One money-saving eco-tip I hear over and over again is grow your own food. Ever since I had a plot of land to call my own, I’ve tended a small veggie patch. Some summers my gardens flop, sometimes they take over the back yard—but even on my Year of Abundant Tomatoes, I doubt my homegrown efforts offset my expenses.
Last year’s tomatoes
Now, the good thing is, I am not doing it purely for economic reasons: I enjoy gardening as a hobby, and I like to dart outside to pull a scallion out of the ground or pluck a few basil leaves to garnish that tender homegrown zucchini. And of course it’s great knowing exactly where my food comes from.
So let’s take a look at my last two summers of gardening. Last year I spent over $200 on gardening supplies because we decided to make raised beds and fill them with new four-way soil. I also bought some soaker hoses, seeds, and starts. All of that yielded a great crop of tomatoes and basil—I’d estimate about $40-60 dollars’ worth. The carrots and lettuce flopped.
This year I needed to lay down a lot less cash, but I still spent about $40 on various plant starts, some of which were immediately devoured by slugs. We had a really rainy spring and I didn’t even attempt planting anything from seed. And now it’s August and—due the aforementioned rainy spring and consistent cool temperatures—I’ve yet to harvest a thing!
I know Joy is an expert in acquiring free gardening supplies, which would be a great start to making gardening pay off. Do you feel like you not only break even but actually save money with your gardening efforts? What are the secrets to your success?
Today’s question is, why don’t you garden organically? Do you find yourself drawn to chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides? Maybe you do it because your parents did it that way. Maybe you get hit by horrible insect infestations or your grass withers up and dies without a regular injection of chemicals. Or . . . what?
With my husband being a stay at home dad last year, our income took a dip and we vowed to cut back. We carefully recorded all our expenses and tried to spend less. And we did in many ways, but not at the grocery store. We went to one budget store for dry goods and hit another one for organic produce and healthier foods.
We felt great about our choices until we recently checked our overall grocery spending. It had skyrocketed to nearly as much as our mortgage payment! (I must confess that we have a really low mortgage payment, but still!)
Now that I’m the one at home, our income has dipped even further and I’m in charge of trying to cut back expenses. The grocery bill is our biggest monthly cost, and I’m eager to bring it down, but I don’t want to give up on organics. So far I’m trying to offset the cost of organics by couponing a bit more and checking out Grocery Outlet for organic deals. We’ll also be eating a lot from our garden this summer and picking local fruit, but I hope that I can figure it out without feeling like I’m sacrificing my ideals. We don’t need processed foods now that I have more time to cook, but somehow just produce, dried beans, and basic canned goods add up to quite a lot!
I have to confess that if the choice was between giving up organic foods to allow me to stay home with the kids and working to pay the grocery bill, it would be pretty clear to me that being at home was my priority. Surely things aren’t this black and white if I continue to pursue gardening and try to pick local produce. Right? Please provide inspiration!
We’ve posted quite a bit about organic gardening over the years. Our own organic gardens and lawns have had their ups and downs. What do you do to “green” your garden?
These were my tomatoes last year. This year’s tomatoes need some help. . . .
I hate them. If I was truly zen I’d make lovely dandelion chains and just get over it. But when they raise their fluffy white heads out of the rest of the lawn, I want to leap from my chair and choke them out.
Instead, my children usually reach them first and make wishes while blowing the seeds all over the front lawn. At that point I usually surrender.
Luckily, we did figure out some natural dandelion solutions last year that are far superior to polluting weed killers that keep our kids off the grass for a few days.
We tried corn gluten since it both fertilizes and doesn’t allow the dandelions to flower. Great, right? Nope. Those persistent yellow spots kept appearing on our lawn. Then we used Burn Out(which is made out of natural clove oil) to zap the dandelions individually. It worked! You have to wait for the right temperature and sunlight, but they die in just a few hours without all the chemicals! Then the corn gluten can do its thing and the lawn really looks nice without any caution warnings about kids and dogs.
Problem solved! My next goal is to sauté the dandelion greens and make a lovely, nutritious dinner some evening. Apparently they’re incredibly nutrient-rich and delicious. Have you tried adding them to your dinner menu? Have you made peace with them? Do tell!
Now some of you have children who will willingly eat the family meal, spinach and all. Well done! I would love to know how you did it. My three year old won’t be receiving specialized cuisine for the rest of his life but for now it makes mealtime infinitely easier. Simply listing out a few ideas for breakfasts, lunches and dinners and then posting it has made life so much easier. It means that we don’t have to think in the morning after a horrid night with the baby and that we can be sure to have items on hand for kid-friendly meals.
Before we tried this simple tip, we spent a lot of time standing before an open fridge trying to think of healthy combinations for our son. Also, we made the mistake of listing several choices for him each meal as if we were catering to a very demanding customer. Now we put his meal before him and find that he’s far more willing to try it.
Our son helped us come up with the list and buy some of the items that we needed to have on hand. It helps him be involved in mealtime beforehand so that he’s less likely to balk when the meal is placed before him.
I know this isn’t gourmet fare, but it’s nice to have a list of a few meal ideas to get us going. Do you have other favorite meal choices that your child loves? Please share!
It’s the beginning of November, and my tomato plants are still churning out tomatoes. The beans bit the dust weeks ago. Aphids attacked the carrots, so out they went! Once everything gets ripped from the ground, how do you get your garden beds ready for winter? Here are some tips I learned from The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith:
Prepare the soil. Edward C. Smith, or “Ed” as I like to call him, recommends preparing the garden beds in the fall rather than waiting until spring. Once you’ve harvested your veggies, take a broadfork or pitchfork and loosen up the soil. Add in some compost.
Plan ahead. If you know where you’re planting what next year, you can amend the soil accordingly. Carrots like leaf mold and cabbages enjoy lime or wood ashes, for example.
Mulch. Ed says mulching is the number-one most important thing to do to prepare your garden for next year’s planting. Cover those beds with a thick layer of leaves or hay. Or, try planting some winter rye. Till it into the ground once it’s 8 to 16 inches long.
Here is a picture of one of my prepared garden beds. I have left the parsley and scallions, which I can eat all winter long, and covered the rest with red dogwood leaves. In the spring I’ll work the decomposed leaves back into the soil and plant some new crops.
Do you have any other tips for fall gardening? Let us know!
If you read my dejected post outlining my garden failures and my subsequent, more hopeful garden update, you’ll be pleased to know that I am now swimming in tomatoes! My wildest gardening dreams have come true, because I’ve always wanted to be someone who had more tomatoes than she knew what to do with. This year, I can’t claim I’ve saved any money by starting a garden, but in the following years I just may break even or even start saving a few dollars by planting my own produce.
Over 8 pounds in one day!
So what can I do with the eight to fourteen pounds of tomatoes I’m picking each week? Here’s what I’ve done so far:
I am also considering canning, but I’m a little intimidated by that. Any other ideas?
If you’ve been following along, you are probably already aware of my black thumb. With my garden failures fresh on my mind, I am shocked to report that I am actually enjoying some success with my tomato plants. So while this post may have nothing to do with green babies, it has everything to do with green tomatoes. Beautiful bouncing green tomatoes (maybe it’s time for a new blog. . . .):
I suffer from Black Thumb. I can’t seem to grow veggies! I’ve tried. Year one I had moderate success, despite starting too late in the season. Year two yielded a few pounds of green beans and maybe five tomatoes from five tomato plants. The next few years were a blur of blossom end rot, un-sprouted seeds, and one-inch carrots.
This year in a new house with a new back yard, I vowed it would be different. I checked books out from the library and pored over my copy of the Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith. We made new raised beds, filled them with brand-new four-way soil recommended for veggie gardens, and planted everything according to the directions. It was sunny and I watered my garden faithfully. Why, then are the leaves from my pepper plants turning yellow? Why aren’t some of my plants any bigger now than they were a month ago? Why won’t the carrots, lettuce, and basil sprout?
My friend Ingrid came over to analyze the situation. She recommended amending some of the soil with compost and getting a drip irrigation system. Despite the fact that I’ve already poured too much money into this project, I’m going to take her advice.
The most disappointing thing, for me, is how much time and money I’ve wasted. Isn’t gardening supposed to save money? I am not a gardening failure all-around–I’ve managed to grow a nice organic lawn, maintain around sixty rose bushes and other shrubs and flowers. So what is my problem?
If you have any gardening advice or commiseration, please let me know! I need all the help I can get. It’s not too late to save my garden! (I hope.)
Note: I wrote this about a month ago and have somewhat revived my garden using the method I described above! So if you are a garden failure like me, keep trying. . . . And for more enthusiastic posts about home gardening, check out our organic gardening archives.