One of the best ways to cut grocery costs is to grow your own vegetables and fruits. Produce from your own garden tastes delicious and reduces your food bill. Growing a garden is also a wonderful learning experience for children. We began growing our own vegetable garden ten years ago and, to this day, my favorite thing to eat is a tomato and cucumber sandwich with vegetables fresh from the garden. I start daydreaming about them in mid-winter, and by July, when we are harvesting fresh vegetables, my dreams come true! Following are some tips to get you started with your own backyard garden.
Don't get in over your head - There is nothing like planting your first garden only to find out you planted more than you can handle. You will become frustrated, tired and overwhelmed and give up forever. Start with a comfortable 10' X 10' area and remember that next year you can increase the size if you wish.
Location is key - Find a space for your garden that receives plenty of sun. Prep the soil by tilling it with a borrowed or rented tiller. Mixing grass in with soil adds organic material. You will need to determine what soil type you have so you know what soil amendments (topsoil, gypsum, lime, fertilizer, organic material) to add. Bring a sample of your soil to your local agricultural extension office to receive a pH and soil analysis. If you only have a small area, consider container gardening. Many varieties of different vegetables grow well in large pots.
Planting time - Once your soil is tilled and in good shape, it is time to plant. There are many types of seeds that you can start growing indoors in small containers approximately eight weeks before replanting into the outdoor garden. You can also buy transplants of many of the popular vegetables and fruits. These little plants work beautifully, are inexpensive, and are good for the beginning gardener who may only want one plant for each type of vegetable. Good starter crops include tomatoes, beans, peas, zucchini, summer squash and cucumbers. Make sure you plant after the last expected frost. You can find out about frost information by speaking with your extension office.
How does your garden grow? - Once you have planted, you should put down a layer of newspaper and then a layer of hay straw. This will keep weeds from growing too rapidly. If you see weeds emerge, get rid of them right away. Plant the seeds or transplants far enough apart, keep them weeded and fertilize regularly and you will cut down on pest issues. Seed packs and transplant labels will indicate how far apart you need to plant the seeds or plants.
Having trouble with pests in your garden? Try putting up a short wire mesh gate around your garden to discourage children, rabbits and other creatures that may rummage through your hard work. When dealing with insects, you can choose an organic route, which we have done most years, or use an insecticide from your local garden supply store. For information on which route is best, see the extension office once again. They can tell you what types of pests are most common in your area and how to best prevent them. You will also want to know what critters are good to have around because they eat the pests that can destroy your beloved garden.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor - Pick your produce when it is ripe and don't overcook your vegetables. Enjoy your wonderful produce all winter by freezing or canning, as well.
Share the bounty - You will find that as your plants begin to bear fruit, you may harvest more than you and your family can possibly eat. A sure way to endear yourself to all your friends, family and the new neighbor two doors down is through garden fresh veggies. Nothing says friendship like a homegrown tomato!
If you are hesitant about produce gardening, begin with one container plant. Find a variety that is suitable for containers and get your feet wet with a single vegetable. We have grown tomatoes (especially cherry tomatoes) successfully in containers, and once you bite into that first juicy tomato, you will probably be ready to go tiller shopping!
Growing an herb garden is another easy way to add fresh and frugal flavor to your meals. If you have children, herbs are a good introduction to gardening because the plants are smaller than most vegetable and fruit plants.
For much more information on all aspects of gardening, check with your local library for books on growing vegetables, consult your agricultural extension office and speak with other people who garden in your climate. Ask them what works well for them and what problems they have encountered.
Faye Prosser is the author of The Smart Spending Guide. She teaches people how to budget, reduce debt, and save money on groceries and everyday purchases. Faye regularly conducts college courses and workshops at community colleges, parks and recreation departments, women's clubs and religious groups.
With the Smart Spending Grocery System, Faye's family saves well over 50% off their weekly grocery bills and they are on track to pay off their mortgage before their children even start high school!
Faye's education and experience include a master's degree in Human Resources Development and over 15 years in human resources management, training and consulting. She and her husband and their children live in beautiful North Carolina with a dog, two cats and many fish. For more information on The Smart Spending Guide, see SmartSpendingResources.com.
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