Eating Greens to Save Greens

by Steven Burns

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Video: Toolbox Planter

French Intensive Container Gardening

Indoor Container Gardening

With gas prices continually rising, grocery bills are costing more, thus putting larger dents in our wallets. Nearly every item sold in a grocery store needs to be transported to the store. If you don't believe me, look at the number of loading bays in the back of the store.

Can we do something about it? You bet we can. It's simple. Raise your own garden. I can hear the outcry from here. "I don't have enough room." To use a quote, "Horse hockey," and that stuff is good for the garden. Unless you live in a place that doesn't get any sunshine, you can raise a garden. How elaborate the garden gets is only limited by your imagination and space.

Let's start with the most cramped living style: the second floor apartment. A few windows and a balcony are the only place to grow things. The windows are a good place to begin. Most have sills big enough to place a couple small rectangular planters. These spots are good for herbs or leafy plants like lettuce or spinach. If you're lucky, there might be room to place a table in front of a sliding door leading to the balcony with a few more planters.

It's time to move to the balcony. This space seems to barely have enough room to store two bikes and a barbecue. How about trying to add an old wine barrel planter or two? In these, lots of things can be grown, as long as the slats around the balcony aren't solid, leaving everything in the shade. Keep the vegetables you plant in these to nothing that grows more than four feet in height. Anything much taller than that causes problems. About anything can be grown within the barrel and space will be your limiting factor.

The railing is a wonderful place to grow things in window, or rail, baskets. Everything planted in these needs to be small in height or depth or light in weight. Leafy plants, strawberries, or radishes work well. Just remember that the basket is hanging out in the weather with very little dirt and will dry out quickly. Monitor it closely. Most likely it will need frequent watering.

Above the railing is usually a large beam. Put an eye-hook into it to hang a basket (some places may require permission). There are these new upside down pots that can be hung from the hooks where you water from the top and the plants point out the bottom. You might have to go to a nursery or gardening supply catalog to find them. Most franchise chain stores don't carry them. These can handle tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and other heavier plants.

The next place is a house in a neighborhood where the home owner's association doesn't allow "vegetable gardens." Don't fret, as it just takes a little more imagination. You are creating a container garden, not a vegetable garden, so you'll be using many of the things that were mentioned above.

As I said earlier, create a garden using containers and large pots. Trellises work great at hiding things. Mix in things that climb (pole beans for one) with the flowers and no one will be the wiser. Small rows of underground vegetables can be mixed in with the flowers. There is always the choice of planting vegetables that look like landscaping plants. Read about different vegetables and get creative.

Unless the rules say absolutely no vegetable gardens, you should be able to grow one in the back yard. If someone from the homeowner's association is inspecting your backyard without being invited, those actions go beyond this article.

All these things may seem hard to believe, but I've done it. At an apartment, I had three barrels on my balcony as my garden, containing peas, bush beans, radishes, lettuce and tomatoes. I now live in a house where a vegetable garden is considered inappropriate. Raising a "vegetable garden" isn't forbidden, but I am reminded every year about my unacceptable landscaping.

How much are you going to save? That depends on what you plant and how much is produced. For example, I had a tomato plant that I grew that produced 57 pounds of fruit last year. At market value, that's around a $40 savings. In the end, not only will you reduce your grocery bill, but also you will be eating vegetables you have grown that are more nutritious, and you'll be "greener" while doing it.

Take the Next Step:

  • To find other container gardening tips, visit The Dollar Stretcher library.
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