Plants or Seeds?
What could be more fun than starting your vegetable garden indoors while the snow is still on the ground outside? One of my daughters used christmas money this year to buy heirloom seeds and started planting in February. This was a fantastic learning experience for her and fits in with our homeschooling philosophy. She says “I should have started them in March!” Lesson learned.
Some plants are great choices for planting seeds directly into your garden. For example, beans, peas, corn, cucumber, squash, radish, lettuce and melons. Be sure and check with your local extension office for planting times. Others seem to be much less work if you start with plants. In this category are tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, strawberries, broccoli and other members of the cabbage family. Obviously if you buy plants your growing time is shortened and you can plant later. But it is very exciting to plant from seed and watch everything popping up too!
Soil type, fertilizer & pests
When we moved from Nebraska to California I had a humbling gardening experience. I’d been gardening for many years and thought I knew it all! A local advised me to amend my soil, but I didn’t. All my plants that year were in miniature and didn’t produce much. I’ve since become a frequent visitor to our local fruit grower association. Learn what soil type you have or talk to locals and do your research!
We’ve used commercial fertilizer and made our own organic mix with soil specific nutrients and steer manure. We now have a compost pile and are working at beefing up the quality of our clay soil. Where we live the soil needs potassium to “unlock” the nutrients. One year of a scrawny crop convinced me to not be so hard headed. This year we bought organic compost from Home Depot and our plants are thriving.
Pests can discourage the most avid gardener. Long gone are the days of using a commercial pest control (Seven) on my garden. We now use diatomaceous earth and peppermint essential oil spray. This year we are planting marigolds among our plants and they are working! It’s not that we don’t have bugs, but they are eating the flowers instead of the vegetables. One year we were infested with earwigs and the local nursery said to use soy sauce. We set out jar lids at ground level filled the soy sauce at night and every morning were shocked to see tons of dead ear wigs.
Raised beds, Containers & Square foot gardens
Here is where you can really personalize your garden area. I love my raised beds, even though they aren’t that far above ground level. Until I stumble across a frugal source of dirt they will remain low. It’s important not to walk in your garden area any more than you absolutely have to. Keep your beds small so you can reach to the middle from all sides.
Another area we utilize is containers. This is where I like to keep my basil and flowers. In winter we use containers for winter crops, since they are right outside my front door. We’ve grown, broccoli, cauliflower, celery and brussel sprouts in our containers.
Square foot gardening is another option. My daughter in law planted her first square foot garden this spring. It is growing like crazy! Who says you “have” to plant things in rows that are x amount of inches apart? Think outside the box. (pun intended)
Tools of the trade
Depending on your gardening budget you can get by with very little or as much as you want! A spade and hoe are really all you need, but I love my garden gloves. This year for one of our daughters birthday, we got her a trowel and small rake, gloves, kneeling pad and a carrying caddy. It would be nice to have a little wagon or wheel barrel, but those are extras in my book.
Garden all year long
Depending on your climate you may have the option to garden year around. Once again, contact your local extension office for a growing chart for your area. Even in harsher climates you can get a jump on the season by planting fast growing hearty vegetables, like lettuce, radishes and onions. It hardly ever gets below about 20 degrees here so we have a really long growing season- 180 days. Cold frames or a greenhouse can also extend your growing season. When we lived in Nebraska I used old windows as cold frames.
Weeding, watering & waiting
Any long time gardener can tell you how much more efficient it is to stay on top of your weeding. When my four oldest were home, we were a force to be reckoned with when weeding. I can remember times of assigning a row per child for chores. When we all worked together it didn’t seem so hard. Now that it is just my last two at home, we head out for 15 minutes every weekday morning and weed together. It’s fairly easy to keep on top of it. It’s not so easy to play catch up if you’ve let it go for a week or longer. We keep a bucket to put the weeds in and our chickens will line up at the fence to watch us, because they know we dump the weeds over the fence to them when we’re done.
You can use mulch or landscape fabric, but I’m too cheap…… ummm frugal, for that. Our local tree service will deliver chipped trees for free to your driveway so I have my name on the list. We will use the chips on walkways and in the chicken pen.
One of the best things we have invested in is a sprinkler system. This is an easy do it yourself project. My youngest son set mine up years ago and it needs little maintenance. Our local Home Depot has all the supplies and it’s not too expensive. You can set up either drip heads or spray heads. Set it up on a timer and you never have to think about watering.
Gardening is one of the most rewarding things our family does and it helps the grocery budget. It’s like a lot of things, it’s the starting that is the hardest. If you’re willing to put in some work on a consistent basis the rewards are oh so sweet!