If you've never gardened before and the idea of having a full vegetable bed seems overwhelming or scary, or if you simply don't have a yard to grow food in, I encourage you to make 2010 the year you grow something edible. You don't need to start with a huge bed (in fact, it's probably better if you don't). Just one single plant is a good way to ease your way into growing your own food. You don't even need a yard. Just a doorstep will do.
I even have some suggestions on what plant you ought to try.
If you have an area that recieves full sun (that's at least six hours of sun each day), get yourself a tomato plant. Store bought tomatoes don't taste anything like home grown, and everyone deserves to know how truly amazing fresh tomatoes are. Tomatoes are also easy to grow:
1. Buy a small plant at a local nursery (because not everyone has a long enough season to grow tomatoes from seed) and plant it as soon as your last threat of frost has passed*. For the most fruit, select an indeterminate variety (meaning it will produce fruit pretty much all season and tends to be viny). If you have very limited space, choose a determinate (bushy) variety that will produce fruit all at once, then die.
2. Buy a plastic pot with drainage holes and a "saucer" at the bottom. Expert opinion varies a lot on what size pot you should use. Some say a standard pot with a diameter of at least 12 inches works, others suggest a 5 gallon pot, and still others a 15 gallon pot. I'd go with 5 gallon. (Don't choose terra cotta or fiberglass, because you'll have to water more frequently if you do.)
3. Purchase some decent potting soil. Choose something in the mid-price range, preferably designed for growing tomatoes.
4. Also buy a tomato cage. Although smaller, bushier tomatoes may not need one, it's best to plant the tomato with one; it's difficult to adequately stake a plant after it starts sprawling.
5. Tip the tomato plant upside down and gently shake off the nursery pot it came in. Gently loosen the soil around the first 1/2 inch of roots.
6. Place some potting soil in the bottom of the pot, pat it down, then place the tomato plant on top of it. The bottom leaves of the plant shouldn't be but 1-2 inches below the top of the pot. Add more potting soil around the plant, patting it down as you go and burying the stem all the way up to the lowest set of leaves.
7. Insert the tomato cage until the bottom horizontal bar touches the top of the soil.
8. Water until the liquid begins filling up the saucer at the bottom of the pot.
Tomatoes require regularly watering. If the first inch of soil is dry when you stick a finger into the pot, it's time to water. Because tomatoes need lots of nutrients, and because every time you water you wash nutrients from the soil, tomatoes need fertilizing. My hubby prefers Miracle Grow, but fish emulsion or seaweed extract applied at half strength work for the organic gardener. Fertilize at least once a month - ideally every other week.
It's not necessary to mulch your potted tomato, but it's helpful. Mulches like bark or straw help retain water in the pot and prevent weeds from sprouting. Red plastic mulch increases fruiting; you can find this at a gardening center. Just cut it to the size of your pot, cut an X in the middle, and slip it over the baby plant right after potting and watering. You can use stakes or small rocks (an inch or so big) to hold the plastic down.
If you don't have full sun, check to make you have at least three hours of sun or consistent dappled shade. If you do, grow some salad greens. These are even easier than tomatoes:
1. Early in the spring, purchase salad green seeds or seedlings.
2. Purchase a pot - I'd say 5 gallons, but you can use a smaller pot (you'll just have fewer salad greens). It should have drainage holes and a "saucer" bottom.
3. Purchase some decent potting soil. Mid-priced stuff is fine.
4. Fill the pot with soil, to within an inch of the top of the pot.
5. Plant seedlings, digging little holes in the soil, setting plants in, and filling in around them with more soil. Or, water the soil well, then plant seeds.
Water whenever the first inch of soil is dry when you insert a finger into it. Harvest your greens regularly, as soon as you have more than a few leaves. If you allow the plants to get too old, they'll be less tasty, and if they "bolt" (grow seed heads), they'll be bitter. Once you've eaten up one plant, plant some more seeds or seedlings and you'll have green through fall.
* Learn what the last frost date is for your ZIP code by visiting Dave's Garden.