Step 1: Choose your spot.
You don’t need much—if you have a small amount of outdoor space, you can grow vegetables. Raised beds and tidy plots are great, but many edibles—including lettuce, herbs, and tomatoes—can flourish in containers on a balcony or patio.
When it comes to location, sunshine is the most important factor to consider. “You need a minimum of six hours [of sunlight],” Wiser says, “but you want as much sun as possible.”
Extreme heat is hard on plants, says Kevin Erdmann, certified nursery professional and master gardener with Phoenix’s Berridge Nurseries. “In cooler climates, such as Montana and higher elevations of Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, vegetable beds or pots can go out in the sun, well away from trees or buildings that might shade them,” Erdmann says. In hot climates—where temperatures reach 105° Fahrenheit in the summertime—plants require afternoon shade.
Step 2: Test your soil.
Veggies thrive in well drained, nutrient-rich soil. “Western soils are nutrient poor, and sometimes highly alkaline, which locks up some nutrients,” Erdmann says.
The best way to know the state of your soil is to send a sample to a professional lab or to test it with an at-home kit from a garden center or hardware store. Doing so reveals the nutrients and pH of your soil. If your soil isn’t ideal, Erdmann recommends you either:
- Improve the existing soil with a four-inch layer of compost and organic plant foods. “Till all of that into the top foot of soil, put down an inch or two of organic mulch, water deeply to settle everything down, and let it sit for two weeks [before planting],” Erdmann says. Revitalizing your existing soil is the most sustainable and low maintenance option.
- Plant in raised beds or containers filled with new potting soil.