get overwhelmed and give up – I know, I’ve done that.

I don’t know what small is for you, maybe it’s a few culinary herbs in containers in the window sill? Maybe it’s growing some beautiful Swiss chard in your front flower bed and tucking a few other edibles in with the flowers you already grow? Maybe it’s building ONE raised garden bed and rocking it this summer?

Whatever it is, know that growing food is worth it, even on a small scale.

Find a location

Most vegetables need full sun to grow – but full sun doesn’t mean it can’t ever have shade. Full sun by definition is at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day.

Ideally, find a place on your property that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight and has room for a couple of garden beds. I like to use beds that are 4′ x 8′ because they’re easy to manage.

If you want to make the beds longer than 8′ that’s great but don’t make them wider than 4′. At 4′ you’ll be able to easily reach in and harvest; any wider than that and it gets hard to harvest.

I’ve seen backyards with a couple of 4’x8′ beds that grow plenty of vegetables for a small family. The beds are in the middle of the yard and swing sets, sandboxes, and outdoor furniture are arranged around them.

I’ve seen gardens that were grown along the 3 sides of a backyard fence. The garden came out about 2.5′ from the fence and took up the entire perimeter of the yard.

I’ve also seen gardens grown in the front yard. Unless your HOA has a rule against growing food in the front yard, there’s no reason not to if that’s where the sun it.

image of scarlet runner beans growing on trellis.

Use edible landscaping to sneakily grow food

Edible landscaping is a just fancy term for planting edible plants instead of ornamental plants in your landscape. Instead of planting a shade tree, plant a fruit tree that will eventually grow large and provide shade.

While most fruit trees take years to produce, there are some fast growing fruit trees that will give you fruit in just a couple of years.

Other plants that are good to use in an edible landscape are Swiss chard and kale, herbs, edible hibiscus, onions, and perennial vegetables like Scarlet runner beans.

Honestly, any fruit or vegetable can be used in an edible landscape. The thing you want to mindful of is that as you harvest, the plants will start to look unkept. But since you’re just tucking vegetables here and there among ornamental plants it will be fine.

Building Good Soil

The soil is the foundation of your garden. If you have limited funds, spend your money on building the soil instead of buying expensive seeds or plants.

If you’re putting in raised beds, some people advise to cover the bottom with landscaping fabric or plastic for weed control and then filling the beds with purchased garden soil. I don’t because you’ll need to purchase more soil than you would have if you used something that will decompose, like cardboard.

If you’re only creating a few beds, weed control will not super hard, so that’s really not a valid reason to use plastic weed barriers. So utilize the dirt that’s already there and build on top of it.

To fill the raised beds, you’ll want to purchase garden soil. If you’re new to gardening, just purchase it instead of trying to create the “perfect” homemade soil by buying the ingredients and mixing it your self.

If you’re growing in containers, it’s best to purchase potting soil. There are recipes online for making your own, but you still have to purchase the ingredients. If you’re just starting out, don’t worry about making your own potting soil, just purchase it.

image of swiss chard and kale growing in a raised bed along with flowering cilantro

How to build raised beds

We used wood for our garden beds and cinder blocks for my sister’s. Over time I’d like to convert our beds to cinder blocks simply because they don’t break down like wood does. I’ve also seed beds made from galvanized metal. Wood is probably the cheapest way to get started but will need to be replaced in 5-10 years.

When we built our raised beds, we loosened the soil with a garden fork. You can do the same thing with a regular old shovel. We didn’t turn the soil over, just loosened it up.

Then we put a layer of cardboard down and filled the beds with about 6 inches of purchased garden soil. The cardboard will eventually deteriorate and the roots of the plants will be able to utilize the original soil. This also leaves room for you to deeply mulch the plants.

image of tomato plants with straw mulch

Mulch and Compost

One of the best things you can do for your garden is to mulch and add compost. Mulch for the vegetable garden can be almost anything that will break down – wood chips, old hay, grass clippings, leaves, shredded newspaper and cardboard, etc. Each has it’s positives and negatives.

You can learn all about using mulch for the vegetable garden here.

While mulch is something you lay on top of the soil to conserve water and suppress weeds, compost is something that you mix into the soil to feed the plants.

If you’re just getting started and you purchased garden or potting soil, you don’t need compost – at least for a while. About midway through the season, you’ll want to pull back the mulch and add some compost around each plant; this is called topdressing.

When you first start, you’ll probably need to purchase compost because it takes time to make your own. But you can start a compost pile right away and by next season you’ll have your own homemade compost.

If you have chickens or livestock, you can compost their bedding. If you don’t have any livestock, you might be able to get some used bedding from a farmer in your community.

There is something called trench composting which is great for small scale composting. I use it for things, like banana peels, that don’t compost very quickly in the regular compost pile. Basically you just bury the item and let it decompose and feed the soil as it breaks down. For banana peels I cut them up and plant a section in potted plants and in the garden beds as I’m gardening.

Here’s an article from The Compost Education Center on how to trench composting.

If you don’t have a lot of organic matter to compost, then maybe worm composting is the answer for you. You can raise worms in very small spaces and their castings (waste) are extremely beneficial to the soil.

image of cucumber seedlings in growing tray.

Where to get seeds and plants

The first place to check for seeds and plants is with gardening friends. Most gardeners are extremely happy to share extra seeds and plants with new gardeners. They are also happy to help troubleshoot problems so make friends with local food gardeners.

Farmer’s markets are open for business and those local farmers are relying on us. With more people wanting to grow their own food, there is some concern about the future of local, small scale farmers. We need to support them as best we can. Fortunately, many of them offer seedlings for sale.

My best advice is to email or message them a couple of days before the market and ask if they will hold the plants you want. Most will hold items for the first hour or so of market for you.

Feed stores sell seeds and are still open and they carry seeds and transplants. Many feed stores also sell seeds in bulk very inexpensively so that’s a great option.

Grocery stores and big box stores are still open and many of them have a gardening section that sells seeds and small plants. At this point, don’t worry about things like “are these seeds organic” or “heirloom”, that’s a luxury that we really don’t have right now. If the only zucchini seeds you can find are a .50 packet at the dollar store, get them. They’ll grow zucchini just fine, I promise.

Lastly, you can order seeds online. Most of the online seed sellers have seen a tremendous increase in orders and are having to scale back employees during this time so while they are still accepting orders, the fulfillment time is longer than usual.

image of three small aloe vera plants growing in a container

Container Gardening for Growing Food

If you don’t have much space, maybe you live in an apartment and only have a patio, or you rent and can’t put in raised beds, you can grow food in containers.

I mentioned before that if you are container gardening you will need potting soil, but you also need containers.

Garden pots can be expensive and while they are pretty, you don’t need them. Look around your house for things that can be upcycled into garden pots.

There are large tubs called, molasses tubs, that you can find at feed stores that make great containers for gardening. On a smaller scale, you can use old yogurt containers to grow herbs and leafy greens.

I’ve seen people take old tires, fill them with soil and plant in them. While I don’t recommend this as a long term solution for growing food because I believe the chemicals in the tires can leach into the soil, if that’s all you can find to use as a container right now, then use it.

image of mustard microgreens growing in a black container on wooden table

Indoor Gardening

Even though I have plenty of space outside, I still grow some of our food indoors. Mainly, I grow microgreen because it’s too hot to grow salad greens much of the year here. I will also grow sprouts occassionally.

Many herbs can also be grown indoors as can sweet potato vines.

Learn more about indoor gardening here.

Succession Planting

Succession planting is really just staggering the time that plants are ready to harvest. You can do this by planting a couple of varieties of the same vegetable that have different maturing dates. You can sow seeds every two or three weeks during the growing season. You can replant the space with the next season’s vegetable when you pull spent plants.

Or you can do a combination of all of these things; which is how I succession plant our garden to grow more food in less space.

image of mature dinosaur (lacinato) kale and curly kale growing together

One to one, one to many plant choices

When you need to make the most of your space you need to focus on plants that will give you the most harvest for the space they take up. I like to think of these as one to one – plant one seed, get one harvest – and one to many – plant one seed, harvest many times.

There are few true one to one plants as that’s not a very efficient way to reproduce. Storage onions would be an example of a one to one plant. For each onion seed you plant, you’ll get one storage onion bulb.

There are some plants that most people consider one to one but I they’re really one to two. Carrots and beets come to mind as an example. While we normally just eat the root, the tops are also edible. Cauliflower is another example – it only produces one head, called a curd, but the leaves are also edible and can be harvested a few at a time before the curd is mature.

Most fruits and vegetables are one to many. You plant one tomato seed and get pounds and pounds of tomatoes. Or you plant one kale seed and harvest from that one plant for 4 months.

image of diy irrigation made from a pvc pipe buried in the ground with a water hose in it

How to water a vegetable garden

After healthy soil (mulch and compost included), how you water your garden will be the difference between an okay garden and a great garden. While no plant likes soggy soil, all plants like to be watered deeply and consistently.

Water the soil, NOT the plants. If you have an irrigation system that’s great, just make sure the water stays on the ground. If you’re hand watering, put the hose on the ground and let it soak the soil. Be careful that the water doesn’t splash soil up onto the plants – mulch helps prevent this.

Water deeply. If you only water the top half inch of soil, the roots of the plant will stay near the top of the soil. You want the roots to grow deeply, you must water deeply. Most plants require at minimum an inch of rain a week.

That means a 4’x8′ garden bed needs almost 15 gallons of water a week. In the heat of the summer it needs much more than that. Instead of giving the bed 1.5 gallons of water a day, it’s better to give the bed 5 gallons of water at a time twice a week.

To calculate how much water your garden beds need use this formula – 1 sq ft of garden space X .62 gal water = total water needed

If you’re hand watering, you can time how long it takes to fill a 5 gallon bucket with water and that’s about how long you need to hand water each bed – several times a week. Mulching will help the soil retain the water in between waterings.

Water in the evening, unless there’s powdery mildew in the garden. The best time to water the garden is in the evening. This will reduce evaporation and give the plants time to soak up the water before the blazing heat sets in.

However, if you have powdery mildew in the garden, you’ll want to water in the morning. This will allow the leaves to dry quickly, which is essential to keeping powdery mildew in check.

image of green beans growing on trellis arch

Think Vertically

To maximize small spaces, it’s great to grow vertically. There are several food crops that are vining plants so, for sure plant those.

To grow vertically, you’ll need trellises. A trellis can be as simple as a chain link fence or a wooden fence with some chicken wire attached to it.

We have several trellis arches that we made from cattle panels and t-posts. They work great. But we also have some made from an old iron window bars and the sides of a futon frame. Again, we used t-posts to set them.

You can also just set a couple of t-posts and run wire around them and then add some wire vertically. If you have baling wire or twine from old bales of hay, use that. Once it’s covered in plants, it will look wonderful.

I’ve seen people stand pallets upright and plant several rows of plants in them. I don’t think they are adequate for many climates, especially those that have long hot summers. The soil won’t be deep enough and they will dry out quickly.

But you can plant in the ground or in deeper containers and use an upright pallet as the trellis. You might want to add some wire for the plants to hang on to.

Plants for a small backyard garden

The smaller your space the more you need to prioritize. I have some free printable worksheets to help you figure out how much of each vegetable you need to plant in order to feed your family. You can get them emailed to you by filling out the form below.

Beans -Snap, string, and “green”

Beans are a one to many plant. You plant one bean and it will grow a plant that will produce 15-25 bean pods with about 6 beans in each one. There are two basic types of beans – bush beans and pole beans. Bush beans grow on plants that stay low to the ground and most will produce a lot of beans in a short period of time and then peter out.

Pole beans grow on a vine and will produce smaller amounts of beans at a time but will produce all season long.

If you have limited space, you definitely want to plant pole beans. Aim for 5 plants per person in your family and that should give you plenty for fresh eating.

Learn more about growing beans here.


Beets are technically a one to one plant – you plant one seed and get one harvest. However, the greens are edible so I believe they have a place in most gardens.

Beets can grow year round in many climates and most varieties are mature in just 60 days. They don’t take up much space and are easy to tuck in around other plants – including in ornamental flower beds.

You can sow seeds every few weeks so that the plants don’t all mature at the same time. I usually only have 5 beet plants ready to harvest at any one time.

Most of my family does not like beets. However, I do and I think they are important nutritionally so I grow them. After washing and peeling them I grate them like carrots to add to salads and smoothies – no one complains when they’re in smoothies. We only need 3-5 beets a week.


Brassicas are broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, turnips and mustard. I’m going to address kale, mustard, and turnips separately.

For the most part, brassicas are cool weather crops. They are frost tolerant so you can plant them even before your average last frost date and you won’t have to worry if you get a late frost.

In general, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are one harvest plants. While you can eat the outer leaves of the cabbage and the leaves of cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, I don’t think they are heavy enough producers to be included in a small garden.

That being said, if you have some space in flower beds that you can tuck a few cabbage plants into that would be great. Many people plant ornamental cabbage in their flower beds so no one will know if yours are edible.

Broccoli is different. Once you cut the main head from the broccoli plant it will produce small side shoots. Some people think these are a waste of time. I don’t.

I plant one broccoli plant per person in our home and will start harvesting a few leaves from each plant when they are about a foot tall. When the heads are ready we’ll have broccoli as a side dish several times for a couple of weeks. After that we’ll only have broccoli as as side dish once a week as we harvest the small side shoots from each plant. There is plenty for eating raw too.

image of three carrots growing in backyard garden


Carrots are another one to one plant. You’ll get one carrot from each carrot seed sown. But the greens are also edible and can be sauteed, made into pesto, or dehydrated and added to eggs, rice, or smoothies.

Most carrot varieties are ready in 50-60 days which makes them a good plant to succession plant every few weeks. They don’t take up a lot of space and can be tucked around other plants.

Carrots are a cool weather plant and for most families, it’s going to be hard to grow enough carrots to meet all your carrot needs. But if you can find creative places to tuck them in, they are certainly worth growing.

Learn more about growing carrots here.


Cucumbers are a vining, summer crop that will need to be grown with support. The vines don’t get super long and I’ve grown them using a tomato cage when I didn’t have a trellis.

There are two main types of cucumbers, slicing cucumbers and pickling cucumbers. Pickling cucumbers are drier than slicing cucumbers and they have thinner skin.

Cucumber vines are usually quite prolific so you can probably plant both kinds even in a small garden. If you plan on making pickles I would plant more pickling cucumbers than slicing cucumbers. You only need a couple of slicing cucumber plants to eat fresh cucumbers all summer long.

You can eat pickling cucumbers in salads and use them to make dips, etc. And you can pickle very small slicing cucumbers, although they might not be as crisp as they would if you had used pickling cucumbers. So, don’t get too hung up on how many of each kind to plant.

Learn more about growing cucumbers here.


Garlic is a one to one plant. For every clove that you plant, you’ll harvest one garlic head. In the vast majority of climates, garlic is planted in the fall and overwintered in the ground with a thick layer of mulch It will be some of the first plants to pop up in the spring.

In our warm climate, it’s still planted in the fall but it won’t lay dormant, it will slowly grow over the winter months.

My personal opinion is that garlic is not worth planting if you have very limited space. Of course, if you have some garlic sprouting on the counter and want to try growing it, by all means, plant it. But don’t waste valuable garden space on growing garlic in a small garden.

image of basil growing in garden


Herbs are a fantastic addition to small gardens. Many of them are perennials, meaning they live more than one season, and many are compact and can be grown in containers. Some herbs can even be grown indoors. Here are some tips for growing a container herb garden.

Common perennial herbs include sage, oregano, chives, and rosemary. There is a creeping rosemary variety that is better for small spaces. I actually grow this variety because I think it’s easier to maintain than the large upright one.

Chives are extremely hardy and prolific. We grow regular chives and garlic chives. I use the garlic chives in place of garlic, and while they are not as flavorful they are a better use of my garden space.

Annual herbs are things like basil, cilantro, and dill. Basil is a warm weather herb and cilantro and dill are cool weather herbs.

All herbs like to be harvested regularly, the more you harvest them the more they produce. Obviously, don’t cut them down to the ground but don’t be shy about harvesting leaves to cook with regularly.

Leafy Greens

Leafy greens are things like lettuce and spinach but I also include kale, which is a brassica, and Swiss chard, which is related to beets, in this group.

For the most part, leafy greens grow best in cooler temperatures. Once the days are consistently 80F these greens tend to get bitter.

The great thing about greens is that you can get many harvests from just one plant. If you grow lettuce grow the leafy kind, not the kind that forms a head. You’ll be able to harvest the outer leaves and let the remainder of the plant grow.

I plant 4 kale plants and 4 Swiss chard plants for our family in the fall and we eat off of those plants all winter long and into the spring. Kale is, by far, the workhorse of my garden. When all the other brassicas have been harvested and before the green beans begin producing, there is kale and Swiss chard to fill in the gap.

Kale and chard are also more heat tolerant than other leafy greens. I plant a new crop of kale and chard in late May and grow them over the summer to fill in the gap between the summer and fall crops.

Mustard greens get quite large and get bitter in the heat but are a good choice for a fall crop if you like them and have space. The same if true for turnips, although the turnip root is also edible.

Learn more about growing kale here.

Learn more about growing Swiss chard here.

Learn more about growing lettuce here.

image of okra growing in garden


Okra is a one to many plant. It’s is a warm weather plant that does extremely well in long hot summers. In August, okra is one of the few vegetables that is producing in our garden.

Okra plants get really tall but not very bushy and are not fussy about soil conditions. If you have a place along a fence line that gets full sun and your garden beds are full, plant okra long the fence line. They have big, beautiful yellow flowers and can be used in edible landscaping.

Learn more about growing okra here.


We love onions but you need a lot of space to grow storage onions so I don’t recommend growing them in a small garden – they are a one to one plant.

However, green onions, also called bunching onions, are a different story. These onions never make a bulb and you don’t have to harvest the whole plant – just cut the green part and leave the roots in the ground and they’ll grow more greens.

In many climates green onions will grow year round. You can sow seeds or just plant the ends of the green onion that you bought at the grocery store. I often rescue these ends at church socials and bring them home to plant.

I grow them in a little patch and when they send up a seed stalk and go to seed, I leave them to reseed and grow new plants. I’ve not bought green onions in years.


Peas are another cooler weather plant and in our climate are best grown over the winter months. Peas are a one to many plant and a vining plant so you will need a trellis.

There are several varieties of peas – snow peas, snap peas, and English peas. There is also cowpeas (or black-eyed peas) that are grown to their mature state and are actually a bean, not a pea.

I love growing peas and in my opinion snap peas (or sweet peas) are the best variety to grow in a small garden. You can harvest them in a very immature state and eat them like snow peas or let them get bigger and eat just the pea and not the pod. We eat them raw and add them to other sauteed vegetables.

If you want to be able to do more than just snack on peas here and there, you’ll need to plant at least 5 plants per family member.

image of harvested peppers in two galvanized buckets


Pepper are warm weather plants and annual plants in any climate that ever gets below 32F. An exception to this is the Chili Petin pepper. If the soil doesn’t freeze, you might be able to grow this pepper as a perennial.

It grows as a perennial in our climate. Sometimes the plant foliage will die back but it will regrow from the roots in the spring. This is an extremely hot pepper and one plant is all you need.

Other common hot peppers include cayenne, jalapeno, serrano, and habanero. Most families only need 2-3 hot pepper plants. The more you harvest peppers from the plant, the more it will produce.

Common sweet pepper include bell peppers (of all colors), gypsy peppers, and most banana peppers. Most families will only need 2-3 sweet pepper plants.

Here’s some pepper trivia for you – green peppers are the unripe pepper and all peppers will turn red or orange if left on the plant to fully ripen. The heat of hot peppers will not increase but the flavor of the peppers will deepen.

At the beginning of the season pick green peppers to encourage the plant to continue producing and about midseason let the peppers stay on the plant longer to fully ripen.


Potatoes are a good starch to grow but take up quite a bit of space. They can also be fussy about soil conditions so I would not use up valuable garden space growing potatoes if your space is limited.

However, I know many people who grow potatoes in grow bags instead of in the ground. If you have room to put some large containers in a sunny spot, then this might be an option for growing potatoes.

One of the tricks to growing more potatoes in less space is to continually add more soil on top of the plants. This will cause more roots (and spuds) to grow as the plant grows. So if you plant potatoes in a container, it needs to be deep.


There are hundreds of varieties of squash but are divided into two main types – summer squash and winter squash. Both types are grown over the summer and will die when it freezes so don’t let the terms confuse you.

Common summer squash varieties include zucchini, yellow squash, white patty pan squash, and cucuzzi squash. Cucuzzi is a vining summer squash that will need a trellis. We have trouble with vine borers and are trying cucuzzi for the first time this year. Since it’s a vining variety its supposed to be more resistant to them.

The other summer squashes are more bushy and will get quite large. I know some people who put tomato cages around their zucchini plants to help them grow more erect and they take up less space. Do not do this if you have powdery mildew problems – it will only make it worse.

Most families will only need 1 summer squash plant per person. Summer squash is very prolific.

Learn to grow summer squash here.

Common winter squash varieties include pumpkins, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, and acorn squash. These will all send out runners and take up a lot of space.

If you really want to try to grow winter squash in a small area, use a trellis and choose smaller varieties like pie pumpkins instead of jack-o-lantern pumpkins.

Most winter squash needs 90-120 days to mature so this is quite a commitment of space in a small garden.

Learn more about growing winter squash here.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a warm weather crop that needs about 100 days to mature. Sweet potatoes are one of the few plants that will survive our long hot summers.

While most people grow sweet potatoes for the tuber, the leaves are edible too. If you live in a tropical location, you should be able to grow sweet potatoes year round.

I’ve seen photos of flower beds along the side of a house, that was nothing but sweet potato vines. The owner would harvest the bulbs and the greens. Unless you knew what was growing there, you’d never guess it was food.

Sweet potato vines can also be grown indoors. I try to cut some of our vines and put them in a pot at the end of the summer to grow over winter. In late spring, I plant them back in the garden. I also start my own sweet potato slips which is easy to do; it just takes time.

Learn more about growing sweet potatoes here.

image of Juliet tomatoes growing on tomato vine


Tomatoes are the most popular home grown vegetable. And with good reason, there’s nothing quite like the flavor of a homegrown tomato. Even many tomato haters like homegrown tomatoes.

There are many ways that tomatoes are categorized but the two main ways are determinate and indeterminate.

Determinate tomatoes will usually set a lot of fruit at one time and then peter out.

Indeterminate tomatoes will set fruit more slowly but will fruit all season as long as the weather conditions allow (meaning, as long as the temperatures stay below 95F). The vast majority of heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate.

If you want to can tomatoes, determinate tomatoes are great because you can harvest large amounts at one time and get your canning done. If you want tomatoes for fresh eating all season long then indeterminate tomatoes are what you want.

You’ll also want to consider your climate. If most summer days are in the 90s and above, you will probably want to plant at least one determinate tomato so that you’ll get a harvest before the high heat sets in.

If you like snacking tomatoes (cherry or grape tomatoes) you will probably only need 1 or 2 plants. They produce a lot of tomatoes.

Tomato plants can get really big. In fact, we’ve had some heirloom tomato plants that topped out at over 7′ tall. Determinate tomatoes will not get as tall as indeterminate because they stop growing as quickly when they set fruit.

There are some hybrids (not the same as GMO) that are smaller plants and can be grown in pots, there are some called “patio” tomato plants. If you’re going to grow tomatoes in pots, choose one of these varieties.

If you’re growing tomatoes for the first time and have room for more than one tomato plant, I suggest chatting with a gardening friend about what varieties they like and why. Then grow at least two different tomatoes so you can begin to figure out what you like and what does well for you.

In my area heirloom tomatoes do not do well because it gets too hot during our long summers. We can easily have 80 days of heat over 95F and there just isn’t enough time for the heirlooms (which are usually indeterminate) to set fruit. However, I still grow some each year because I have space and I like to experiment.

But if you have limited space, you need to prioritize feeding your family over only growing heirloom varieties.

I could talk about growing tomatoes all day long but instead, I’ll leave you with a few helpful links.

Learn how to grow tomatoes here.

Things no one tells you about growing tomatoes.

Tomato pests – leaf footed bug

Tomato pests – tomato hornworm


If you’ve made it this far…Congratulations! You must really, really want to start growing your own food.

So start.

That’s truly the best advice I can give you. Do not wait until you have the perfect plan and have it all figured out. Start where you are and with what you have.

You will have some successes your first year, and you’ll have some “learning experiences”. If you’re going to grow food year after you, your gardening will get better year after year.

Take a breath and just start.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll get you answers.

image of a basket with homegrown yellow cherry tomatoes, peppers, okra and basil in it

Thanks for sharing with your friends!


Wednesday 23rd of February 2022

This is an excellent starter guide - it's practically a little book! I'm so glad you mentioned your garden planner because I use it every year and it helps me keep track of everything. I'll share this article with my friends asking how to get started growing their own food!


Sunday 1st of August 2021

Now I've added more plants to grow to the neverending list of mine haha. Thank you for including and suggesting what plant foods I can grow in the garden. I appreciate it a lot and I'll put the knowledge into use.

Angi Schneider

Saturday 21st of August 2021

Yay!!! So glad the article helped.


Friday 29th of May 2020

P.S. I started reading this post and realized I should be more specific; I purchased the Ultimate Bundles Gardening and Sustainable Living set recently promoted by Jason Matyas. I didn't know you had previously offered a bundle here so thought I should differentiate in case the .pdf files were not identical. Thank you, again, for your time.


Friday 29th of May 2020

Hi, I tried to reach you at the e-mail address in the Gardening Notebook, but my note was returned as undeliverable. This is the only way I've found to contact you, apologies for any awkwardness. Original note:


I bought the gardening e-book bundle a week or so back, primarily for the planning tools which were your book, and the garden planning calculator.

I was very, very pleased with the simple flexible utility of your book! I am looking forward to printing and using it, it will save me hours and hours of work trying to design and format my own record keeping systems. Thank you for making this available to other gardeners!

Before I print it all out I wanted to let you know that on pages 84-86, the garden expense worksheet and the garden project list, there is a formatting issue. These pages have the title for the next page stuck onto the bottom of the previous page, which should be a very easy fix with access to the original, editable pdf.

Can this be corrected, and the corrected file sent out? I can cut it up and use my copier to remake those pages, but that is not something everyone can do, and it will take time and be imprecise.

Thank you for your time, blessings and happy gardening! Regards; --Adrielle

Angi Schneider

Friday 29th of May 2020

No worries about any awkwardness, lol. I have no idea why you the email address would bounce, so I'm glad you were able to contact me here. Thanks for letting me know about the formatting issue. I've fixed it and send a corrected files to UB. Hopefully it will be switched out quickly. Happy Gardening!


Sunday 24th of May 2020

Wish I had found your site before i started gardening! This year will definitely have lots of “learning experiences.” I will be much more prepared next year!

Angi Schneider

Sunday 24th of May 2020

You will be much more prepared for next year! Plus you never know how the season will end up until it's over, you may be pleasantly surprised!