Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dreaming in green...

No, not the Moola green, the garden green.

Drooling over seed catalogues, outlining garden plans of pieces of graph paper, working and reworking the seed list are  all games of fantasy that I play this time of year.

There are several ways one can approach the garden every year.  Do you buy your seed from a catalogue  and start everything from seed?  Do you just grow some veggies from seed right in the garden but tomato and pepper seeds as seedlings?   Do you save seed?  Is the investment in money in the spring saving you money in the long run?

I'd like to answer this last question anecdotally.  

About 10 years ago I was financially strapped. Because of health reasons, I had to reduce my work hours.  The amount of money that I had to spend on food was not much. I had a community garden plot for about 2 years at this time.  So that spring,  I took a little money from my tax return. The plot rental was 15 dollars. I bought spinach, pole beans, pie pumpkin, beet, carrot, swiss chard. I bought 1 six pack of tomatoes and one pack broccoli  at the farmer's market. In all I probably spent 30 dollars on seed and seedlings.  Some things volunteered in the garden: dill, marigold, chamomile.  Other gardeners would leave extra seeds and seedlings for the taking. The community garden provided the manure,  fish emulsions and hay.  The whole garden was organic. Did I save any money?  Yes I did.  For the most part I was able to bypass the produce section of the grocery store that summer.  The money I would have spent on produce was instead used for meat and staples.  If I were to find myself in the same situation today, I would take that savings and buy an extra pound of dry beans,  barley or rice to stock my larder each week.  I was able to freeze shredded zuchinni ( to put in muffins and soups), broccoli and pole beans in my small apartment refridgerator.  Someone gave me my hot water canner that summer so I put up my first few jars of tomatoes that year.  I also dried herbs.  That garden plot was only 10 feet by 15 feet. By planting things that grew vertically, I was able to get a lot in that small space.  I also made sure to plant nutrient dense foods.

Ideally, it would be great if we could all buy the open pollinated , heirloom seed that are organically grown from ethical seed producers.  But personal financial realities limit those choices for many. So here are a few money saving tips I have learned along the way.

First, If you buy winter squash like butternut, buttercup or pie pumpkin, save their seed.   Because these plants are grown in large fields, the possibility of cross pollination is lower, than squash grown in a home garden.  All you need to do is lay the seed out on a napkin to dry.  Put in an envelope and don't forget to label. Winter squash stores well in a cool room.  Try not to bump them too much or to store them touching or they will get soft spots sooner rather than later. Just make sure to check on them regularly and cook up any that are getting soft spots.

Second, commercially grown potatoes ( as opposed to organically grown) have a growth inhibitor sprayed on them to prevent the eyes growing on them.  However, if you have old potatoes growing eyes then these potatoes  look very much like the seed potato you buy.  Last year, a friend gave us a 50 pound  bag of commercially grown spuds that we were unable to get to.  So we cut them up, allowing 2 eyes per piece, and planted them as an experiment.    We grew a good crop of those potatoes along with the other spuds we grew.  Potentially 5 pounds of potatoes are grown for every pound planted.    I store these in 5 gallon buckets under my bathroom sink. And I save any of the very small potatoes I harvest for seed.

Third, In the fall look for end of the season seed sales.   I always hit the FedCo tent at the Common Ground Fair because they have seed marked down by 30 percent.   I always find new varieties to give a try.  Propagation rates are not always a 100 percent but I have never had an outright crop failure because I used seed over a year old.  I would try  to avoid dollar store seed that is old because I have heard that the propagation rates are poor.

Fourth, know your varieties.  Boston Pickling Cucumber, Black Seeded Simpson lettuce are common heirloom varieties.   That means that you can save their seed.  Is that lettuce starting to bolt?  Let it go to seed.  Save the seed and you'll have seed for next season or  better yet a succession crop.  Let a few of those cucumbers get to the big, yellow stage, clean out the seed and dry as you would squash.

Fifth, Seed and Seedling Swaps.  Do you have perennials that you have to divide in the spring? Bring some of these to a local seed/ seedling swap.  You can find out about this through local gardening clubs and cooperative extensions.

Sixth, the reason for vegetable gardening is to grow your own food.  Does your neighbor always have a bumper crop of tomatoes while yours are wilting on the vine? But, you grow great corn. How about working with a neighbor.  Have your neighbor grow extra tomatoes while you grow extra corn and then split the harvest.  Not only does this put some tomatoes in your cupboard but it also builds community which is something that will be more important the further we get into these  troubling times.

Seventh, start as much of your seedlings from seed.  One seed packet of heirloom tomatoes goes for about 2.50 3.00 a packet of seed. But you get many more tomatoes than the 6 pack of seedlings you get at the local greenhouse.  If you get heirloom variety you can save the seed and not spend ANY money on tomato seed next year.  A Big savings in the long run.

Eighth, Do not forget the lowly worm.  I am a convert to vermicomposting.  They eat your food scraps, they poop, they make compost (frass).  They provide good fertilizer for your garden.

Ninth, if you don't already, consider organic gardening .  Healthy Soil = Healthy food.  The application of chemical fertilizers does not feed the soil which in the long run depletes the soil of good micro-organisms.  Good soil is a long term investment you can count on.

Do you have any money saving gardening tips?


Anonymous said...

you pretty much covered it all.. I grew up on a farm and we always saved our seeds from year to year and other farmers were always willing to share any new plant or seed they might have.
I do compost all kitchen scraps and clean paper I get my hands on.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. I have read it several times and think everything is good advise...



~ Lor said...

Interesting post. I always have gardening questions and this is a good overview. Pretty sure this goes with out saying, but I'm sure it's a lot healthier & tastes a lot better growing your own too.