Guest post from Angi of Schneider Peeps
Having six children, three of whom are teenage boys, I often get asked how we keep them fed. To be honest, it’s only by the grace of God. Growing children can eat a lot and teenage boys, well, they take eating to a whole new level.
Growing our own food helps keep our grocery budget down.
However, if we’re not careful, we can spend way too much growing our food and gardening becomes a hobby instead of a budget helper.
So, how can we have a low budget and productive garden?
It’s been said that 10 minutes spent planning will save you an hour. I think that applies to gardening as well.
- Start with finding out your planting zone and times and what grows well in your area. No sense in planting watermelons if you live in Siberia, unless you have a greenhouse, because they probably won’t ripen.
- Find a good gardening book that is written specifically for your area. This book should make you feel good about what you are doing. So if it leaves you feeling guilty, find another one. If you live in Texas a good one is The Organic Gardener by Howard Garrett.
- Talk with other gardeners in your area. Most county extensions have Master Gardeners programs and they are very helpful, so is the county extension agent. Also, don’t overlook the local nurseries and feed stores. These people have a vested interest in you succeeding in your gardening.
Now that you know what you can plant and when, it’s time to decide what you actually will plant.
- Decide how much space and time you can devote to your garden. Maybe you have some space on your apartment balcony or maybe you have some acreage. It doesn’t really matter, but you need to make a decision about space. Also think about your time. It’s better to grow a few plants well than to have a huge garden that you can’t tend and feel guilty about.
- Decide what you really want to plant. Although we have lots of space we don’t have lots of time so we’ve decided to only plant those things that we like and eat regularly. When we need to make a decision between two plants, we plant the one that is more expensive to buy. For instance, we’ve decided that we will not plant corn this year. Although we love corn, we only eat it once or twice a month. It also takes up a lot of space and it’s hard to keep the worms out. Plus, we can get local corn still in its husks 10 for $1 around July 4th. If I want to can or freeze some I can just get it then and use the space to plant something else like tomatoes that we use almost every day.
- Decide what to start by seed and what to start with transplants. Starting plants by seed is definitely the cheapest way to go. You can use all kinds of containers to start seeds: empty toilet paper rolls, newspaper pots, yogurt containers, even egg shells. You can also purchase peat pots or a soil block builder. It’s best to start with seed starting soil. It is finer and the seeds have an easier time germinating. Although it’s cheaper to start with seeds, don’t feel guilty buying some transplants especially if you’re getting a late start. Gardening with transplants is still cheaper than buying produce.
Plant and Tend
Now it’s time to actually put the garden in and care for it.
- If you’re new to gardening and need things like pots, spades or even a tiller, ask around and post on Freecycle. There are often people who used to garden and for various reasons no longer do — and have stuff they will gladly give you.
- Look around and see what can be re-purposed. Last year we made a homemade watering system using empty milk jugs.
- Start collecting leaves. We use leaves to mulch our garden and keep the weeds down. We also let it compost down and it makes great soil. Once word gets out that you want leaves people will start calling you telling you they have some for you. Although we have quite a few trees on our property we don’t rake. We let our neighbors do all the hard work and just go collect the leaves from the curb.
- Use newspaper to keep weeds down. We lay a thick layer of newspaper down in between plants and cover it with leaves to keep weeds down.
- Start composting. Even if you don’t have a spot for a large compost bin you can compost right in your garden by burying your scraps (don’t bury anything that will attract animals). Or you can worm compost in a very small space.
- Spend a little time each day or every other day checking on your garden. Look for bugs that need to be dealt with, pull weeds, pick veggies and water. Try to stay on top of the weeding otherwise you’ll wind up with a big weedy mess.
After all this research, planning, planting and tending it is important to not get too stressed out if things don’t go quite like you planned. There will always be something… pests, too little or too much rain, or bad seeds that will impact our harvest. All we can do is our best and leave the rest to God.
Angi is a pastor’s wife and mom of 6 children who spends her days homeschooling, crafting, gardening, playing chauffer, keeping chickens, trying to learn how take better pictures and blogging at SchneiderPeeps.