Now that it is ‘officially’ summer, it’s also gardening season. Growing your own food is a great way to save money, in more ways than one. Taking up this self-sufficient hobby can help you to slash that pricey grocery bill, and it can also lead to a drastic decrease in the amount of money you spend going out to eat. But there are a few speed bumps on the way to creating a garden that will thrive: What if you don’t have much of a backyard? What if you don’t have that much time on your hands? Don’t let these minor setbacks keep you from discovering your green thumb. Here are a few ways you can make the most of out of a small garden:
Stick to the basics. Especially if this is only your first or second time attempting a garden…it’s in your best interest to refrain from ‘experimentation,’ i.e Cucamelons or heirloom artichokes. Simple garden staples like tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, lettuce, turnips, onions and squash- these are known to be cost-effective and low maintenance.
What grows well varies by region, but with a temperate climate in Northern New York, we don’t have any trouble growing these basic crops. Also, when deciding on what crops to plant, you should monitor the local prices of store-bought crops to make sure you’re growing plants that will save you money over going to the store to purchase them instead.
Don’t forget: time is money. In order to maximize on the time spent planting and maintaining the garden, you should aim to plant crops that can be harvested quickly. Garden plants which are categorized as extremely “productive” include strawberries, eggplant, kale and most herbs. Just a month ago I had planted some sage, rosemary, basil and thyme- and I’m already able to enjoy them!
When you purchase seedling packets at the store, make sure to look on the back and understand the growth period of that specific crop. This will give you a better idea of what you should plant if you’re crunched for time. For example, if you’re a potato lover and you’re hoping to enjoy some homemade French fries in the next few months- think again. Potatoes take a very long time to mature and tend to be a bit labor intensive- especially for a newbie gardener.
Get in touch with your ‘holistic’ side. Not too many people realize this- but some plants grow very well next to each other. This symbiotic relationship that some plants share can also work to your benefit! Referred to as “Companion Planting,” crops like tomato and basil, for example, “help each other out,” thus requiring less input from the farmer (you.) Here are some companion plants, courtesy of lovetoknow:
- Asparagus & Tomatoes
- Beans & Celery
- Beets & Cabbage
- Carrots & Beans
- Corn & Pumpkin
- Onions & Peppers
- Squash & Melons
Use as much space as you possibly can. If you live in an urban area or a tight-knit neighborhood with not a lot of “yard” availability, you might not have enough square footage to build a traditional garden. In that case, you can always utilize windowsills as a growing space for leafy greens or herbs. Another alternative to traditional gardening is container gardening. This method, using oversized pots, is a great way to maintain a small, cost-effective garden. (Tip: clay pots may seem more attractive, but plastic pots retain moisture better and won’t dry out as fast, and they’re cheaper!)