I've sent in my garden column for the month and will share it here in Garden Talk.
Victory Gardens Again! In case no one noticed, the world is pretty much in a recession, if not a depression in some areas. The Victory Garden came about at the end of the last depression and World War 2. People grew gardens to have an adequate supply of food as money was still tight from the depression and the war effort had taken much of the available food. Apparently, this idea has caught on again, and people are going nuts over gardening!
I have gardened for most of my life and written columns for years. The number of people who are asking for garden advise has more than tripled this year as has the request for columns like mine. I am excited to see this for many reasons. As a gardener, I think it's a wonderful hobby, a great benefit to a healthy lifestyle, a wonderful way to learn about nature and it's a means of being self reliant. Native Americans believed that in order to be healthy, none of your food or medicine should come from any farther away than you could walk in a day. Today, that idea is being revisited all over the world with what is called "The 100 mile Diet". While this is an almost impossible feat now a days, it is possible to make a start at it and think about where your food comes to. Your garden is the best place to start!
So, what does the upsurge in gardening mean to you? It means that garden supplies and seeds are going to disappear from the shelves in record time. It also means that more places than ever will be offering those supplies. It means that if you are just getting started in gardening, more people will be just starting their gardens and you will have plenty of company while you learn the ins and outs of gardening! It means that more and more communities will be setting up community gardens for people who live in apartments or other wise have no garden space. You can find out if your city or town has a community garden by calling your city hall or mayor's office. In most community garden's, the way it works is that there is a plot of land that is broken up into sections. Each section is given or rented to a gardener who applies. Then you have that size plot to garden in. It is most always enough for a family of four to have enough food for the summer and perhaps a bit more. I believe that some adjust the size of the plot to the size of the family. You can grow almost any thing (within reason) and many grow flowers in addition to the veggies. Another alternative to the community garden is a shared garden. This is where a friend or family member has extra space and you can get space there. It's a good method, since you have the company of friends or family to learn with and to share equipment with.
How much money can you actually save by growing your own veggies? I get this question a lot, but as with most questions like this, the unfortunate answer is "it depends". Seriously, you have to consider ALL the benefits and not just the cost of food benefit. Eating healthier has a long term benefit that is certainly worth the garden alone. The healthy exercise and interaction with nature is worth the garden alone. But if you are a total dollar and cents person (or pounds and pence), a garden well done will give you all the veggies you need for a year. How much that is, is up to your family's personal use. A 4' by 8' bed can produce all the salad needs for the summer, if you buy salad goods each week at the market, that would probably amount to a total savings of about $120-$150. If you grow all your vegetables for canning or freezing and plan for 7 servings of veg a week, at a low cost of $7 a week, that would be a savings of about $350. Those are very low estimates, but very attainable with a normal garden for the family. That doesn't include growing things like strawberries. I always wonder why strawberries are so expensive in the market, when with very little space and effort a person can grow enough for the year at home!
If you are worried about all the time and effort a garden will mean, then "work smarter, not harder"! Take a few weeks now to research all the time and labor savings methods available. Many people grow in nice neat straight rows, but that it a space eating and labor intensive way of gardening and no longer popular. Growing in containers and small chunks of space is the way to go to save time and labor. Worried about all the water it will take to keep your garden growing? Jump on the "green" bandwagon and get a few water barrels and learn about all the water saving methods a gardener can implement, such as drip irrigation. Drip irrigation comes with a special hose that you can buy at most local hardware stores and you hook it into your faucet like a normal hose. Then you lay it out in your garden bed and cover it with mulch. Turn on the hose and it will "drip" water constantly into the ground around your plants, using much less water and in fact, watering much more effectively. You can put it on a timer so that it only waters at certain times, and you can even get fancy times that will only water when it isn't raining. I often sink large tin cans into the ground in my beds. I get them from school kitchens and clean them, punch holes all over the bottom half of the can and then sink the can into the ground. I add a handful of compost to the can and fill it with water. I usually only need to do this once a week, as the water leeches out slowly; feeding the plants and watering at the same time.
Gardening has become the number one hobby across this country, and as such, there are many columns like this that will give you advice. Take advantage of them! Join a Yahoo or Google group on gardening, grab a book on gardening from a used bookstore. Have fun with your garden! One thing to BEWARE: do not fall into the trap that older and wiser gardeners always do...that is called "the lure of the gadget". It eats up your garden budget and that eats up your profit. After a couple of years of gardening, you will know what tools are needed, and once you know that gardening is something you will always be doing, you can send out the word to family and friends that garden gifts would be appreciated.
Buying or starting your plants is another frequent question I get. If this is your first year, by all means buy your plants at a local garden center, but consider getting a few peat pots or a bag of potting soil and trying starting a few in a sunny window. I promise that you will feel more pride from the few you started yourself! I bought for several years before I came up with a method to start all my plants. Consider that a small 6 pack of plants usually goes for at least $1.50. With starting it yourself, a packet of seeds that will produce 50 plants costs about the same. Why not go in on seed starting with a friend? If you have the space and light for it, maybe you could trade the supplies with friends and start their plants for them? What is so great about starting your own seeds, other than the price? Variety! You can pick varieties that you will never find at garden centers. This year my seed "find" is a hot pepper that no one sells plants for, it's a natural hybrid called "chilipino". Last year I bought three kinds of hot pepper plants for my husband to see what he liked and to make salsa with. He liked each one and wanted to try a different one this year, so for less than the three six packs cost last year, I have started 18 plants of a new pepper blend! If you must buy, then shop around. Ask experienced gardeners where they recommend. Talk to the farmers at the Farmer's Market, many of them will sell plants too.
Enjoy your garden experience, and as always, I am only an email away if you have any questions.