One of my first and best childhood memories took place in my parent’s garden.
I was chewing on green onions and pulling up radishes, trying to convince the girl next door that this was a good idea.
Today, I consider myself lucky that my parents kept up their gardening hobby. My parents pretty much fed our entire family (and then some!) with what they pulled out from the ground.
Gardening is hard work, but it’s also highly rewarding. And it’s not all toiling in the sun – it can be a very meditative and social experience if you so choose.
It can also help cut down the monthly grocery bill during the summer.
Root vegetables like potatoes, beets and carrots can be cellared to last most of the winter. And for tomatoes and cucumbers, pickling and canning is a great way to enjoy the produce months down the road.
I’ve always had a garden of sorts. Even when I moved out of my parent’s house and was living in an apartment in university, I kept an illegal lettuce patch growing in a nearby park. I planted the lettuce far in the back of the park, away from chemicals, lawn mowers (or weed pullers), and the public.
My reasoning: lettuce grows fast, the seeds were cheap ($1 to $2 in seed), and I likely cultivated at least $50 worth of store-bought lettuce.
Common gardening and money-saving questions
When my wife and I bought a house, the first thing I did that spring was to start sprouting tomato plants and herbs, while also trying to grow cucumbers and carrots (with varying degrees of success).
Today, I have a good idea of how to keep things alive, but I still defer to a master gardener: my mom, Jean!
I asked her a few questions on how to create an inexpensive garden and get value for you money, and here’s what she said:
It’s July, is it too late to start my garden if I haven’t done so already?
Unless you want to challenge Mother Nature, you may try growing very short-seasoned seeds such as lettuce, kale, radishes, onion, greens and herbs – which all provide healthy options for the summer. Under the right conditions, these can be picked within 30 days.
You likely won’t yield a decent root vegetable, even with something like beets, but you can grow it for its leaves which are tasty in a salad.
Right now, even at expensive greenhouses, vegetable plants are hitting the sale shelfs as most local businesses are looking to move inventory. So it’s a great time to buy plants and get value out of your planting – but don’t wait too much longer, as they’re usually sold out by August.
Don’t forget growing season is done by mid-October (at least in most of the Prairies).
How can those who don’t have a lot of space create a garden?
Look into container gardening!
It sounds hard, but really it’s just finding any old pot or object to grow vegetables or herbs in. Old rubber boots work. Even cheap bags of potted soil will do. Cutting a hole in the sides and transplanting tomato plants or planting potatoes in a bag of soil can yield good results.
What kind of plants are best to buy?
Right now, tomato plants are on sale, but herbs such as rosemary, dill, mint, and basil are really good value for your money.
If you ever buy fresh herbs at the grocery store, you’ll know what I’m talking about. For the same price as packaged fresh herbs, you can buy two plants that yield five times the amount. That’s value!
Herbs like mint and dill are also known to be hard to kill – they can grow like weeds if planted in the right spot.
Lettuce is another high-value plant. It’s fast growing and the seeds are cheap versus what you pay at the store for lettuce. Tomatoes are good too, because with a little care and attention, it’s easy to have fresh, flavourful tomatoes all summer long.
What’s the best and cheapest way to start a garden?
Seed is typically the same price year-round, but you can find it sold in more places during the spring and summer months. If you ever see a sale, buy and store the seed in a cool, dry place.
In early spring (end of March or early April), you can start the seeds in the round seed-starter kits which you can purchase at your local dollar store. Add seed, water, and sunlight and the seeds will sprout.
After a month or so, the plants are ready for a bigger container and can be introduced outdoors around the May long-weekend (earlier if you live south and later if you’re north). From there, water the plants when the soil gets dry (every day or so depending on rain and heat) and they should grow and produce vegetables.
For herbs like basil, mint, cilantro, dill and leaf lettuces, you can plant these directly into the soil. Keep the planting fairly shallow and you should see results within 7-10 days.
Any other advice for new gardeners?
It’s fun to watch and grow!
Don’t be discouraged if you fail at first. No one is born with a green thumb, it’s something you have to work at.
But gardening is a great hobby – it nourishes you physically and mentally. It’s good to spend time working on something that takes time. The results are not immediate, but when they come, it’s definitely rewarding.
What do you think?
Tell me, if you have a garden, do you find it cost-effective for creating a home-grown food source?
Is there anything you grow that you find saves money where you live? Or do you garden for other reasons?
Let us know in the comments below!