How to Save Money in the Garden

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By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, October 25, 2008

People are trying to figure out how to save money everywhere they can. A lot are becoming interested in growing their own fruits and vegetables.

Growing your own food is not a slam-dunk for saving, however. Newsweek magazine reported earlier this year that Americans spend $34 billion a year on gardening. That's three out of four homeowners and about $401 per family. That doesn't include outdoor furniture and barbecuing equipment, and it doesn't distinguish among people who are merely mowing lawns and those who are trying to become more self-sufficient. It does indicate that it's possible to spend a lot of money outdoors.

One example of this is William Alexander, who wrote a book about his gardening experiences called "The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden" (Algonquin, 2007). Alexander calculated he spent $1,219 to produce 19 heirloom tomatoes.

Nonetheless, there are many ways to save money in the garden. Here are some:

· Save on plants by not buying them at all. Learn to propagate your own seedlings using a helpful resource, such as "Making More Plants" by Kenneth Druse (Clarkson Potter, 2000).

Start your fruit and vegetable seeds indoors in late winter to be ready for spring planting. If you have a sunny window and the space for it, you can have a ready-made garden on May 1.

It doesn't take much to start: a few packets of seeds, some simple containers -- egg cartons and yogurt cups are often suggested -- and some water and sunlight. Seeds are cheaper than seedlings, seedlings are cheaper than well-started plants, and smaller plants are cheaper than larger ones.

· If you're a novice, this is the season to move indoors. Visit your library for books on gardening advice, talk to neighbors who garden, and consult your local cooperative extension service or garden center for lists of the best garden practices for your area. Excellent educational Web sites include those of the Missouri Botanical Garden ( http://www.mobot.org), Ohio State University ( http://www.plantfacts.osu.edu/images.lasso), the Maryland Home and Garden Information Center ( http://www.hgic.umd.edu) and the Virginia Cooperative Extension ( http://www.ext.vt.edu).

· Good soil preparation, water and sunshine can produce a superb yield of crops that should not require expensive pesticides or other chemical applications. To install plants directly into the soil, till three inches of compost, placed on the surface, into the top eight to 10 inches of soil. You can do this now or in late winter. Purchase disease-resistant fruits and vegetables when you are ready to plant.


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