Before you start gardening, determine what it is that you buy already. The goal of gardening is to stop buying fruits and vegetables, not to fill your freezer with store-bought veggies and then let the garden abundance rot on your porch.
For the freezer, we regularly buy corn, green beans, stir-fry mix, mixed vegetables, and also mixed berries. So for my garden this year I planted corn, beans, stir-fry veggies, and raspberries. I also picked wild black raspberries, and my MIL let me have some of her strawberries in exchange for picking duties.
For fresh produce, I would usually buy summer squash or zucchini, carrots, celery, 2-3 roma tomatoes, and sometimes a green pepper. I planted summer and winter squash, carrots, a few tomatoes (most rotted from the blight… L sniff), and three pepper plants.
In addition to the vegetables we would have bought anyway, I also harvested some watermelons, potatoes, and cucumbers; some of which I made into relish and pickles. From the tomatoes I salvaged, I made some spaghetti sauce, which we also would have bought anyway.
Help! I live in town!
If you don’t have a lot of space, you can always plant in containers. Strawberries, beans, peppers, and peas grow well in containers, and root vegetables like potatoes and carrots can be grown in storage tubs filled with dirt. If you have a small yard to work with, replace ornamental landscaping with useful fruiting or edible plants. Petunias and yew bushes are great, but you definitely can’t eat them!
If you don’t even have a yard, there is always the option of hydroponics, or growing plants in water. This you can do in a basement or closet. It is somewhat pricey to get started- $50 for plant nutrients, plus money for clay pebbles, a grow light, buckets or tubs, net pots, water and/or air pumps. It sounds like a lot of stuff, but you ARE essentially growing tomatoes in the basement. God did not design tomatoes to grow in basements.
Fruit: The Big Savings
If you can, grow or forage fruit. Fruit is more expensive than vegetables, but things like strawberries and raspberries are easy to grow AND make new plants on their own. It takes time to establish fruit, so get started as soon as possible. While your plants and trees are maturing, find free fruits like mulberries, wild black raspberries or wild apples. Be sure to ask before you go foraging on someone else’s property, and don’t pick things you can’t identify.
Herbs are also very easy to grow. Sage, oregano, thyme, and rosemary are good for beginners and come back year after year without replanting. Herbs like basil, cilantro, fennel, dill and parsley can be grown easily from seed. All herbs can be dried in a dehydrator or frozen and used when needed. I dry my herbs, and then grind them in my Vitamix dry container so they are easier to use and measure. You could go crazy making your own spice blends and dry rubs, which will save big bucks if you are in the habit of buying spice blends.
Mushrooms: A Bonus Crop
This year I was delighted to find a few different edible mushrooms. We always had puffballs where I grew up, and Hubs introduced me to morels. I also collected “Mexican Truffles” from my sweet corn patch. Mexican truffles are actually that grey-blue fungus that infects and inflates corn kernels. It looks super gross, but doesn’t taste all that bad. In some areas, the fungus is actually canned and sold as a delicacy. Mmm.
What Are You Waiting For?
Now let’s review the benefits of gardening: 1) free food, 2) free exercise, 3) a nice tan. Who couldn’t use a nice tan?? This year we spent around $12 on seeds and $18 on plants (because we got married in March and I wasn’t thinking about starting seeds at that time). In return, we got to eat fresh produce all summer, pack the freezer full of fruits and veggies, and even had extra to give away. Plus a nice tan... sounds good to me.
Did you have a garden this year? Why or why not?