One new thing that I am obsessed with is GROWING food. I think this is the natural course for any person that is obsessed with food…which by the way, there is a big difference between people that are obsessed with food and people that are obsessed with eating food. The only reason I mention this is because I think it is a common misconseption that those who love food – love eating anything.(this includes my own husband who has a hard time understanding how I can love food so much, yet be so “picky”!) Basically truly loving food includes a respect for food as well as the quality of food you put in your body. People that truly LOVE food, are conscious about what they consume and where the food is coming from. It is the Farmer’s Markets/CSA’s make us happy as well as some dirt or an occasional bug found in a bunch of leeks. If you love food, you can pick out what foods are fake vs. what foods are real….and nothing is more real than watching your food grow and reaping the benefits!
One reason I am LOVING this growing food thing is because I think it allows for even more frugality and if done right, can help many people who lack the $$ for fresh/organic produce to grow it themselves for fractions of a penny! My goal is to be the home gardening guinea pig so I can share what works in hopes that I can demystify some of the ideas that growing food from seed is too difficult or takes too much time. And trust me, I am the perfect candidate for this because (as Alex knows) I am known for killing all plants I come in contact with. True story. Amazingly enough, even me, the one with the plant killing thumb has been able to grow veggies – mostly because of the motivation of reaping some tasty veggies in the end! You should’ve seen me a couple days after planting my first seeds. I was pretty skeptical, like “ok I’m going to plant these seeds and nothing is going to happen. ” but lo and behold I saw my first sprout of tomatoes and I started jumping up and down like a kid that just one the golden ticket. lol Surprisingly, the excitment of seeing my plants actually growing from a tiny seed never gets old. I hope that you will get the same satisfaction from growing your own food as well! It is very rewarding!
So here is step number 1!
1. Choosing your Veggies Carefully –
Going to Home Depot and scanning over the giant amount of seed selection can be really overwhelming! You are likely to walk away with some crazy vegetable that looks cool but isn’t really a kitchen staple. When figuring out what to grow with limited space (most people do not have large back yards to work with. I have about 250 sqft of yard to work with as well as a deck.) you want to choose a couple veggies that are going to make a BIG impact on your grocery bill. Think of veggie you buy almost every time like – onions, garlic, tomatoes, zuccini, potatoes, lettuce/spinach. These are the staples you want to stick to and guess what? They are also some of the easiest to grow!! Also be aware of when to plant. Lettuce and Spinach does better in cooler months as opposed to squash and tomatoes which love the summer sun. You can get some really easy to read info about what plants to grow in you area by going to http://www.burpee.com/ and entering in your zipcode on the left.
Going back to the idea of growing things that will save the most money…a major one is herbs. I use herbs in cooking all the time. They are a fresh and healthy way to add flavor and color to any dish, yet unforunately they cost quite a bit at the grocery; ranging from 1$ for parsley and cilantro to 2.99 for a couple sprigs of basil, rosemary, or dill. I didn’t include thyme because thyme is an herb that I have found tastes very similar dried, but for the other herbs fresh is the way to go. I chose to start up rosemary, basil, cilantro, tomatos and zuccini this summer. (Scroll down for extra info on growing cilantro, as it was different from other plants!)
Summer crops depending on your area can be started after the last frost. In many areas you can actually grow 2 sets of summer crops! In August (now!!) you can start your fall crops as well as second-season crops (these are crops that mature in under 75 days and will be harvested before the first frost. Winter crops will continue to grow through light frosts in mild regions.) Once again, consult www.burpee.com for more personalized information about when and what to grow in your area.
Common Summer Crops – (Plant after last frost)Sweet Potato, Tomatoes, Summer Squash/Zuccini, Basil, Cilantro, Dill, Peppers, Mesclun (French for “mix” is a hearty and easy to grow lettuce mix commonly seen at farmers markets in the summer)
Common Fall Crops – (Plant in August for most states) Kale, Broccoli, Arugula, Spinach, Cauliflower, Garlic, Onions, Potatoes, Rosemary.
Step 2: Growing From Seed
You can use a potting soil or garden soil. I like to get the organic brands that use fruit/vegetable compost. I actually found that these bags of soil are the same price or less than scotts brand.
You can also make your own garden soil, but I would hold off until you’ve decided you actually like gardening. I love [THIS] website, for Mavis Butterfield’s techniques on home gardening because she is uber frugal (her website is called 100 dollars a month!) and comes up with all sorts of creative ways to keep home gardening cheap! Because as you well know, if you go and buy everything from home depot from their pots to tools it makes it unaffordable and a waste. Instead, search craigslist for used garden tools/planters or get on Mavis’s website for ideas in using commonly trashed items to grow in! I’ve seen it all!
The first thing you can skip at the check out counter are those silly plantable seed starting trays. They go for about 1$ and really add up – DON’T DO IT! Why? Because you throw a perfect one away every week! – Your egg crates! Most grocery stores (including walmart!) now use compostable egg crates. These are made of the same materials as plantable seed starters. You can plant your seeds in these shallow containers and use scissors to cut them and plant them. You can also use a spoon to scoop out the sprout and plant, but if you tug on the sprout and it doesn’t lift out easily, that means the roots have grown into the egg crate so you should just do the cut and plant method. This is super easy!
(Frugal gardening goal #1 – Go to the store and ONLY spend money on soil and seeds! )
Spinach Sprouts in Egg Crate Seed Starter
Veggie Issues So Far:
So far I have had success with all sorts of veggies. The only one I had trouble with initially was cilantro. The leaves kept wilting and I was confused because I thought they needed full sun. On the contrary, they like only partial sun and are very suseptable to wilting. They are still good for a summer crop, you just have to baby it a little more than others. :)Also, don’t make the mistake of putting each individual seed in each egg compartment. Cilantro doesn’t grow big like other plants, it’s more like grass. Go ahead and use the pot you intend on using and skip the egg crate. Loosely sprinkle cilantro all over the pot and lightly press the seeds into the soil. Cover with a light layer of soil and water GENEROUSLY! You should get a nice crop of cilantro growing in a couple weeks! Lastly, I tried to grow red bell peppers and they didn’t even sprout a bit. It was weird. I might try these again next summer, but so far those were my dud plant.
Happy Planting! ~ Kristi