Vegetable and herb gardens on a budget

A Garden of Savings

by Lisa Vitello

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The old-fashioned kitchen vegetable and herb garden is a rare thing in this day and age here in the U.S. And, that is a shame because there are so many benefits to growing your own fruits, vegetables and herbs.

American population demographics tell us that most folks live in and around the cities and suburbs. If you are among that group, you may think that you are unable to grow food because you don't have enough room. The good news is, however, that with some knowledge and a little ingenuity, you might be able to grow quite a bit right where you are.

I grew my first garden on a corner lot in a suburb just north of Los Angeles, CA. While my neighbors were tending their roses, I was harvesting armloads of corn, tomatoes and zucchini. I have learned a lot since then and I know now that just one 4 x 10 foot raised bed can produce impressive quantities of fresh, delicious and healthful fruits and veggies.

The raised bed should be at least 12-inches deep and filled with the best dirt you can find. If you are blessed with good soil where you are, then by all means dig it up, mix it with lots of good stuff like compost and natural fertilizers such as chicken or steer manure and refill your raised bed with it. You may find, however, that it will be necessary to purchase bags of organic gardening soil from the local nursery. Keep your eye on local ads because several times during the growing season you will see these products on special. That's the time to grab them! The wonderful thing about these ready-made soils is that they will last year after year without becoming depleted.

Once you have your raised bed filled, it's time to plant! Growing your own plants from seed is, of course, the most economical way to go. The easiest plants to grow from seed are shelling peas, green beans, corn, pumpkin, zucchini and lettuce. Tomatoes, peppers and strawberries are a little temperamental to start from seed and may require more effort than you would like to expend. But, since you are growing a small raised bed garden, it will cost you very little to buy a six-pack of each of these plant starts at the nursery.

Since you have filled your raised bed with such good soil, you can plant your seeds closer together than is usually recommended on the package. This is called "intensive" planting. To learn more about this amazing method of growing hundreds of pounds of food in very little space, I recommend the book How to Grow More Vegetables: Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons.

Section off your raised bed into two-foot parcels. That gives you five parcels to plant. Choose the vegetables you would most like to grow. Don't worry that you can't grow plants like green beans, peas or cucumbers. These can be trellised to grow up instead of out so they won't take up too much room. Even small sugar pie pumpkins can be planted and allowed to wander across your grass as they grow. Lettuce is quite prolific and can be interspersed with green onion, cilantro and spinach for a nice salad mix. Simply cut off the lettuce leaves at the bottom of the plant, leaving the root, and it will come back again and again.

Many plants grow well in large terracotta containers. We have grown peas, peppers, tomatoes and even pumpkin in pots. Again, trellising is the key for vining varieties of plants. Just be sure to check the soil frequently as container plants will dry out much more quickly than plants in the ground.

There are so many blessings to growing fresh fruits and vegetables. There is a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment one derives from stepping out the back door for a bowl of strawberries or lettuce for dinner salad. This is the freshest, most delicious food you will ever taste. And, of course, you will save lots of money over store-bought produce. Maybe, like me, you have noticed that produce keeps getting more expensive all the time.

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Children love to help in the garden with the planting, weeding and picking. I feel such joy when I watch my little ones going from the pea patch to the strawberry bed, munching away at all that wholesome, fresh food. Nothing could be better for them!

I hope I have piqued your interest in the possibility of growing fruits and vegetables in your own backyard. If you are anything like me, you will be hooked after the first summer's bounty and it will become a lifelong pleasure for you.

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