Growing Your Own Food

How to Start a Home Garden (And Why You Should)

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

People who grow their own food often insist that it tastes better than the store-bought variety — and for good reason. Food that is grown locally and eaten within hours of being harvested is at its peak in terms of flavor and nutrients.

Plus, gardening can be fun for the whole family.

“It’s a great way to learn about food, connect with your family and enjoy outdoor activities,” says Trevor Johnson, who is the resident farmer overseeing the Greenhouse at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Home Gardening Basics

Countless studies support the idea that getting your hands dirty is good for health and well-being. In addition to alleviating stress, gardening enhances flexibility, improves mood and provides fresh, healthy produce. Here’s how to get started.

  1. Check the soil: Before you start planting, make sure your soil is suitable for growing. Michigan State University Extension will do a basic soil test to analyze organic matter and nutrients. You might also want to have your soil tested for heavy metals. Lead and arsenic are common in Michigan soil. Want to skip this step? Plant crops in bins, barrels or other above-ground planters using store-bought soil.
  2. Focus on only a few crops: Only grow a few crops — things you know you will use on a weekly basis. “This isn’t the time to experiment with a new fruit or obscure vegetable you want your kids to like,” Johnson says. Need inspiration? Check out a basic gardening book like Artichoke to Zucchini: A Vegetable Gardener’s Bible or Gaia’s Garden.
  3. Keep it simple: There are several herbs, vegetables and fruits that you can plant and forget for a while. Examples include short perennials like radishes, lettuce, cilantro, thyme, basil and oregano. Tomatoes are also easy to grow. Vegetables that are a little more difficult for beginning growers: Squash, peppers, eggplant, melons and cauliflower. Any 120-day crops (those that grow in a 120-day cycle) are a bit risky in this climate.
  4. Find your people: A great way to get into gardening is to join a community garden. “Most people who participate in these gardens are very generous in terms of sharing information,” Johnson says. “They can also help guide you based on your level of experience.”
  5. Get engaged: Food touches everything. So focusing on your food — where it comes from, how it’s grown and prepared and what it does to nourish your body — is engaging with your humanity. It all relates to self-care.

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Nurture Your Garden and Yourself

Growing your own food can be a rewarding experience, but it’s vital to remember that it does take work. You have to nurture your garden if you want it to nurture you.

“You have to make a commitment to learn, become a scientist and experiment,” Johnson says. “Then, focus on what brings you joy. That’s the best feedback for gardening.”

While you’re out tending the soil, it’s important to take care of yourself, too. Apply sunscreen, wear a broad-brimmed hat and drink plenty of water.

Proper food preparation is also part of the process. Always wash your produce and choose cooking methods that retain nutrients. Take cooking classes, visit farmers markets and go to places where you’ll learn how to put foods together.

Interested in learning more? Sign up for a class at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital’s Demonstration Kitchen and subscribe today to receive weekly emails of our latest tips on nutrition and healthy recipes.


Trevor Johnson is the resident farmer at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital’s Greenhouse, which is Michigan’s first hospital-based greenhouse. It supplies produce for patient meals, hospital café use and the weekly seasonal market held at the hospital, as well as providing innovative educational programs for children and the community.