Growing up, we always kept a garden. My mom was raised on a farm, so the concept of growing food came naturally to her. We grew tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, peppers, carrots, beans—you name it, we grew it. My garden chore was to help with weeding, a terrifying task given my intense fear of furry eight-legged creatures. But the dirt, the effort—and even the spider webs—all proved worth it once we enjoyed the fresh and delicious bounty our backyard patch provided.
As an adult, I can appreciate that garden for other reasons. First, it saved our family money. We rarely ever had to buy vegetables at the store. And, we were eating organic before that was even a trend. Since we grew the food ourselves, we knew no harsh chemicals or pesticides had been used, no growth hormones or genetic tinkering.
In fact, according to Consumer Reports, avoiding exposure to chemical pesticide residues is the primary reason most people buy organic. However, along with health benefits, organic foods also usually carry a much higher price tag. A study found that organic zucchini at one grocery store was a whopping 303 percent more expensive than its nonorganic counterpart! That’s one expensive squash.
Go for the green
Eating organic doesn’t always mean you have to buy organic. Even if you weren’t born with a green thumb, growing your own food may be easier than you realize. And what better way to celebrate Earth Day this month than starting your own personal garden patch?
My tips to help you get started
Be realistic about what you like and will eat. Green peppers may be easy to grow, but if you don’t like them they’re a waste of time. Maybe your kids eat strawberries like candy or you serve a potato dish at almost every meal. Think about what fruits and veggies your family eats most, and focus your gardening efforts there.
Be realistic about what you can grow. You may love bananas, but it’s not likely you’re going to grow a banana tree in your yard. Research what foods can thrive in your area, including the proper weather, the appropriate hardiness, the type of soil, and the amount of sunshine your intended garden plot will receive.
Choose plants that save you the most money. Once you know what you like to eat and what will grow in your area, focus on what plants will have the most impact on your wallet. Plants that will save you the most on your grocery bill are lettuce, arugula, cilantro, dill, tomatoes, beets, broccoli, potatoes, chives and strawberries.
Select the right spot. Vegetables and fruit generally need six hours of sunshine a day, so be sure to set up your garden where it will get adequate sunlight. Be sure to take into account that conditions can vary by season (particularly how much shade is cast by buildings and trees).
And don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a large yard, or even a yard at all. There are plenty of options for condo/apartment dwellers, including aquaponic systems and grow lights.
Select your seeds. For the best quality, look for organic and heirloom varieties at your local plant nursery. Ask them about the best time to sow your vegetables and fruits, as seasons differ depending on the local climate. When buying seeds, remember diversity is the key to a healthy garden.
Feed your garden. Along with the soil, add organic materials like home-grown compost and cow manure. Wood chip mulch is also a great addition, as it prevents weeds, provides fertilizer and keeps the soil moist—taking away the tedious gardening tasks most people don’t enjoy like plowing, watering and weeding. (I could have used this when I was a kid!)
Give it attention. Check your garden regularly. Look for signs of insect damage or disease and apply natural home-made remedies and pest control. Try this recipe for an all-purpose organic pesticide.
Lean on the experts. There are many helpful websites and organizations that can help make your garden a success story. Some of my favorites are the National Gardening Association; My Square Foot Garden (good for those with small spaces); Homesteading.com; American Horticultural Society; and the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Share the love
Be prepared to preserve and share your garden’s bounty. If your garden is successful, you soon may have zucchini and peppers coming out your ears. Take some time to learn the basics of canning and freezing. And be generous: share your harvest with family, neighbors, teachers, co-workers and even your local soup kitchen, firehouse or community service organization.
References: Business Insider, Consumer Reports, Forbes, Gardeners.com, Homesteading.com; Money Talks News