Friday, May 29, 2009

Saving Money And Eating Fresh

Gardening can be easy. Gardening can be hard. Gardening above all should be fun.

Preference for me is to make it easy, cheap, and fun.

I am an Army brat. Having moved every year or two while growing up, I really appreciate having a home and garden. It's amazing what you can fit into a 120'x 60' oceanfront lot.

Let's grow some vegetables. Pick a spot that gets at least 6 hours of bright sun. The popular startup plants for veggie gardening are tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and maybe a pepper or two-salad fixings.

You want to plan on one tomato plant per person with an exta for giving to mother-in-law or local food bank. Buy plants by the 6-pack (around $2) as apposed to the $25 plant with the tomatoes ready to eat. Or grow from seed. Growing conditions will dictate when you will be able to harvest tomatoes. Putting them in too early kills the plants or stresses them. They will sit dormant until conditions are right. Because of our prevailing southwest tradewinds on the water, I never get to harvest tomatoes until September. Inland they get theirs in August.

Lettuce is a cool weather crop. Plant in early spring and late summer. Leaf lettuce is easy to grow and harvest the leaves as you need them. Head lettuce gets too many internal bugs and we just don't manage to eat a whole head before it goes to mush.

Cucumbers can be extra fun. You can let them sprawl across an area, grow them up a chainlink fence, or trellis them. I've even seen them grown over a wall. Sprawling cukes will shape themselves into crescents and strange forms. Upright or dangling tend to grow straight and not have the yellow ground contact spot. You do have to make sure they don't form halfway through the fence or trellis. Cukes don't like wet feet so plant 2 or 3 into a one foot hill of soil. Seed is easy and cheap. Again, one plant per person is good. Pick a size that you will eat.

Peppers can be tempermental. Any of the smaller hot varieties grow well. Bell peppers on the otherhand have their good season or bad. I only get 4 or 5 peppers per plant. Half will be big enough to stuff which is good for the two of us. Hot peppers can be very prolific. Choose your taste. You don't need too many plants.

Broccoli is another good choice and is grown early. After the initial big floret, side florets will sustain you.

Now for the garden.
If you have the space, plan 4'x8' raised areas for veggies. Three would be a good start. Get 3 6"x8' planks of cedar per raised bed. No pressure treated, you don't want to kill anyone with chemicals. Cut one plank in half for end pieces to make frames. Although frames are not necessary, they really look good and keep everything neat. Lay down weed cloth or a thick layer of newspaper (soak to hold in place) in 4'x8' areas. Arrange your frames on top. I glue and nail mine together. A wooden stake in each corner pounded into the ground and then nailed to frame makes it pretty permanent.

Fill each with a mixture of topsoil, compost, and veggie fertilizer. If you don't use frames, pile the soil. All ready to plant.

If you just want to get your feet wet, lettuce makes a nice border plant in a sunny flower garden. Tomatoes planted between the shrubs in front of your house adds interest. A tub of radishes or carrots by the door is fun for the kids. Peppers in the window boxes add a new layer.

The flavor of fresh picked veggies is unsurpassed. Even Farmer's Markets aren't as good as what you yourself grow. Watch out, you will be expanding your cooking expertise with unique new ways to use your harvest.


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