Saturday, February 19, 2011

Getting started: Heirloom and organic gardening on a budget

Dear Friends,

I know I've been the wierd one among us, growing our backyard veggies and frontyard fruits for sme time now. And I know you've been concerned about rising gas prices, the quality of foods in the stores, and whether it's genetically modified or the "real thing."

And you're concerned too, because it's tough to get started - especially when you're on a budget.

We've been there. And let me tell you, it gets easier.

Sure, gardening can be expensive - building raised beds, building up bad dirt, overbuying expensive seeds (because we need three kinds of beans!) But if you look at it as an investment: in your health, your families, your environment, it doesn't seem quite as expensive.

And the investment doesn't have to be that much.

When we first dive in, it gets so tempting to make sure we buy the organic or heirloom seeds. And in some catalogs, you will pay the price. So take a few extra minutes to price shop. Heirloom carrots can range from less than $2 a packet (far better than at a garden shop around here) to more than $4, depending on the variety. So shopping around pays. Remember too, it's just like any low-priced item, they are cheap, but it totals up. Consider splitting seeds and shipping costs with another gardening buddy.

The dirt? We bought organic dirt at Lowe's for the same price as regular, but you'll want to buy compost as well if you don't have that resource available to you. The best advice I ever got was from a worm composter who suggested putting the compost in the whole with the seed as you plant, rather than spread it across your garden. That helped stretch our resources considerably. And if you can, start composting yourself -- even if it's as low-brow as tossing your leftover produce on an open spot in the garden at the end of the season. Not the best view, but every bit helps.

The great news about gardening is that it's a multi-year process -- one that reduces costs over time. Try saving easy seeds such as beans or squash this summer for next year's planting. Or, be lazy, and let the plant overgrow and re-seed itself!

The great thing about gardening is that it takes as little or as much time and monetary investment as you're willing to give. Pace yourself, and you'll have a summer feast to enjoy.

Wishing you a fruitful summer,
Robbie @ Going Green Mama

I'll be on a blogging break the next three weeks, as we go through a major project at work. See you in mid-March!


The Mom said...

Gardening can be so inexpensive. You don't NEED raised beds. It can be as simple as some sod removed from a patch in the yard. You don't NEED to buy soil, just make a quick little compost pile. You can almost always find free horse or cow manure on craisglist or frecycle. As for seeds. You always want to start small. Get your tomato plants at the local garden store, direct sow some beans and carrots and see what happens. You want it to be a joy and a success. Build up to the dream garden, you'll enjoy it much more and it will cost next to nothing along the way.

Green Bean said...

I'm a huge fan of letting things reseed themselves. I've had tons of luck with tomatoes (esp cherry tomatoes) in that regard. It's the lazy gardener's method and often my volunteers do just as well if not better than those little seeds I lovingly planted and tended.

Also, it might not be too late in certain parts of the country to grab some cane berries, grapes and/or fruit trees in bareroot form. I just got some two weeks ago.

Finally, love the idea of saving seeds. As you said, bean and squash seem to be the easiest and over time you might end up with a variety geared toward your little climate.

robbie @ going green mama said...

@ The Mom, I agree, you don't NEED a lot of the things to get started. in my neighborhood, though, we have to have raised beds if anything per HOA restrcitions.

@ Green Bean, I have never had any luck with the tomatoes. Perhaps I'm just too far north.

Matriarchy said...

I made a fast 5x5 bed by peeling up sod one spring, and then dug trenches that I filled with kitchen waste, shredded paper, and leaves. I didn't get a spring planting season, but I had passed over the whole plot almost twice in time to plant summer veggies from transplants in late May.

AmazinAlison said...

Great post. I definitely let the "to do list" get me down. A big one for me is that I really do ***NEED*** raised beds, because I live on a plot of clay. The Colorado sun is also insanely intense and so for a busy family that is not always home or goes away for a few days at a time over the summer, a drip system is key. I've tried (at our old house) with out it and even with a house sitter, it was all dead when I cam home, thanks to a week of 100 degree weather and full sun. :(

Yes...I complain...yes lots of people here do fantastic gardens, so really I just need to shut my trap and get my butt in gear! Thanks for the reminder up as we head into March!

Rosa said...

I think most beginning gardeners should start with making a friend, not running to the gardening store. Or volunteer to help an older neighbor with their yard (though they may not be organic).

Our raised beds are made out of scrap wood, downed wood broken up concrete scrap, mismatched decorative bricks. They don't have to be expensive. You can also just hill them.

My self-watering containers are mostly made out of dumpstered 5 gallon containers, though I did buy 3 or 4 of them.

I do drop serious (for me) cash on seeds most years - anywhere from $20-$40 - but I have had really good luck splitting seed orders (from Seed Savers Exchange farm - their catalogs are GORGEOUS if you take one to the office you'll seduce a coworker...)

But I've also had good luck planting seedy potatos from the pantry, saving seeds from produce we bought, and also in people just giving me things...gardeners love to share. I have a lot of gorgeous volunteer and donated flowers, plus usually our neighbors start more tomatos and peppers than they have room for.

Robbie said...

Allison - have you thought about a community garden? That's an option here as well.

rosa, totally agree about making friends, splitting orders, etc. I get the best tips from farmers market vendors!

Tim said...

I'm usually thrifty-to-the-extreme, but something that always brought out the rabid, glassy-eyed consumer in me were seed catalogs. I'd pore over the full-color glossy pages and exotic descriptions and spend way more than my budget on seeds that were often little more than interesting novelties. I'm better now! This year I spent less than $16 on seeds. A far cry from last year's $45. I have less exotic novelty items, but I have good solid varieties that are tried-and-tested and that I know will bring good yields.


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