Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Container gardening- A budget friendly and space saving alternative

When my husband and I lived in an apartment with a small balcony, we dreamed of having our own home in order to garden.  Little did we realize that we could have had a variety of plants growing already in our limited outdoor space.  Instead of having to cut up an existing part of your lawn or to take advantage of on small space or deck, planting vegetables and herbs in pots is a great alternative. 

Plants that do well in pots:
Blueberry bushes

For herbs, you can use smaller pots or larger pots if you want to combine different plants.  There are many herbs that grow well together and make for a more attractive arrangement.  If you want an even more cost-saving approach and are not concerned with a decorative look, try 5 gallon or larger buckets, such as the ones you can find at your local home improvement store for under $6.  Just drill holes in the bottom to allow for proper drainage and if necessary, add small rocks to the bottom before adding the dirt.

Benefits to container gardening:
It’s not necessary to have a yard or large space
No commitment to permanent space (great if renting!)         
Mobility if you need to move
Easy transfer of plants

Remember:  Being creative is the key to utilizing small spaces.  Don't allow this to hinder your potential progress :)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Perks of Gardening

There is something about the spring and summer that makes me excited about gardening.  Growing up in the South, you would think I would have more experience or knowledge with gardening and canning from my grandparents.  This was definitely not the case.  I can’t remember my family growing anything other than tomatoes each year, maybe cucumbers a few times.  My generation was one of convenience (microwaves, canned/frozen goods), although I will say we always ate home cooked food.  Going to McDonalds was a treat saved for good behavior and restaurants were reserved for special occasions.   This is something that has stuck with me into adulthood.  I prefer cooking my food and knowing what is in my food rather than going to fast food restaurants.    Prior to the last few years this was due to taste, health, and saving money, however now that I’ve seen several documentaries than discuss hormones being injected into meats and seeds that farmers use, as well as pink slime, my family has been even more committed to change.
While we live in a rural area, we do live in an “up and coming” area in a development.  That means no farms and we can’t have a chicken coop to have farm fresh eggs, however, we can garden to our hearts content. We decided on raised beds, which my husband built with minimal cost.  If you aren’t handy there are composite raised beds you can purchase from the hardware store that you can put together for around $70 dollars for a 4x4 raised bed.  Honestly, I believe that is the cost we spent for 2-6x6 beds.  A cheaper option would be to plant directly in the ground.  This depends on the quality of your dirt and preference.  We did not want animals (namely our dogs or wild rabbits) to have access to the garden and we have red clay in our location, making it impossible to grow anything. 
 Our old garden:
Improved Garden: We have done more work since the picture, I will post when new area is completed!

We have had a lot of luck with herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries, and blueberries.  We grew these in our first year of gardening and have a huge yield.  So huge, we had to learn how to can so we did not waste any food.  We have canned salsa, jams, pasta sauce, peppers, and whole tomatoes.  Nothing too impressive, but enough produced to last us through the winter. 

This year I am very excited to garden and am even more motivated because our son is 4 months old and is being introduced to solids.  How awesome is it to go out to our yard and make his baby food!  I am even more motivated due to the cost I saw for “organic” baby food at the grocery store.  I don’t see personally paying $1-$2 for one serving (maybe 2) of baby food when I have an abundance of fresh vegetables in my yard. 

The cost is an amazing savings.  We did not have much luck with seeds and buy small plants from the gardening section of home improvement stores or nurseries.  Seeds have an even better savings, but the plants are usually around $1.99 to $2.99.  An example of the cost savings is one cucumber at the grocery store is 99 cents and a zucchini is on sale for $1.29 each.  The plant was already paid for its self with the first 2 it produces, with a much larger size and better tasting with less chemicals (none in my case).  Honestly, I would say once matured, each plant produces at least 3 per week.
Research saves time and money!  Why guess at what to do when you can look it up?!  While everyone has someone in their family who is a self-proclaimed expert, I recommend asking them what works, but still research things for yourself.  YouTube has almost everything you have a question on and there are plenty of blogs and forums that provide information as well.  There are so many people who have tried and failed before you-learn from their mistakes and save yourself the frustration! 
Become your own expert!  Research things you don’t know and continue to research to find better ways to improve what you are already doing.  This is our 4th year gardening and while we went in blindly, we researched to find the cheapest and most effective ways to produce and make the most of our investment. 
Don’t be disappointed at failed attempts.  If it repeatedly does not work, try to find new sources for information (each demographic is different), or stick with something else.  We have failed miserably at trying to grow garlic, so we turned that box into an additional potato box. 
If you lack space or rent don’t be discouraged!  Pots offer the same advantage of raised beds and are more mobile!  Smaller items such as tomatoes, herbs, strawberry plants, and peppers do very well in pots and will still look decorative on a balcony or patio.
Have fun!  It is exciting to see a small plant grow to its full size, more exciting when you see the first fruit, and even better tasting the difference in home grown food and what you just ate last week.