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Randy Schultz of HomeGarden and Homestead: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Vegetable Garden To Grow Your Own Food

An Interview With Martita Mestey

Pick the best garden spot on your property. Most vegetables grow best in a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. So don’t put your vegetable garden underneath a big tree where it’s shady. And in hot climates, your vegetable garden plants are not going to be happy with hot, baking afternoon sun. So don’t try to grow vegetables next to a wall that’s in the hot sun all afternoon.

As we all know, inflation has really increased the price of food. Many people have turned to home gardening to grow their own food. Many have tried this and have been really successful. But others struggle to produce food in their own garden. What do you need to know to create a successful vegetable garden to grow your own food? In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Vegetable Garden To Grow Your Own Food” we are talking to experts in vegetable gardening who can share stories and insights from their experiences.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Randy Schultz, Founder and Content Editor of HomeGardenandHomestead.com.

Randy Schultz is a lifelong gardener who fell in love with gardening after growing “the world’s tastiest tomatoes” as a child. A communications professional by training, Randy has served as a marketing consultant to a wide range of home and garden companies including Summit Responsible Solutions, Botanical Interests, Power Planter, CobraHead, Logee’s Plants, and Park Seed. In 2018, Randy founded HomeGardenandHomestead.com, an online guide to what’s new and trending for homes and gardens. This website has twice been honored with a Gold Medal Award from GardenComm. Randy is a Master Gardener who still gets his hands dirty in his garden in Colorado Springs, CO.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

I have always enjoyed growing plants, and I have always been fascinated by plants that produce food. One of my earliest memories is picking peaches from our backyard tree in suburban Detroit. Later, when my family moved to Southern California, I really started getting my hands dirty in the family vegetable garden.

The closest thing I had to a gardening mentor was my paternal grandmother, but I only saw her for a week or two in the summer when we drove up to Oregon. So, mostly I learned about growing vegetables by trial and success. Yes, I learned by making mistakes. But I always tried to focus on the successes — like harvesting salad greens or eating homegrown squash.

I must admit that I started out as a “vegetable snob.” I had no idea why anyone would grow ornamental plants or flowers. I wanted to grow plants that rewarded me with a prize — something delicious I could eat. I still carry some of that bias with me now, even though I’m a Master Gardener and have grown all kinds of plants.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In the early 1990s, I published 11 editions of a media guide called The Consumer’s Guide to Planet Earth. It was a directory of eco-friendly companies and their products. The idea was to promote environmentally friendly products so people could make consumer choices that would help the planet.

The most successful section of the Consumer’s Guide was the gardening section. Companies loved to be listed in it, and journalists loved to write about things such as organic gardening and composting. When I stopped publishing the Consumer’s Guide, I decided to focus my public relations and marketing business on garden products. It was one of those, “do what you like, and the money will follow” kind of decisions. My business flourished, and I got to learn about and talk about gardening — and get paid for it.

Along the way, I joined an organization that’s now called GardenComm. This is a group of garden writers and gardening communicators that spans North America and now the world. These are people who love gardening and have chosen it as a career path. I became one of them, and that’s how I managed to fully integrate gardening into my life.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Honesty. I have always strived to be honest in my dealings with other people and honest with myself. If you want to succeed in life, you need to tell the truth. My grandpa once gave me this advice: It’s a whole lot better — and easier — to tell the truth. Nobody is smart enough to remember which lie you told to which person.

A strong work ethic. Most of us don’t get rich quick, and most of us don’t achieve immediate success. You have to work at it. A strong work ethic is the one common trait among every successful person I have ever met. Luck is the residue of hard work. And good luck is where opportunity and preparation meet.

Positive outlook. I have always tried to look on the bright side and walk on the sunny side of the street. It’s part of my nature, but it’s also a trait that I’ve developed into a habit. I am a firm believer in this: your attitude determines your altitude. In other words, your positive outlook will determine how far and how high you can go in life. One of my greatest accomplishments as a parent was when my oldest son told me, “You were the one who taught me how important a positive attitude is.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite people in the world of gardening, Karen Park Jennings, once told me, “I’ve learned a lot by killing plants.” Karen was from a very famous family of gardeners — the Park Seed family. Yet she learned about gardening in the old-fashioned, hands-in-the dirt way. Karen reminded me that in gardening, and in life, it’s all right to make mistakes — as long as you learn from them.

Are you working on any interesting or exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My “passion project” continues to be https://homegardenandhomestead.com/. I started the website because I have always wanted to be a magazine editor. The Internet enabled me to start an online magazine without needing much “seed” capital (pun intended) and without having to move to New York. I have been delighted and gratified by the public reaction to the website.

My goal is to expand the reach of the website, expand the HG&H YouTube channel, and perhaps launch a Home Garden and Homestead TV show. Anything I can do to encourage people to garden interests me. The mission statement of my company is this: “We make the world a better place, one home and one garden at a time.”

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about creating a successful garden to grow your own food. Can you help articulate a few reasons why people should be interested in making their own vegetable garden? For example, how is it better for our health? For the environment? For our wallet?

Growing food in your backyard — or in containers on a patio or balcony — makes sense is so many ways. Where do I begin?

The simple act of planting a seed and nurturing it from a seedling to a mature plant lets you participate in the miracle of life that makes this planet unique. You get to experience the cycle of life — how a seed becomes a plant, and how that plant creates new seeds for the next generation of plants.

Growing food is essential to human life on Earth. It has been said that agriculture — the act of growing food — is what made civilization possible. Ten thousand years ago, when nomadic humans decided to settle down and start growing their own food, they changed Planet Earth forever. We have literally been reaping the benefits ever since.

In the modern 21st century world, growing food makes more sense than ever. Gardening in and of itself is a healthy endeavor. Growing plants makes us mentally and physically heathier. There is nothing healthier for a human body that eating locally grown, organic food. Growing homegrown food is wonderful for the environment, because no fossil fuels used for shipping or production. And once you get the hang of it, growing your own food is an act of financial independence. It’s a win-win-win proposition every way you look at it.

Where should someone start if they would like to start a garden? Which resources would you recommend? Which plants should they start with?

Start with the easiest plants to grow. What turns novice gardeners into lifelong gardeners is success. It doesn’t take much success to get the process started. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of ripe tomatoes. The flavor of a ripe, homegrown tomato has turned more people into gardeners than anything else.

Seriously, if your only experience of what a tomato tastes like is the hard, orange tomatoes from the supermarket, you are missing a real treat. A vine-ripened tomato is one of Mother Nature’s masterpieces. The taste of your first homegrown tomato can change your life.

All it takes is a few minutes of online research to decide what to plant in your garden. Google “easiest vegetables to grow.” Then pick a couple of veggies that you like to eat. Lettuce and spinach are great choices for beginners. Peppers and squash are, too. And there’s a really good reason why tomatoes are America’s favorite backyard crop. A tomato plant is easy to grow, it’s prolific, and homegrown tomatoes taste divine.

Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Vegetable Garden To Grow Your Own Food”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Know your climate. To grow a successful vegetable garden, you must know your climate. That’s true no matter where in the world you garden. In the United States, knowing your climate begins with knowing your USDA climate zone. (If you don’t know your zone, Google it.)

The USDA zone for your location will tell you when your average last frost date is in the spring and when your average first frost date is in the fall. The number of days between those two dates is the length of your growing season.

Why is this important? The majority of vegetable garden plants are not cold hardy. They die (or are damaged) when temperatures drop below freezing (32 degrees F.) So, you can only grow vegetables in your garden when there’s little or no chance of frost.

Know the difference between cool and warm season vegetables. Once you know the basics about your climate, then you need to learn the basics about the vegetables you want to grow. Many edible plants can be grouped into two types: cool season vegetables and warm season vegetables. Cool season veggies include peas, broccoli, kale, cabbage, lettuce, and spinach. Warm season vegetables include tomatoes, melons, squash, peppers, and corn.

As a beginning gardener, I planted cool season crops at the beginning of the gardening season and grew warm season crops later (well after the last frost date). Then, when I became more experienced, I also planted some cool season varieties at the end of summer. These thrived as the days cooled off in the fall.

Pick the best garden spot on your property. Most vegetables grow best in a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. So don’t put your vegetable garden underneath a big tree where it’s shady. And in hot climates, your vegetable garden plants are not going to be happy with hot, baking afternoon sun. So don’t try to grow vegetables next to a wall that’s in the hot sun all afternoon.

Then, make your soil better. Add organic fertilizer. Add compost, which increases the soil’s ability to retain water. Your garden will be successful if you create the most conducive conditions for growing healthy plants.

Examine your garden every day. The best way to become an expert gardener is to observe your plants. Notice when the leaves start to wilt. Then water those plants. Look for the first arrival of insect pests. A few insects can be easily removed by hand or washed from your plants with a stream of water from a hose. But hundreds of insects is an infestation, which usually requires a pest control treatment. (Always start with the least toxic approach.) If you are observing your plants every day, you almost never have to deal with a full-blown infestation.

Grow what you like to eat. There is no point in growing vegetables you don’t like. (Unless you’re growing it for someone else who does like it.) I must admit to growing a few vegetables I really don’t like. I don’t like hot chile peppers (but my wife does). I don’t like cantaloupe, but I didn’t know just how much I don’t like cantaloupe until I grew a bumper crop and got sick of eating them. Now I only grow the veggies I love to eat.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a garden? What specifically can be done to avoid those errors?

Often, beginners plant too many seeds or starter plants. They don’t know just how many cherry tomatoes one healthy plant can produce. Another mistake novices make is starting with a garden space that is too large. It is better to grow a successful small garden than to fail at a larger garden.

Another bit of advice: follow the planting instructions on the back of the seed packet. Remember that seedlings become small plants, and small plants become large, mature plants. Leave plenty of space between your starter plants and seeds. Trust me, the plants will fill in the open spaces — and crowded plants don’t produce as much food as properly spaced plants.

What are some of the best ways to keep the costs of gardening down?

Growing from seeds is best way to grow a vegetable garden on a budget. A packet of seeds is a very small investment, and each packet contains dozens of seeds. A seed packet usually costs just a few dollars. You might get 50 squash plants to grow from a single packet of squash seeds.

Compare this to starter plants. When you buy vegetable starter plants, you get a “jump start” on your vegetable garden. The commercially started seeds were planted in a greenhouse. The plants are already several weeks old when you buy them at a garden center or big box store. But this convenience costs you in dollars. The price for a single pepper or cucumber plant can be $5 or more (depending on the size of the plant). It can be very costly to use transplants to grow a large vegetable garden. And some plants — such as lettuce and spinach — don’t always transplant well. You’re better off sowing these seeds directly into your garden.

The primary exception to the Grow from Seeds Rule is tomato plants. Tomato seeds require a long growing season to go from sprouts to mature, fruiting plants. Unless your growing season is really long (USDA Zone 8 or higher), growing tomatoes from seed probably isn’t an option. Even the pros start their seeds indoors 6–8 weeks before their last frost date. So, it’s OK to buy a few tomato plants. Heck, that’s how I got started as a vegetable gardener. But I never buy the really big tomato plants for $25–35. I buy the $5 tomato plants. Tomato plants grow incredibly fast once the weather warms up. After a month in the garden, a $5 tomato plant and a $30 tomato plant look the same.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Let’s start a “Plant a Seed” initiative with the goal of teaching every child on Earth how to plant a seed and successfully grow a plant. Those of us who have been gardening for years might forget just how powerful it is to get a seed to grow the first time you do it.

Growing a seed and nurturing a plant teaches you how to care for another living thing. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel proud. In a subtle way, it teaches you about empathy for others. It is a “real world” skill that requires a person to get away from a video screen and do something constructive.

Then, after a child has had the “Plant a Seed” experience, I think we should encourage them to attend after-school classes to teach elementary school kids about gardening. The more urbanized and high-technified we become, the more important it is to teach basic skills about the natural world.

True story: When I lived in Albuquerque, one of my volunteer projects as a Master Gardener was to visit second grade classes and talk about seeds. In a one-hour session, I showed them different kinds of seeds and asked them to guess what kind of plant each seed would grow. I planted a seed in a cup, and then in an “abracadabra” fashion I revealed the plant that grew from the seed. The kids were always amazed. Then, every child got to plant a sunflower seed or bean seed in a cup of dirt and take it home. I’d like to think I helped “plant the seeds” for a whole generation of new gardeners. That’s why I think a universal “Plant a Seed” program would be good for kids — and good for the planet.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I would love to have lunch with Sir Paul McCartney. Yes, I was a major Beatles fan as a kid. But what interests me most about Sir Paul is he seems so normal. He has been one of the most famous people on the planet for over 50 years, but he still seems so down to earth. I would love to know how he has managed that. Plus, just after the Beatles broke up, he moved to a farm in Scotland to be with his wife and kids. How great is that?

I think Paul and I could have a nice lunch and he could tell me about his life — in and out of the public eye. Then we would take a walk through his garden, and we’d talk about our favorite plants.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Start by visiting https://homegardenandhomestead.com/. We post new stories several times a week about all aspects of gardening. We cover everything from how to grow specific vegetable varieties to organic pest control. We even have a whole library of stories that review cordless electric power equipment.

Then check out the Home Garden and Homestead pages on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. We also have a Home Garden and Homestead channel on YouTube and a store on Amazon.

Thank you so much for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success and good health.

Thank you! It was fun talking with you!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Martita Mestey

Martita Mestey

Entrepreneur | Investor | Connector | Inventor

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