Friday, January 4, 2008

Food in the garden, money on the table

If you need to find extra money to pay increasing mortgage payments, if you want to spend less or save more, or if you simply want to be healthier, gardening is the way to go.
Before you brush the idea off, think about it. You don't need a lot of space or money to get started, especially if you get creative. After the initial work of getting it planted, your garden will not require much maintenance if you keep after it. You'll be eating healthier and getting good exerscise. And, the best part is that you'll be spending a lot less at the grocery store. Food in the garden is money on your table.
Last year, our garden saved us easily $2500. That's a little over $200 a month. That may seem like a lot of food to grow. Yes and no, depending on what you plant. Lettuce, tomatoes and other salad ingredients were ridiculously expensive. I will not pay $3 for a pound of tomatoes. That isn't even enough to make a good sauce or a bowl of salsa. Considering what it costs to buy enough for a family size salad, it makes so much more sense to grow your own.
If you've never tried your hand at gardening, don't be afraid of it. It isn't difficult. And, there are tons of resources online and in the library to help you get started, and answer your questions. A quick search will give you a long list of websites that offer help for the beginning gardener.
The best way to get started is to grab your hoe and dig in. Decide where to plant and get the soil prepared. Besides turning the soil, breaking it up and making sure all the rocks are removed, you'll need to add some quality organic material for nutrients. Take note of the word organic. Planting a vegetable garden that isn't organic doesn't make any sense at all. You don't want anything synthetic in your food, so don't put it there. Whatever goes in the ground will end up in your food. I use organic steer manure, and compost that we make ourselves.
Next, you'll need to decide what you want to grow. A good rule to follow is plant what you want to eat. Keep in mind that some plants grow tall and keep producing throughout the season, where as some grow low to the ground and are a one time harvest, such as lettuce and spinach. Others, like certain squashes and melons are space hogs, so if you're starting small you may not want to grow them. You don't want your tall plants to steal sunlight from the shorter ones, so keep that in mind when you plant. One time harvest plants need to be planted in succession, one or two weeks apart, to ensure a continuous supply throughout the year. Allow room to keep planting.
Even though it is the dead of winter, you can go ahead and start some seeds inside in a sunny window. When it's time to plant, you'll have good size plants ready to put in the ground. My plan is to get my garden in by the end of February. It's always worked well for me. And, by the end of April we'll be eating fresh salads, salsa and sauces from our backyard. What could be better?
Your garden will be good for you, good for your budget, and you will enjoy, and maybe even be surprised by, the fresh taste of the foods you grow.
Keep checking back for more gardening ideas. We'll be discussing how to transform your yard into an edible landscape, how to plan and plant for homegrown gifts, recipe ideas, ideas for food preservation, and how to put your home and yard to work for you. So, grab your hoes and get busy. There's no time like right now to get started.