Hard times present challenges, but also create opportunities. If you find your budget stretched to the max, you may want to think about ways you can adjust.Growing your own food might be one way to take some of the strain off your budget, while providing your family with more nutritious food. It’s also a good way to connect with the Earth, and is easier than you might think!
Even if you are an apartment dweller, you can grow your own fresh vegetables and herbs. If you have a small yard or lot you might also want to grow berries and fruit.
Read on for step-by-step directions and helpful tips.
What Do You Need to Grow Your Own Food?
Growing your own vegetables, fruits and herbs, requires only very basic supplies. You need a piece of ground or containers for soil. You need sunlight and warmth while the plants are sprouting and growing. You need soil, water, perhaps fertilizer, and some basic tools for working the soil. Of course you will also need some seeds or seedlings. You can literally start a very bountiful home garden for less than $50.
Here is a checklist of what you will need:
- An area to grow your food: Either in your garden, or inside.
- Soil: Loose, dark, with no large stones.
- A trowel: Available at any hardware or gardening store.
- Seeds: A seed catalog or packets of purchased seeds.
- A watering can.
- A hoe (if cultivating outside).
- Seedlings: Or seedling pots or trays, if you’re starting your own seeds.
- A sunny area: For at least 6 hours a day, or a sunny window or artificial light if cultivating indoors.
The Indoor Garden
Believe it or not, there are many foods that can grow indoors in pots and tubs. These foods include: Herbs and popular vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, garlic, lettuce, spinach, potatoes, celery, broccoli, and string beans.
If you are an apartment dweller, you have several options that give you the small amount of room you need to grow produce:
- Choosing crops easily managed in tubs, in a sunny spot or on windowsills.
- Joining a community garden.
- Renting space or finding an empty lot.
- Creating a rooftop or terrace garden.
You can harvest fresh food daily and add beauty and life to your living space by growing your own food indoors. In some ways, it is even better to grow foods in the house as it is easier to control growing conditions. It is also possible to grow many foods in the winter that can not be grown outside. Another advantage of indoor gardening is that you can start cultivating most seeds at any time, creating a continuous garden.
There are many good books available on indoor gardening, and you should be able to find them easily on Amazon or in your local bookstore
The Basics of Growing Foods Outside
Outside gardening will take a little more work but give a greater yield of vegetables. Here are some steps to follow for success:
- Choose your spot: The area should be level, well-drained, and unshaded. Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. Avoid rocky or clay-type soil. You may need to add topsoil to your plot, which is an added expense but worth it if your soil is hard or dusty. Your garden does not have to be a square or rectangular! You can create a garden alongside your house, along a walkway, or in terraced sections on a bank. Use what you have!
- Tilling the soil: You will need to till the area you are going use. This can be done with either a rented rototiller or a hoe. The earth needs to be dug down at least 9 inches, turning and loosening the soil so that there are no major clumps. Remove stones bigger than a walnut. Put them aside to use as markers for rows or mounds of seeds. How much you till will depend on available space.
- Plan your garden: Once the ground is tilled, you can section of the garden (on paper first) into planting areas. Remember that most vegetables love sun. Plant the foods that are likely to grow tall, so that they will not shade shorter ones. Keep root vegetables in rows or patches near each other, as they require frequent cultivation. Don’t forget to add some herbs and flowers. Marigolds placed around the border of your plot will keep insects and rabbits from entering.
- Planting: Plant according to your area’s growing season. The Farmer’s Almanac website has information for your area regarding best planting, cultivating and harvesting times. You may want to start growing some of your seeds inside, 6-8 weeks before setting them out in the ground. The whole family will have fun watching the seedlings as they grow. Follow grower’s instructions on the packet. Keep the seedlings thinned out as they grow. Planting seeds outdoors also requires following directions carefully so that depth and spacing between plants is conducive to growing.
- Adding fertilizer: You may want to add well-broken down compost or organic fertilizer to the ground around your plants. The key to this is right timing. Check out the Farmer’s Almanac, or package instructions. Fertilizer can keep the soil in top shape and maximize your harvest.
- Water regularly: Unless you live in a very arid place, you will only need to water every other day unless conditions are hot and dry; but water deeply when you do. Roots need to grow deeply in order to support the plant, and deep watering promotes this. Water carefully to avoid erosion around the base of the plant. Avoid watering with a hose as the water probably won’t seep deeply into the soil, and the spray from the hose may damage exposed parts of the plants. Never cultivate soil that has been recently soaked or rained on, as you’ll cause the dirt to become clumpy and interfere with drainage. Do not water when the sun is high, as water landing on hot leaves may scorch the plants. Wait until early morning or evening.
- Support tall growing or vining plants: Support plants such as tomatoes and some kinds of beans with sticks or poles. Tie stems to poles loosely with strips of old pantyhose or other soft cloth.
- Turn the soil periodically: Cultivate around the base of plants regularly, using a hoe or hand digger. This way the plants’ roots can get the needed air and water.
- Protect your hands, back and knees: Use gardening gloves, available at any dollar store. If you are going to spend time on your knees in the garden, use a firm pad under your knees, and move it along as you go down a row. Take frequent breaks to protect your back; get a glass of lemonade, sit down, relax, and watch your garden grow!
Growing Fruits and Berries
If you have room, planting berries and fruit trees can add to your bounty. Your local tree nursery will offer varieties suited for your area.If directions regarding planting depth, spacing distance, watering, fertilizing and pruning schedules are followed, you should be able to enjoy fruits and berries, 2-5 years after planting. Strawberries usually take 2 years to mature, and blueberries 4-5 years. Most fruit trees will bear enough to harvest 5-7 years after planting. Reading a book on tree and berry care will be well worth the time. There are also many helpful sites on the web.
Enjoying Your Harvest
As your home garden begins to produce food, you will be able to start incorporating what’s available into your dinner planning:
- Greens, peas and scallions will add color, vitamins and minerals to salads and soups.
- Baby potatoes and carrots, combined with string or wax beans make a wonderful side dish.
- Waiting for tomatoes, squash, broccoli, cabbage and garlic to mature is hard, but worth the wait.
- You may even have some produce leftover to give to neighbors or your local food pantry.
- Learning to preserve fruits and vegetables by canning, making jellies or dehydrating will make your produce available all year.
Growing your own foods is a fun and worthwhile project. By the time of your first harvest, you will have saved money, put high-quality fresh foods on the table, and no doubt enriched your spirit in the process!