Wednesday, March 2

Make the most of your garden space.

  For many people nowadays, the needs of the family are paramount when deciding to finally pull out that spade and fork to start a garden. Many people grow a garden for the simple pleasure of homegrown taste and control of the ingredients of the soil in which their veggies are grown. When considering what to plant in your garden is a way to have both control and provide your family with less expensive nutrients you would buy at the grocers.

Step one: Take a trip to the store and price the produce where you spend the most money. Does your family prefer greens to potatoes? Tomatoes to lettuce? Or herbs that diminish your food allotment/budget with tiny bottles of aged flavorless herbs. The main question is, "Where is my food money going?" The second all important question is, "Can I grow food that will replace the food I buy so that I have money left to buy the items that I can't grow?" This is one way to offset the grocery bills throughout the year when prices get out of control and food is at a premium.  This will become ever  more important as the increase of living contiues to climb.

Step two: Within the limits of what my family eats and uses, what costs the most to buy per square foot of gardening space. Cilantro tops the list.  If you are an avid cilantro user in cooking, then cilantro is one herb you could grow, freeze or can and save money to use on other things in the long run. If salsa is your thing, then cilantro and tomatoes are a sure bet to save you money. If you like fresh greens, zucchini or peppers, then grow those in abundance and freeze as much as possible for winter use when the food costs rise.

Step 3:  Decide your available gardening space. What is your space and how much space does each plant require for optimum growing space?  This is when knowing what vegetables you need is the most important.  For example, growing cabbage is not a good use  of your garden space if you can find it at the end of summer for a dollar per head at your local grocer. Cabbage takes up 2-3 square feet when it reaches maturity and most cabbages require a full summer to grow to full size. (there are some exceptions) Even if your cabbage does not take the full summer to grow, after harvesting the cabbage, finding something to fill that space and will grow quickly enough before winter sets in, will be difficult unless you are interested in fava beans which require cool temperatures.

Step 4: "What can I grow that can replace some of the snacks or foods we use regularly?"  This is where family cooperation is a must.  If you are non-vegetarian, it will be hard to get your family to eat vegetairan burgers...however there is a simple trick to this.  Take one pound of hamburger, add two cans of processed mushed black beans and follow the recipe for vegetarian burgers.  Make patties and freeze.  Broil to perfection: serve with mayple syrups, sauces, rice, pasta or buns.  With beans included you cut the cost of hamburger by two thirds and can make enough burgers for 4 meals for 4 people.  You CAN grow your own beans to offset the cost of meat in a variety of ways.  Black beans go with hamburger.  White beans go with chicken or turkey.  Pink or red beans to make chili or add a bit of beef for chili con carne. White beans can also be made into an alfredo sauce by adding the watered down mushed white beans to one jar of alfredo.  You can eliminate meat with this meal and have enough to serve 6-10 people with one jar of alfredo sauce and the protein comes from the beans. Add torice and you have a complete protein. Add 2 cups greens grown from the garden and frozen ahead of winter and you have a complete meal. Hint: by adding 2 cups of greens to this meals you can reduce the serrving size of alfredo and rice to half and extend the number of servings to 12-20 people or servings.  This enables you to make one meals for 6 people and freeze the rest for another meal in the future.

Step 5: Recognize that with the system above you have cut your grocery bill in half by making two meals for 6 people with only two store bought items: alfredo sauce and rice.  One small bag of brown rice is 1.79 and the alfredo sauce is 4.00 at the most.  So for less than six dollars, you have created two meals for a family of six by using produce you have grown in your garden.(beans and greens)

Planning a 4 x 6 garden

Fiskars 9424 Garden Bucket CaddyAs with any garden the most important part of growing vegetables is making sure the soil is deep enough to accomodate the roots of the plants. Although, not true for all vegetables, determining the needed depth of the soil can be gauged by the height of the plant at maturity. What is above the soil is almost always mirrored beneath the soil.

All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!
The key to your question is the St. Augustine grass. This type of grass is difficult to remove at best and even if you can remove it, it takes the soil with it. Removing the soil from beneath the grass roots is not advised in most situations due to last years seeds of the grass being at the basse of the roots. Knocking the soil off the roots will also dislodge the seeds from the root base and they will infiltrate your carefully prepared soil and then start growing when you add water.

Home Vegetable Gardening: A Complete and Practical Guide to the Planting and Care of all Vegetables, Fruits and Berries Worth Growing for Home Use (Illustrated Edition)
A raised bed comes to mind when thinking about removing grass. Raised beds can be really easy if you have the money but if your don't then it is a real challenge. Of course, the question is, even if you do have the money, how much money do you want to invest to make a raised bed to get a limited amount of vegetables from that space. Are two tomato plants and a bit of chard and kale worth a $200.00 investment via wood, soil, fetilizer, etc?

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The less expensive way, but not necesarily organic, is to purchase 8-12 large bags of Miracle Grow moisture retentive prepared soil. (Keep in mind that plastic bags are the same as water bottles. Plastic releases BPA/BPH when heated and dioxin when frozen and thawed. These chemicals will enter the soil...your food. Some foods can reduce the toxicity of these chemicals before you eat them but knowing which vegetables can do this requires way too much research for the average gardener.) Stack the bags for long parallel to each other, open the top and stack the next level top. Open the second level by cutting the bottom and top lengthwise down the center. Repeat on the top third level of bags. (You do this so the roots can reach the bottom bag of soil.) Stab holes in the outer sides of the bags with a screw driver or sharp stick to help the water relase from the bags so your plants won't get water logged. Cover the entire pile with wood chips or hay for moisture retention, weed prevention and to provide shade to the bags during summer heat. Tomatoes love soil to be very warm but some other vegetables prefer cooler soil. A coating of 4 inches of hay can produce a happy balance of moisture and heat. The bottom bag will act as a water resevoir due to the lack of holes in the base of the bags. The side holes of the base bags will limit the depth of water in the resevoir.

Organic Gardening (2-year)
A more organic option is to purchase year old manure from a local organic farmer. Half a bucket load will give you enough soil to work with for the 4 X 6 size garden. Place cardboard on the ground in the 4 x 6 area and stab holes in it at about 1 hole every 5 inch square. Layer year old manure on top of cardboard. It's okay if the manure goes over the edge of the cardboard a bit. Keep in mind that manure is not a balanced soil. Horse manure has a tremdous amount of seeds and hay mixed into it and cow manure can be too strong if used too soon. Some people and garden advisors recommend bat guano, bird guano and reptile guano as the best manure.

Neptune's Harvest Of Fish/Seaweed Liquid Fertilizer Size: Pint Gardman WC4004 1.45Gal Large Galvanized Copper Water Can  100% Pure Organic Worm Castings (17 Lb). Water-soluble Plant Food Nutrients. Natural, Non-toxic Soil Conditioner, Germination, Rich Liquid Fertilizer. Red Wigglers Earthworm Vermicompost, Vermicast, Vermiculture, Humus, Manure. For Indoor Outdoor Use 
I recommend a combination of worm dirt, fish emulsion, epsom salts, copper watering pots, banana skins, live moss, rabbit and goat poo in a compost tea after making the garden bed with 1 part sand, 1 part peat or coco coir, and two parts year aged and protected-from-elements cow manure.

Cocopeat Coconut Coir 5 Bricks Coco Coir Organic Potting Soil AmendmentsCocopeat Coconut Coir 5 Bricks Coco Coir Organic Potting Soil Amendments
After removing the grass, double dig the soil at least two feet down. Remove half the soil and add coco coir or peat, sand, as well as fish emulsion (find someone who cleans a fish tank), 1 pint (for a 4X6 area) epsom salts and two tablespoons unflavored instant iced tea mix (if you want organic then dont add the tea mix, use tea bag compost tea instead.) Stir it all together and add the removed soil a little at a time until the height of your garden is 6 inches above the ground around it. If you would like to frame your 'raised bed' use untreated wood or logs from the woods (free). Once the soil is completely evened out on its surface, spread hay or straw on top of the soil to help with moisture retention, necessary carbon from the decomposition of the straw and weed prevention. You can plant in the soil beneath the hay by leaving a little room in the hay around each plant until your plants are taller.

Once you have completed the soil preparation, deciding what to grow in your area is the next step. A 4 X 6 area is a relatively small area if the soil preparation isnt done correctly as above. If it is then the next decision is what your household eats the most and costs the most at the grocery store. It also depends on likes and dislikes, of course. Many people like to grow tomatoes for that homegrown flavor. Planting one large tomato like the heirloom Pineapple tomato

Organic Pineapple Tomato - 50 Seeds and one small like the heirloom Matt's cherry tomato   Organic Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato - 50 Seedscan supply your family with enough of each sized tomato for the summer. Plant each tomato at each end of area and surround them with basil and cilantro seeds. In this small area, carrots love tomatoes but tomatos do not like carrots. The needs of the carrots will stunt the growth of the tomatos. If you have trouble attracting bees to your area, plant lambs ears in between and let the bees pollinate at will. Some early blooming plants that help attract bees can also be included: plant some strawberry plants around the edges of the area...the early spring blooms will start the cycle of bees returning to feed on pollen.  Backyard Wildlife: How to attract bees, butterflies, insects, birds, frogs and animals into your gardenIf desparate for attracting pollinators and no early flowering plants are available, make a sugar water mixture as you would for hummingbirds and place in a bowl near freshly planted plants. The rest of the garden between the tomato plants can be planted with seeds or store-ready plants like one zucchini and one sum-squash or a variety of herbs.

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Although zucchini and squashes are wonderful to grow at home, they are relatively inexpensive at the store and don't provide as much nutrition as other alternatives. The most nutritious plants in any garden are kale and swiss chard. Both are able to provide greens all summer and are loaded with vitamins and nutrients important to everyones health. Keeping to the red varieties can increase the benefits of anthrocynins as well as all the other nutrients that are naturally in kale and chard.  Red Winter Kale Certified Organic Heirloom Seeds 250 Seeds Picking them fresh for the table is the best way to get the most out of any leaved vegetables. The sooner they are on the table after picking the better the nutrition. Organic White Russian Kale - 300 SeedsYou can plant these in rows or clumps to leave space for another bump of a pumpkin hill. Two pumpkin plants can be produced on one hill and will almost guarentee the participation of any child in the household.
  Ferry-Morse 3107 Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Big Max (3 Gram Packet)
I hope this explaination helps you a bit. Enjoy your endeavors and plan to plant for a lifetime once you taste the difference between your own nurturing of plants and the less favorable products from the grocers.
See future articles about profitable Gardening for your household.