Gardening on the Cheap: Your Guide to Getting Started this Spring

Reprinted from Vegan Mainstream

By Ellen Jaffe Jones, Guest Contributor 

IMG_0497-300x225My daughter recently said to me, “Mom, I hate to eat tomatoes at restaurants. I keep remembering how delicious and sweet the tomatoes were that we used to grow in our organic garden. Most tomatoes I taste now pale by comparison.”

This was the same child who wowed the nursery school field trip farmer by knowing the difference when he tried to stump the kids holding up the green kale leaf and asking: “What’s this?” All the other kids yelled, “Spinach!” It was my daughter who tasted sugar snap peas for the first time and asked, “Is this candy?”

“Teach Your Children Well,” as the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song goes. Children respond so well to early tactile and taste stimulations. If they are imprinted with early tastes for foods in their natural states, it stays with them the rest of their lives.

Having a garden is the best way to introduce them to nature and understanding that food doesn’t grow in a shrunk-wrapped package at the grocery store. As the snow (hopefully) melts, and the scents of spring beckon children outside, starting a cheap garden is a great way to keep them outside.

The first step is taking a soil sample to your local county extension service to get an analysis of your soil. This will give you a place to start in figuring out what you can and can’t grow well in your soil. Soil that is mostly sand may only be able to support citrus crops, for example, but soil just a little farther inland can give you half a year of a great cross-section of vegetables.

It’s easier to grow a garden from plants that are already started and are ready to transplant.  But it’s also fun for kids to start seeds from starter pots. If getting non-gmo seeds are important for you, try www.seedsofchange.com. They’ll also provide tips on how to start your own garden. You can also join a local farm or community supported agriculture farm to find out where they get their seeds from. You can find them at www.localharvest.org.

If you don’t know anything about gardening, spend a season volunteering at a local farm to see how and what they do. You’ll also get first-hand knowledge about what grows well where you are. If it is an organic garden, you’ll learn all kinds of great ways to make and keep your garden organic. If you can’t find such a farm, there are many great organic and container gardening books and online resources. Don’t give up if you run in to failures – just remember that it is to be expected.

It’s best to choose just 3-4 vegetables your first year. Pick some vegetables like tomatoes that grow fast and furious.  Some varieties will “re-seed” themselves. That means their seeds will drop into the soil and grow again the next year –talk about easy! Learn what crops grow especially easily where you are. I planted a few pumpkin seeds one year, and once I figured out how to keep out the rabbits, I had pumpkin vines and pumpkins taking over the yard and a nearby hill. It was SO much fun for me and my children!

Try planting a few easy herbs like dill and mint. They are also classified as weeds and will definitely grow like one if you don’t control them. Send your children out to the garden before dinner when they are hungry to “harvest” whatever you’ll be making for dinner. These are memories and foods that will last a lifetime!

It’s always cheaper to start a garden from seed than buy plants that are already started at a store. But whatever works for your budget and convenience. The key is to just get one started and to keep it simple. Happy spring!

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