As the childhood obesity rates rise, many families find themselves stuck in the excuse that healthy eating is expensive. Many families skip the produce aisles of the supermarket because they feel they simply cannot afford fresh fruits and vegetables. Although money doesn’t grow on trees, fresh produce does! Mvelopes’ gardening expert, Elizabeth Armstrong, suggests a DIY garden to help beat those produce prices. Here’s how:
First-time gardeners can do very well with planning. Gardening can be done in pots if you live in an area where the soil is sandy or rocky. A design may be created as a vacation retreat on a patio, up the side of the building, or trellised to create privacy or shade.
For those that choose to plant in the ground, the process may be expanded each year as experience increases. Measure your site and draw a design that may be straight lines, curvy or as a circular project. Draw out the size of each bed. Make sure you have water close to the garden.
Choose areas where you may want to plant fruit trees. Some fruit trees may need both a female and male plant for pollination. Note the mature size of trees so they fit within the space chosen.
Raised beds are the best design and easy on the back as you work. The beds must be no more than four feet across and about six to eight feet long. The four feet allows you to reach into the middle of the bed with ease. Two or more feet between beds work well. Place newspaper or cardboard along the path with wood chips as a mulch.
Build the beds to be about two or more feet high. Use a material for the frame that will not release chemicals into the soil and last for a few years; such as rocks or cedar. Soil borne weeds may be a problem so it helps to place cardboard in the bottom of the bed. Add potting soil that is seed free. Fill the bed with soil. Add drip irrigation tubing down the middle of the beds to conserve water.
Seeds and planting kits can be purchased from any local nursery, farmer’s market, or even home-improvement centers. Choose vegetables and fruits that you know your family will consume. Any excess fruits or vegetables can be sold, canned, or given away as neighborhood gifts.
Choose your plants in relation to sun needs, seasonal growth habit (cool, warm), and companion planting. Companion planting includes growing tall sun loving plants with shade tolerant crops. A quick online search will help to find information on what plants grow well as neighbors and which plants do not do well when grown together.
You may create some of your own fertilizer by composting organic matter – which will also save you money. Kitchen waste, grass cuttings, leaves, and shredded small stems are examples of compost ingredients. You may find more information at the Environmental Protection Agency compost site.
Intermix flowers and herbs within the edible garden area. Choose flowers that attract beneficial insects to reduce pest problems. Stay away from chemical fertilizers and pesticides if possible since they may be taken up by the plants. Use mulch throughout the garden to cut down on weeds and water loss. Choose a mulch that will be complementary to neighboring plants. Cedar and pine will do well with acid loving plants.
It is up to the produce, consumer, and the use of the fruit when deciding when to harvest your crops. Because it is not easy to describe the sweet sugary taste of a raw ear of corn freshly picked from the plant, it is best to read the recommendations for each particular crop as to when is the best time to harvest.
Some produce will continue to ripen after picked; such as tomatoes. The nutritional value begins to degrade quickly in others; such as corn. Potatoes and Jerusalem Artichokes may stay in the ground for a while for periodic harvesting.
My best practice is to create a recipe for your daily meal and then stroll out to the garden to get the ingredients. Garden to table reduces the need to refrigerate or store your delicacies.
As it approaches the end of a plants life, planting of the next succession of crops, or the growing season comes to the end, a whole new party begins with preserving nature’s blessing for winter meals.
An at-home garden does require more work than simply picking your produce from a barrel at the market, but the rewards (saved money) and memories you will make with your family will last much longer than your garden.
Have fun and savor the flavor of fresh foods.
Excited about saving more money? Have a summer trip planned? Mvelopes can get you there! Download the FREE Mvelopes App and begin saving today!
About Elizabeth Armstrong: Elizabeth received a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture, a Master’s degree in Botany and a PhD in Biological Sciences from the University of Arkansas. She is an avid gardener and has taught Environmental Science for over five years. Dr. Armstrong can be contacted for more sustainable living tips via her website.