It’s spring—time to dream of ripe tomatoes and sugar snap peas. You can grow them yourself and save hundreds on organic produce with a few tips and a bit of inspiration. Our first post in a four part series on organic home gardening will focus on garden materials and the money you can save once you do.
Today’s contributors, Mara Reynolds and Caitlin Blethlen are expert gardeners with plenty of tips to share. Mara works with Portland Community Gardens to further support gardening in the city. This tremendous program allows families to rent garden plots, learn how to preserve food, and get their children involved in gardening. Caitlin is the Youth Gardening director for Growing Gardens, a non-profit dedicated to helping low-income, urban families grow their own food.
GBG: What materials would you recommend for families who are setting up their first kitchen gardens?
Mara: Containers are a great option for those without access to soil. They should be made of non-treated wood or ceramic–plastic works but is not ideal for growing things you want to eat. To determine what size of container to use, remember that a plant’s roots will more or less mirror its above-ground size, which be will determined by how much space the roots have to grow.
Raised beds are great for anyone with physical trouble bending down, or for containing plants that spread quickly, but otherwise they just require more materials and aren’t necessary. To start a garden, begin by starting a compost heap (no bin required) and building up layers of mulch on your beds. The tools and amendments you need will vary based on the size and needs of your garden.
GBG: Approximately how much can families save by raising their own produce?
Caitlin: A family of five in Maine did cost analyses of growing their own vegetables in a 1600 square foot garden (0.3 of an acre). They priced what it would have cost them to buy the same items using three different sets of prices: conventional grocery store, farmers’ market and organic grocery store (Whole Foods, in their case). The total value came to $2200, $2400, and $2500 respectively. They had about $200 in out-of-pocket costs for seeds and supplies. The cost of their labor was not included because they enjoy gardening and the physical work involved. If they would have included labor costs, they would have subtracted gym and country club memberships from those costs.
From this they calculated that a square foot would add up to roughly $1.50 per square foot. That would mean a smaller garden of 400 square feet would produce $600 of produce. These are averages and certain crops are more expensive and space efficient than others. Each year our Home Gardeners participate in a survey and about 97% of them say they saved money on their food bill by growing their own veggies.
Thanks for joining us this week for Thrifty Green Thursday! Please feel free to jump in with your frugal green tips. It’s easy—just click here for details.