Monday, March 25, 2013

Gardening to Reduce your Grocery Bill

Food prices are climbing, the economy is weak, and food safety
scares are rising. The solution is as close as your backyard.
More than 43 million Americans are planning on following
Michelle Obama's example and planning a vegetable garden.
For the frugal, it makes perfect sense. According to the US
Department of Agriculture, for every $100 you spend on
gardening seeds and supplies, the potential harvest is $1,000.
Not to mention the satisfaction and pride in knowing your hard
work paid off in healthier and tastier food for your family.
Begin by deciding what vegetables to plant. There is no sense
planting something that no one likes, although fresh from the
garden taste has been known to change minds. Kids who wouldn't
touch peas or spinach with a ten-foot pole are fighting over
who gets to pick the latest batch. Tomato haters find
themselves melting to the burst of a sun-ripened tomato
plucked right from the vine and washed.
There are three types of gardens, including in the ground,
raised beds, and container gardening. Decide what is right for
your area. Then lead with location. Most crops want six to
eight hours of sun daily with a handy water source nearby.
Search for suitable soil. Well-drained soil is best. Check
with local horticulturists or an expert gardener to see if any
additives are needed. Then mix a potting soil mixture, manure,
or humus into the soil about nine to twelve inches. Another
good additive is shredded dead leaves.
Sketch a layout of your garden plot. Keep in mind that some
plants, like tomatoes, need two or three feet in between,
while other vegetables like lettuce or carrots can be planted
close together. Don't be overly ambitious your first time out.
Start small so that you don't become overwhelmed.
Pick the perfect vegetables to plant. Local plant dealers and
nurseries stock the varieties that are suitable for your
growing region, and tend to stick to the reliable varieties.
Bonnie plants are known and sold coast to coast in a large
variety. Hybrids are a blend of different qualities and are
sterile, meaning they will only produce one season, while
Heirloom varieties will keep producing year after year. Remember 
my warnings about GMO posted earlier this month.
Check with fellow gardeners or your county extension office to
determine the best time to plant. All threat of freezing or
killing frost should be past, which varies region to region. 
I am in two different zones, 5 and 4b depending on what zone 
map you use. 
Starting from seeds is the most economical way to garden. They
do require more care, transplanting, and about six weeks headstart, 
so the beginning gardener may choose seedlings and established
plants. Here are the steps to starting from seeds.
- Plant the seeds in a seed mix, not potting soil. Use
whatever clean, empty containers you have, including paper
cups, margarine tubs, or deli trays. The clear plastic lids
make ideal mini-greenhouses.
- Put holes in the bottoms of the containers for good
- Keep the seeds moist by misting them daily. Pouring water or
spraying heavily can damage or kill tender young shoots.
- Once you've planted the seeds and moistened them, cover with
plastic or the clear top some containers have.
- Give the seedlings adequate light by putting them under a
fluorescent shop light or ultraviolet light. Hot, direct
sunlight may be too drying or kill the tiny plants.
- When the seedlings get three or four sets of leaves, they are ready
to go into the garden
Whether you started with seeds or plants, you are ready to
plant your garden. Read the directions carefully on seed
packets or plant containers. Follow the recommended depths and
spacing carefully to ensure your plant's best productivity.
Provide trellises, cages, or other support for climbing plants
like peas, beans and tomatoes.
Adding a layer of mulch will control weeds and eventually
decompose, adding nutrients to the soil for next year's
garden. Old newspapers, wood chips or shredded leaves are
excellent inexpensive choices.
Choose easy to grow plants, especially if you are a first time
gardener. Here are ten crops that even a beginner can nurture.
- Tomatoes are the most popular backyard plant. Pick disease-
resistant "Better Boy" or "Bonnie Original." Or go with the
extra-easy cherry tomato "Sweet 100."
- Summer squash are very productive and easy to grow. Try
zucchini "Black Beauty" or yellow crook-necked squash, my fav.
Ambitious gardeners can do a follow up crop of winter squash
if your area has a longer growing season.
- Parsley is rich in vitamins and sweetens breath. Choose flat
Italian parsley or the curly type.
- Lettuce is a garden staple. Pick easy leaf lettuces like
"Buttercrunch," "Red Sails," or "Romaine." You'll never want
supermarket lettuce again.
- Eggplant thrives in hot summer weather and is a favorite
among gardeners. Try "Black Beauty" or the white-skinned
"Cloud Nine."
- Cucumbers should be planted after the weather warms. Choose
the standard "Burpless Bush Hybrid" or the mild Japanese
- Chard is a leafy green that tolerates cooler temperatures.
"Bright Lights" have brilliantly colored stems.
- Bell peppers can be harvested when green or red. "Bonnie
Bell" is a standby, or go wild with the new hot pepper
- Beans come in bush types like "Bush Blue Lake" or taller,
pole-types, which have a higher yield.
- Basil is the perfect complement to tomato dishes. Plant
sweet basil or "Spicy Globe."
Planting a garden can boost your bottom line. Most crops are
ready in the fall, which is why canning for the winter is so
popular. Also, fall is the perfect time to pick up supplies
for next year's garden, including seeds, tools, compost, mulch
or metal trellises at rock-bottom prices. Learn to appreciate
the value of planting, nurturing, and hard work to reap a
bounty of produce, and even a budding gardener will bloom.
Growing your own food makes you more self-reliant and can
bring in a harvest of savings. Now excuse me; I have to go
pick some groceries from my backyard.

1 comment:

Rodney Miller said...

Great Post and in full agreement! Saves money, fresh food benefits as well as freezing and its a get your money back double+ hobby!

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