Growing Food From Your Garden

by Richie Santucci, RD, CDE, CPT

Last Updated: March 16, 2021

Growing your own fruits, vegetables and herbs is a great way to enjoy the outdoors while also creating something. Home gardening has been on the rise recently, which can help with food security in times of food shortages. Some people have even replaced their lawns with more fruitful alternatives. It’s a fascinating process that many farmers and do-it-yourself-ers have spent their whole lives perfecting. There are many ways to grow, so hopefully, this guide will help you get started. Happy planting!

When to start.
First, consider what you can grow in your area and what season you should plant it. Each area in the U.S. is classified into a certain climate zone, often called a “growing zone,” which can be found online. You can search for spring or fall “planting guides” to help guide this new endeavor. This calendar or guide will tell you the best time to start seeds or when to transplant them into your garden. You can also look at the back of a seed packet to identify the growing zones and when to plant.

Healthy soil = healthy plants.
Plants get nutrients from the soil, so your soil will determine the health of your plants. There are various options to choose from, including organic soil mixes, compost, and fertilizers. Compost is a nutrient-rich soil created by organic matter breaking down over time, including food scraps, wood, and more! Compost takes time to make, as microbes must work on breaking down the organic matter a little at a time. If you are interested in learning to compost, check out this article. Fertilizer is more concentrated than compost and can feed the plants more quickly. Often, the soil in your yard will be either too hard, like clay, or too sandy. Adding different components to your soil or can help balance out the consistency. You can get your soil tested to find the pH and the mineral content of your soil, but it is a good idea to add some compost or fertilizer to the area you will be growing in. Most plants thrive at a pH between 6 and 7, and different things can be added to raise or lower your soil’s pH. A typical soil mix for creating soil from scratch is 60% topsoil, 30% compost, and 10% potting soil. Kroger has various different soils, potting mixes, and soil test kits that you can find here.

How to start:
  • To start from seeds.
    The general rule is to start seeds 6-8 weeks indoors before the last frost in your growing zone. Starting the seeds indoors gives you a jump on the season, especially in areas with longer, colder winters. Seeds are available at Kroger in the early spring to give enough time to start them indoors. You want to use a potting mix designated for fruit, vegetables, and herbs with this option. Usually, one type of potting mix will cover all these types of plants. And many of the potting mixes come with added fertilizer to help feed the seedlings and are made for indoor use with little to no insects.
  • Transplanting young plants.
    Kroger will have young fruit, vegetable, and herb plants out usually after the first frost. You can pick these up on your next grocery run and determine whether you want to transplant them in the ground, a raised garden bed, or keep them in pots. As a general rule, most plants need at least a good 10” diameter by 12” deep pot for sufficient root growth. Fruit trees and bushes are usually planted in the ground and instructions on the tag. Potting mix is generally used for pots, as it drains differently than the mixes for raised beds and ground gardening. Consider a potting mix or garden soil with added fertilizer or compost for enhanced growth to get started. Ideal soil mixes for raised beds and ground gardening are covered below.
  • Direct seed planting.
    Planting the seeds directly into an outdoor pot or garden is another option. If choosing this route, you often have to wait until the last frost day in your area to plant. You will have to wait longer for your plants to grow, but, it can be a good option for those in warmer climates, like the South or Southwest. You can use a raised garden bed or directly into the ground. Check out some of Kroger’s seed offerings here.
  • Hydroponics and aeroponics.
    This is a quickly growing science and differs from growing in soil. In hydroponics, the roots soak in water, and in Aeroponics, the roots are sprayed with a constant mist. Both innovative forms of gardening require a stricter addition of nutrients since water does not contain all the nutrients needed. It’s a great option for those wanting to grow indoors when conditions outside are not ideal.

What to plant?
When deciding what to plant, you must first consider what you can plant in your area, based on the sun available to you each day and your growing zone. Some plants need “full sun,” meaning 8 or more hours of sun a day. While other plants can thrive in a shadier spot. Most fruits and vegetables can be grown in the spring or summer. However, many root vegetables and squashes, like sweet potatoes or pumpkins, are started in summer for the fall. If you missed one season, you could always get ready for the next! Here are the basic categories of what to grow:
  • Vegetables
    Vegetables give us so many phytonutrients, fiber and vitamins, and minerals for a healthy lifestyle. Most vegetables we think of are suited for summer growing, like green beans, peppers, tomatoes, and lettuces. Starchier vegetables like corn, potatoes, and squash are often started in summer for the fall harvest. Most vegetables are annuals, meaning you must replant them every year. Kale and collards will “winter over,” meaning they will last for up to a year and a half!
  • Fruits
    Fruits are fun to grow, as many love the excitement of biting into a sweet piece of fruit. Many fruits are perennial, meaning they will come back every year. Many fruits grow on trees, so consider planting an apple, pear, or mulberry tree for years of fruit picking fun!
  • Herbs
    Herbs are a great way to add fresh flavor to your meals without adding additional sodium! They can often be grown indoors all year long with the right care. Herbs often have up to 5x the antioxidants found in vegetables and contain many different vitamins and minerals. Some common herbs to grow are basil, parsley, cilantro, dill, mint, and oregano.
  • Grains and dry beans.
    It is possible for you to grow your own grains and dry beans in your yard as well. This type of growth can be more involved, and sometimes it is harder to find these seeds and plants in stores. Look for more on this subject to come!

Whatever option you choose to start growing your own fruits, vegetables and herbs, remember, it is a learning process. You can make it a hobby or even a fun family activity! Whether you choose to grow indoors, in pots, raised beds, or the soil in your ground, growing food is a practice as old as humanity. If you feel moved to expand your gardening horizons, find out which growing zone you are in, and remember, don’t just sit there, grow something!

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Richie Santucci, RD, CDE, CPT

Richie Santucci, RD, CDE, CPT

Richie Santucci has spent his whole life dedicated to health. After wrestling, boxing, & MMA, drained from overtraining, Richie spent the next 12 years creating a more plant-based diet program to rebuild his health. Richie is ready to help you live a healthier life with more energy and vitality and loves to help you plan meals for the family. In his free time, Richie enjoys playing music, disc golfing, gardening, and exploring local parks. His mission is to help people feel and perform better to enjoy a fun, fulfilling and productive life while respecting and caring for the planet.