’tis the season for a gardening post! I’m cheating a bit here and copying much of this post from my old, long-neglected blog, Stupid Free Green.
Gardening is a great way to save money. If you can’t garden, at least make friends with someone who does and exchange help for food. Personally, I rely on my parents over the summer, since they end up with an overabundance of things like zucchini and tomatoes and it would be a bit redundant for me to start a container garden with them living so close by.
I’m sure some of you will say that it’s impossible for you to start a garden. You don’t have the land, or if you do you don’t have the time to care for it. Well, I say you can do it anyway, and I’ll address how someone without land can start a garden at the end of this post.
The season’s already starting, so you’ll need to look for seeds and start planting very soon!
If you have land on which you can plant, you first need to choose the size of your garden. The land on which I grew up has maintained a 30′ x 30′ plot for something like 24 years. The yield from that garden last year was well over 1,000 pounds. You don’t have to plant an area this large, and indeed it’s a decision that you’ll have to make based on the time which you have for maintenance, available room, et cetera.
Part of your consideration should come from how much room specific plants need to grow, which you’ll find when looking for seeds. You shouldn’t simply buy an assortment of vegetables, but should carefully read the packets and be certain that they are appropriate for your area (remember to consider sun and shade) and will fit in your garden (zucchini plants can get huge.) Be sure to look at various seed catalogs, such as Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Burpee. I would recommend tomatoes and pole beans in particular for beginners. If you have the room, winter squash is also a great crop. There is little maintenance work to be done on the plants, and the yields at the end of the season are enormous. In addition, squash will keep all through the winter in an average cellar!
Once you’ve decided on your area, the first key thing to do is fence it in. The recommendation of my mother, a lifelong gardener, is this:
Bury solid aluminum or 1/2 inch wire mesh fencing a foot to discourage field voles, three foot wire fencing with one foot buried to discourage rabbits and woodchucks, and 8 foot fencing or total enclosure to keep out deer, coyotes, and birds.
Obviously, for some neighborhoods, 8′ fencing is not necessary. However, most people will have the best results if they choose the 3′ option, even in suburban areas. A vole problem could end your entire gardening season before it has even begun- they will eat the roots and small shoots of the plants just after they’ve sprouted, and by then it may be too late to start another crop.
After you’ve fenced your garden, you will need to fertilize the soil. If you have horses, this is great news, because it’s something to do with all of the manure you’ve collected over the winter. If not, you can always buy manure from a local farm- many cow and horse farms sell their manure for gardening use. It’s completely organic and chemical-free. Fertilization can be done using a roto-tiller, or simply by loosening the first few inches of soil with a hoe or similar tool, spreading the manure, and then incorporating the two by going over the space again with the hoe.
After fertilization, divide your garden into sections for planting. You will want to do this based on the recommendations on your seed packets for how much room specific plants need. If it’s your first time planting, you can put them anywhere you want. You will want to keep specific plant types together, and be sure that if plants require part shade, they will be able to get it.
Once you’ve divided the garden, you can start planting using the instructions on the back of the seed packets. From that point, all you need to do is maintain the garden with water and wait for the harvest to come!
For those of you without land on which to grow, as promised, here’s a great solution- container gardening. Certainly it’s generally more difficult to get a large yield, but it IS possible to cut down your food bill a bit, all while enjoying locally-grown food.