How to Grow Your Own Vegetables and Herbs to Save Money

Growing your own vegetables can save you money if you pay close attention to your startup and maintenance costs (like seeds, fertilizer, and insecticide). And even if it doesn't save you money, gardening can have other benefits, like relaxation, enjoyment, making fewer trips to the grocery store, and eating healthier. Here's what I've learned over the last several years about growing a successful garden.

1. Scope out your yard for the best spot. Ideally, you want a southern exposure to give your plants as much sunlight as possible, which is key to their growth. However, if the southern side of your yard doesn't actually get a lot of sunlight (because it is shaded by trees or a building, for example), you'll need to look for the next sunniest spot in your yard. The best place to put your garden is the spot that gets the most hours of full sunlight. Full sunlight means no shade.

2. Decide what you want to plant. Different plants require different amounts of space to grow, so what you want to grow will determine how much space you need to allocate to your garden. Zucchini plants, for example, need about four feet around them. Peppers only need about a foot and a half.

3. Prepare the soil. The roots of plants don't grow in the dirt--they grow in the spaces between the dirt. So if the dirt in your yard is really compacted, and it probably is, you need to loosen it up so the roots will be able to spread out and your plant will be able to grow. You also want to give your plants a source of food, so it's a good idea to work some fertilizer into the soil before you plant. Directions on the box will tell you how much to use per square foot.

There's a good chance that you'll have to dig up part of your lawn at this stage. To prevent the grass from growing back into your garden, you'll want to put in some lumber or stones to divide the lawn from the garden. Loosening up the soil also improves drainage--the rate at which water flows through the soil. This is important because if the roots of your plants sit in wet soil for too long, they will rot, killing the plant. In addition to loosening the soil, creating raised beds or raised rows will improve soil drainage.

If you don't have any land, you can plant in containers. The larger the container, the better--you want to try to mimic the experience of the plant growing in the ground. That being said, you don't want to use regular soil from the ground--you want to use potting soil for anything you grow in pots. I've had the most success with 15-gallon containers.

4. Plant. You can either sow seeds directly into your garden, start seedlings in small trays or pots, or buy seedlings at the nursery. The cheapest and most effective method is to buy seeds and start them in small, divided trays. Seeds will cost between $1 and $3 for an entire package of at least 50 seeds. You'll pay the same price for a single plant at a nursery.

To start your own seeds, you'll need to start planning your garden pretty early in the year, probably around Februar or March, and you may need to start growing them indoors under a grow light (where it's warm enough for the seeds to germinate and the seedlings won't succumb to frost). When the seedlings have two sets of true leaves, they are large enough to transplant into the garden. Be careful not to damage the roots or the fragile stems during this process or the plants will likely die.

5. After transplanting, it's important to keep the soil moist to keep the plants alive. "Water regularly until established" is a common piece of advice you'll see on seed packages and plant labels. Once the plants have been in the ground for a while, their roots will have branched out and will be able to seek out sources of moisture further in the ground. You'll still have to water them, but you'll be able to cut back to once or twice a week.

If it rains, of course, you won't need to water as often. You can check the moisture level of the soil by sticking your finger in to a depth of 1-2 inches. If it feels dry and your plants are young, it's time to water.

6. Proper watering is extremely important to the success of your garden. Once plants are established, it's best to water deeply once or twice a week instead of watering just a little every day. When you water a lot at once time, you may have some water sitting on top of the soil, but eventually it will sink in and the soil will be wet to a depth of several inches. This encourages roots to grow deep, which leads to stronger, healthier plants.

Your plants will tell you if they aren't getting enough water. If the leaves are droopy and seem thin or flimsy, your plants are thirsty. Properly watered plants have perky, slightly stiff leaves. If you're not sure what I mean by this, think of wilted lettuce versus crisp lettuce. You don't want your plants' leaves to have the consistency of wilted lettuce--they will dry out and die if you don't water them. Also, underwatered plants are more susceptible to pests and diseases.

At the same time, you don't want to overwater. If the leaves of your plants are turning yellow, you've probably overwatered. If this happens, let the plant dry out for a few days until the leaves aren't yellow anymore.

7. You will probably come across at least one pest and at least one plant disease in the course of growing your plants. If you are diligent and spend some time looking at each plant in your garden every single day, you will catch the signs of these problems immediately and probably be able to treat them successfully. Personally, I never had any success with organic pesticides and fungicides, but that doesn't mean they won't work for you.

Learning about pests and diseases can be one of the more frustrating aspects of gardening. At first, you won't have any idea what is wrong with your plants and thus, you won't know how to treat the problems you encounter. This is just a matter of doing research on the symptoms of the problems you discover and some trial and error in treating things.

Eventually you'll be able to identify aphids and powdery mildew almost before they become problems, but while you're learning, your best bet is to use products that treat a broad spectrum of problems. That way, even if you misidentify the problem, you may still end up treating it effectively.

8. Be diligent. You need to spend some time in your garden every single day if you want to stay on top of problems and keep your plants healthy. Problems can become insurmountable very quickly. What's more, if you look at your plants every day, you'll notice all the exciting changes going on--the first flowers on your zucchini, the first cucumbers starting to grow, tomatoes starting to turn red, peas that are the right size to pick.

That's basically it. There will always be factors you can't control, like weather, but if you pay close attention to the things you can control, your garden will have a good chance of success.

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Post by Amy Fontinelle

1 comment:

sander said...

Nice to read. Thanks