Spring has sprung here in North Texas, and folks are getting excited about planting flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruit trees in their gardens. We are so lucky that we live in a place that has the climate to grow so many different kinds of plants. Each gardener can choose from a huge variety of crops to make their space unique.
Gardening, of any sort, has multiple benefits. It encourages us to be active and get fresh air; it can be used to relieve stress; the colors and textures help to make our outdoor spaces more beautiful and enjoyable; and it can also help us save money on our grocery bill.
You may have heard the classic tale of the $40 tomato. The gardener will tell you the pangs of carefully starting tomato plants from seed, nursing them through the winter under growing lights indoors, transitioning them to be acclimated to the outdoor weather, preparing a special blend of soil and amendments in a beautiful garden bed, and protecting the tomato from bugs, disease and weather throughout the summer to end up with one delicious tomato. It is a sad tale. Unfortunately, it can also be a very real tale about the unpredictable nature of gardening.
To avoid this harrowing experience, check out these cost-saving tips that can help you save money during the edible gardening process while providing healthy produce for your family.
Start with What You Have
In order to have a successful vegetable garden, you do not need to use expensive materials to build raised beds. As long as you have healthy soil, your plants will not care about the appearance of their garden bed. It is much more important to have good soil and enough sunlight than it is to have a manicured garden.
Start by picking a spot that receives 6-8 hours of sun. You can till up the existing soil you have in your yard and add in nutritious materials (mulched leaves, coffee grounds, dried eggshells, composted manure, etc.) over time to help improve the quality. This method of improving your soil will take some time, but it is a great alternative to purchasing bagged soil.
If you plan to grow your garden in a container, try using five-gallon buckets or cat litter buckets filled with potting soil. These containers are a great size for most edible crops and they can be reused from season to season.
What to Plant
Once you have your garden space planned, it’s time to decide what you want to plant. In order to save money through growing your own food, follow these guidelines when choosing your crops:
1. Plant what you will eat.
Many different types of vegetables grow well in North Texas which can make it tempting to grow a little bit of everything. Make sure the things you choose to plant in your garden are foods that you and your family will eat. When you’re working with a limited budget and a small garden, be picky about what you will grow.
2. Grow things that are expensive in the grocery store.
Some foods are always inexpensive in the grocery store. Produce like cabbage, carrots, celery, spinach, onions and potatoes are usually cheaper to purchase than to grow. However, things like herbs, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, snap peas, eggplant, zucchini and squash can be less expensive to grow at home.
3. Choose crops that produce a lot in a small space.
Different crops need different amounts of space. For example, broccoli can take up to two square feet in your garden. It requires about 90 days to grow and then you only get one head of broccoli. That is a lot of valuable space being taken up! Instead, kale grows in about the same space and you can harvest continuously throughout the growing season. You’re getting more produce out of the same amount of space.
4. Think about which items can be preserved for later use.
- If you have a large enough garden to grow extra produce to save for later, think about which items can be preserved easily.
- Herbs and hot peppers can be dried and used for seasoning.
- Onion, celery, peppers, carrots, green beans, peas and squash can be chopped and frozen for later.
- Tomatoes, peppers, fruits, cucumbers and many other foods can be canned or fermented and saved for months.
One of my favorite things about gardening is the ability to turn something small or something unwanted into a very valuable product. When you take a tiny seed and combine it with a few other ingredients, you can produce multiple fruits or vegetables. If you do composting, you can turn food scraps and leaves into a nutritious soil amendment for your garden. With a little planning and preparation, anyone can take these seemingly unimportant items and use them to produce the fuel needed to nourish our bodies and feed our loved ones.
By Becca Knutson
Community Garden Coordinator, Tarrant Area Food Bank