Thinking about starting a food garden? You’re not alone. In the past five years, the percentage of people growing their own fruits and vegetables has risen 17 percent — to a total to 42 million U.S. households, boasts The National Gardening Association.
Given the recession, it’s probably no surprise that millennials are the fastest-growing age group (no pun intended). The NGA says 8 million millennials were growing food at home or in community gardens in 2008. Last year, that number jumped 63 percent to 13 million young people.
Starting a garden is a cheap hobby and a great way to save money to boot. Don’t think your green thumb is good enough? Live in a big city and don’t think you have room to grow? I live in New Orleans and can kill a houseplant by looking at it, but even I’ve been saving money by gardening for years.
You can peruse the web for all sorts of detailed tips, but here’s all you need to know to get started cheaply and easily…
1. Plot your course
Before you plant (or even buy) a single seed, take some time to plan your garden. Start by mapping out your planting area, which will give you a good idea of what you can and can’t plant. For example, many squash varieties take up a lot of space. If you’re working with a small plot, your other plants will be overrun.
However, keep in mind you garden doesn’t have to be confined to a patch in the backyard. Windowsills, front porches, and porch steps can all be used for potted plants.
2. Choose your harvest
To get the most out of your garden, you’ll have to seed-shop like a pro. Here’s a few tips to get the most out of what you buy:
- Grow what you know. Gardening isn’t hard to figure out, but it can be hard work. So as a beginner, don’t grow, say, cauliflower (which has a long growing season) or celery (which needs constant watering).
- Know your environment. Soil, rainfall, and climate are different across the country. Make sure you’re planting something that can grow and flourish in your area. A simple web search will tell you all you need for your region.
- Comparison shop for seeds. Your local home improvement store may not be the cheapest and probably won’t have the most variety. To make sure you’re getting the best deal, comparison shop different seed catalogs like Heirloom Seeds, Burpee, and Park Seed.
3. Be smart about supplies
You can’t start a garden without a few supplies, but like most hobbies, it’s easy to get carried away by all the cool stuff and overspend. To keep this from happening, make a list of the basic tools you’ll need before you start shopping. For example:
- Small shovel
- Gardening gloves
- Watering can or hose
- Soil (for potted plants)
- Plant food
- Large shovel, pickaxe, or rake for larger gardens
- Tool cart (many roll and are large enough to sit on, which makes gardening much easier)
Once you know what you need, look for discounts. Overstock stores like TJ Maxx and Big Lots carry tons of gardening supplies during the spring and summer months with hefty discounts. You can also get good deals at garage and estate sales.
And don’t discount simply asking. I got a box full of gardening supplies from Freecycle last year.
4. Ready, set, plant
It’s tempting to start planting as soon as you’ve got your seeds and supplies, but planting at the wrong time (or the wrong way) will hurt your chances of actually getting a harvest this year. Instead:
Know when to plant. Different fruits and vegetables have ideal planting seasons. To determine the best time to plant in your area, check out the agriculture site of a local university or pick up a local gardening book from the library.
Follow instructions. All seed packets and starter plants come with planting instructions. Follow the soil, depth and watering amounts or your plants may never grow.
Set up a schedule. Once your seeds are planted, set up a watering and feeding schedule so you don’t get behind and kill your plants.
5. Plan your harvest
Before you know it, you’ll be up to your eyeballs in fruit and vegetables — probably more than you can eat. To save your harvest from the trash, have a plan in mind to manage anything you can’t eat right away. You can freeze, can, or dry almost anything. You can also turn fruits and vegetables into longer-lasting goods like jams, salsa, or sorbet.
To get started with canning, check out:
- Simple Canning – Great info for beginners.
- FreshPreserving.com – A getting started guide from Ball.
- PickYourOwn.org – Recipes, tricks and supplies.
For freezing help, check out:
- How to freeze anything from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
- Tips on freezing common fruits and vegetables from Eating Well.
- A guide to summer fruit from TheKitchn.
For drying fruits and vegetables, check out:
- Drying Fruits and Vegetables – A beginner’s guide from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service.
- Drying Fruits – From the Colorado State University Extension.
- Homemade Dried Fruits – From Taste of Home.
Follow these tips and you’ll grow your own food in no time.