Secrets To Growing Your Own Food, Even If You Constantly Move

by | Apr 27, 2022 | Articles, Blog, Environmental, Financial, Nature, Nutrition, PCS / Moving

As military spouses, eating healthy on a budget can be a challenge depending on your location and access to local produce. Farmers’ markets, farm co-ops, and even conventional grocery stores can be expensive. Spouses across the world are getting their hands dirty and growing their own food instead. Read along for ideas and inspiration to start your own garden!



Gardening overseas has the same originating basis as it does stateside or anywhere else on your globe. It begins as a garden in your heart, and you grow the reality from there. In my experience, nearly all living spaces can facilitate a functional garden of some scale. 

As a guest in Japan or elsewhere in the world, I find it would be a missed lifetime opportunity not to learn from the host citizens of the nation you live in. The Japanese have cultivated their landscape over thousands of years, so a huge volume of knowledge, science, and experience is readily at hand in your local and regional area. 

For me, I begin with a bicycle ride or a walk in the neighborhoods and communities that surround where I live, and I make it a point to wander through neighborhoods outside my daily routine. I inquire about the weather and the climate and how it affects growing conditions. I observe, sketch, and take permissive photos of gardens and farms for growing practices that are similar to practices in my stateside experiences, and take note of what is different from what I am familiar with. I make a note of what interests me and I also look for gardening ideas that are novel or adaptations to take advantage of what the growing conditions allow. Most of all, I talk to the members of the local community. They have the knowledge, practices, and wisdom of living and growing in their respective area from years back to several generations.

Most nations have explicit restrictions on introducing or importing foreign plant species unless they undergo a rigorous quarantine process. The most successful practice for gardening in a new region of the globe is procuring seeds, seedlings, and developed plants from local and regional sources. This ensures greater measures of safety against invasive pest problems to your host nations, much like the measures employed by your nation of origin before you arrived in Japan.

Adaptation is key to optimizing a growing space in your home, considering that nothing may be the same as your last dwelling. Thus, the beautiful display of tropical zone cultivars such as mangos, papaya, and year-round flowers that you enjoyed in Hawaii and Guam may only marginally perform in semi-tropical Okinawa, or you may have to settle for a mild temperate zone version of that plant that can survive in the temperate Kanto plain region, yet this same plant will not be suitable for those living in the Misawa community. Therefore, seeking out advice and recommendations from your host nation community is the best bet to eventual success. 

Note for those in the US: In the United States, all land-grant universities offer some scale of research-based gardening data and best practices for household clients through their University Extension Service. Washington State University began its residential gardening outreach in the early 1970s with the creation of the Master Gardener Program and since then all states and most territories have some identical or similar model of extension programs that seek to provide guidance, data, and recommendations to their service jurisdiction. For more information on gardening from the Washington State University Extension please visit or Google your local university extension to check out their offerings!



Gardening, or my “dirt therapy” as my husband likes to call it, is exceptionally grounding (pun intended). With military life uprooting us every 18-36 months for the last ten years, I’ve found that I combat the whirlwind of starting over and needing to build a home best with my garden. 

My garden consists of flowers and produce, which bring beauty and deliciousness into our home. I could write a whole article about the benefits of gardening for you and your family, but for today I’ll just walk you through how you can start your own renter-friendly garden. I’ll go over what you need to get started, the easiest food to grow for new gardeners, how to make sure you have a flourishing garden, and what I take with me each time I move. 


The biggest mistake I’ve seen gardeners make is thinking they “should” grow certain things because they are told it’s easier. If you don’t eat a lot of tomatoes or tomato sauce, please don’t grow tomatoes. Think about what produce you eat and match that against the list of easy to grow vegetables below. 

As a military spouse you can get a wide variety of housing options. Sometimes you are in a home where you can completely change the landscape, and in others, there are no-dig rules. To combat the variety of rules and constant moving I love to create container gardens. While you can use any seven to fifteen gallon container, I prefer to use fabric ones since they condense and take minimal space when packing. Well, let me say that more honestly. My husband loves them because they take minimal space when packing. I love them for all their ease in gardening! 

I’ve tried a handful of brands and these VivoSun fabric plant grow bags on Amazon are my favorite. They are sturdy, breathable, drain well, come with labels, and have handles that make them easy to move if you need to. 

If you are on a military base and want to create any sort of raised beds or dig in the ground, just make sure you test your soil before growing anything you will eat. Most military bases were used before regulations on what could go into the ground existed, so their soil has various materials in them you don’t want in your body. It’s not impossible but be aware and have your soil tested. 


  • Be mindful of how much space you have and how much sun it gets. Luckily the bags have handles so you can move them if you need, but if you only have a three-foot space, be mindful.

  • Think the bigger the plant, the more soil it needs. A bushy cherry tomato plant needs more dirt than carrots. So, you can plant fifteen carrots in a seven-gallon bag but you’ll need at least a ten gallon one for a cherry tomato.

  • Plant things together. Not everything needs its own bag. Keep in mind rule two above, but many plants thrive when they are grouped together. Check out this chart to see which plants grow well together.


Lettuce Spinach Radishes

Carrots Cucumbers Bell Peppers

Peas Green Beans Potatoes

Zucchini Beans Swiss chard

Kale Onions Garlic

Scallions Summer Squash Eggplants

Pumpkins Beets Tomatoes 

Herbs (including thyme, rosemary, basil, cilantro, sage, mint, oregano, etc.)


Remember that growing your own food is so simple they teach it in kindergarten. Plants need varying amounts of sun, space (the bigger the plant the more soil it needs), water, and nutrients. Quick nerdy moment: produce especially needs nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The dirt you find in your yard or at home improvement stores rarely has everything you’ll need. 

Here are some essential supplies:

  • Fabric containers

  • Soil: many home improvement stores may even have potting soil specifically for containers.

  • Compost/Fertilizer/Manure: Organic is always best. Follow instructions on the bag to know the ratio needed.

  • Seeds: easily found at home improvement or even grocery stores.

  • Watering hose: you don’t want anything too forceful.


Growing your own food can seem intimidating, but it’s a lot simpler than most people think. Here are a few quick tips to make sure you succeed:

  • Read the instructions for your seeds and make a sun and watering plan on a piece of paper. Keep it somewhere you can reference throughout the season.

  • Put alarms in your phone to water. Don’t assume you’ll remember, just use the alarms to make sure.

  • After your seeds sprout, check on them once a week and determine if they need more/less sun and water. Keep notes on your paper.

  • Find a local nursery and ask for their advice! With moving so often it’s hard to always know what’s best in your area. Local nursery employees are often exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable.

  • Start small. Don’t be in a rush to have a huge garden. Start this season with a handful of plants, master them, then add more next season.


I’ve seen a lot of military spouses limit themselves a lot when it comes to figuring out what of your garden you can take with you as you move. The thing that helped me see all the options was when I realized how many companies are shipping plants all over the country. If they can sell plants that way, then there has to be a way for me to bring part of my garden with me! So, this last PCS I tested a few things out.

I packed my dirt. Yes, I moved dirt and yes, the movers thought I was crazy. Bear in mind, I typically have a twenty plus container garden and have cultivated my soil over the years. Since we had plenty of weight allowance, I didn’t want to start over. I bought big sandbags from Amazon, loaded my dirt, and then come moving day they went into the truck. I planted tulip and daffodil bulbs in the fall and moved the containers. This particular PCS was in the winter and I wanted to see if they would survive. Come spring we were still able to enjoy gorgeous blooms. 

I’ve packed seedlings. These seedlings were about six weeks along of a variety of vegetables and flowers. I packaged them tightly with packing paper, so they wouldn’t get tossed around. I opened the box once we arrived and over 75% ended up thriving!

**Just be sure to check regulations! Most countries restrict importing plants and dirt so this won’t work for overseas moves, and might also be different from state to state for CONUS moves.** 

Growing Does Not Have To End!

No matter your experience level or how often you move, every military spouse can grow their own food! Just follow the steps in this article and don’t be afraid to ask when you have questions. Ask your local nursery employees or send me a DM on Instagram

Happy planting and make sure you share pictures of your gardens on social media and tag @Independentorg so we can cheer you on!

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