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A guest post by Jo (Georgia)
[This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest – First Prize winner will receive a gift certificate for $170 worth of Winchester Ammo. Second Prize winner will receive 3 dozen Tattler Reusable Canning Lids . Third Prize winner will receive a LifeStraw.]
Times being what they are we’re all trying to save a little money. Here’s some tips on how to stretch that dollar even further with a home garden. Start planning now for next years growing season.
Choosing what to plant.
Make a list of the foods you eat regularly at their basic ingredients level. You have probably already done this so this part should be pretty easy. For example our family likes to have spaghetti at least twice a month. So this would be tomatoes, basil, savory, garlic, onions, peppers, etc. You can leave off things you know you can’t or don’t have room to grow such as a cow for beef or semolina wheat for pasta. Then cross out items that won’t grow in your area.
The remaining items are your working list. Next, and you may already have this data handy from your thrifty grocery shopping, find out what each of the remaining items cost, and how much of these you buy. I use tomatoes in tons of dishes, and I know it takes about a pound to two pounds of tomatoes depending on the variety to make marinara sauce for two. Tomatoes are x per pound, and I need y pounds per month. X times y is how much I would spend if I bought just the tomatoes.
Sample working list:
- Bell peppers
- Summer squash
Once you have that list you can see how much money is going to each food item you might be surprised, but now you know where your garden can impact the reduction of your food budget best.
I also found that there were several foods, lettuce being one of them that we ate frequently, was expensive from the store, but frequently went bad in our fridge before we finished it. By growing the lettuce in the garden and not picking it until I’m ready to use it I no longer waste it, or my money.
The next consideration is the amount of space you have to garden, and the yields of the things on your list. Maybe you’ve only got a balcony on an apartment that doesn’t get much sun, or maybe you’ve got an empty acre just waiting to be planted. Most of us will be somewhere in between.
But no matter how much space you have, gardening space should always be considered at a premium. To a point its better to have your garden as compact as your desired yields allow, if for no other reason than it will take less time to take care of.
There are a ton of books out there on companion gardening and square foot gardening. I highly recommend reading up on the subject. You can find these books at your local library, or on Amazon. And a lot of the information is on the internet just waiting for a simple google search.
Most seed selling websites will give you numbers in both how many seeds are in a packet, and what the expected yield per plant will be although the yield will be a broad generalization. Lots of fruit, a little fruit, etc.
They will also give you a rough idea of the plant size. Tomatoes, have a generally high yield per plant, while with carrots and leeks are only going to give one to one per seed. At the same time tomatoes take up a lot more space. Than carrots or leeks, but there’s a lot of room under that tomato plant for other things like carrots, and basil.
Here’s a list of Deep root plants vs shallow root plants. (plants that are extremely easy to grow have a star after them) If you have a container garden shallow or medium rooted plants will do better for you. Keep an eye out for varieties meant for containers if you do, for example dwarf carrots which don’t grow as deep as regular ones do.
Deep: 12 inches or more
- Carrots *
- Bush type beans and snap peas
Medium: 8-12 inches
- Compact varieties of cucumber*
Shallow: 4-6 inches
- Onions *
Now you may be thinking you’ve got to go out and spend money on buying these seeds or plants and that’s money I could be spending on groceries I can eat now. Not so you can get almost everything you need to garden for free.
If you live in an apartment or if you choose to container garden you might need to be a bit more creative in finding pots, old Rubbermaid tubs work well. I bet you have some laying around. Most counties have collection areas where residents can pick up compost for free, you just have to go get it. Call your county extension office and ask. If you have an outdoor garden space you can also improve any “dirt” you have by composting in some junk mail and your kitchen scraps I won’t go into this, as there has already been an article on composting.
Now for plants: Many things can be grown either from a piece of something you got at the store or from the seeds of things you got from the store. For example you can grow potatoes from a potato you got at the store. When ever mine start to get eyes I just cut a chunk of the potato off with the eye on it and stick that part in the ground. You can do the same thing with Ginger.
Onions will re-grow from the root section on the bottom, as to celery you know that part you normally throw away. Leave a little more onion attached and stick it in the ground. In a few months you will have not one but two more onions. Bell peppers grow well from seeds inside the store bought one, and so do tomatoes as long as they haven’t been bred not to.
Garlic cloves starting to get that green inside? Stick ‘em in the ground. As for other things you may find neighbors willing to give you some of their extra seed to start out. But theirs always the Dinner Garden a non for profit organization who’s mission statement is to get families self sufficient and healthy.
They have many distribution sites around the country and if you aren’t near one, they will mail you the seeds. These seeds are free and available to anyone who wants to start a garden, regardless of economic standing.
I hope this helps you all, below are some further links you might find helpful.
M.D. adds: my two favorite and most reccomended books on raising a survival garden are “Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times” and “The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times“.