Free Food: Growing Your Own.
We Have Choices
I love going to the farmer's market and finding locally grown, fresh vegetables. They just taste better than the stuff in the stores to me. Bolder flavor. Better texture. Brighter color. The farmer's market is a great place to meet growers in your own area.
But... not everything at the farmer's market is locally grown. Some people there are simply sellers. They buy produce in bulk from a regional warehouse, then bring it to the farmer's market to sell it. So talk to the vendors you buy from, and get to know who are growers, and who are sellers.
I think farmer's markets are great places to buy fresh, wholesome vegetables and cut flowers The atmosphere is usually friendly and accommodating. And you never know what you may find.
But if you really want free food, I suggest you grow your own.
Choosing How To Grow Vegetables
If you are new at raising your produce, you may want to start slow. Rather than digging up your whole back yard planning a year's worth of vegetables, why not start with a small area? Something that will be easy to tend to without overwhelming you.
One year, when I was working in a near by town, and homeschooling my kids, I just didn't have time to commit to a large garden, or canning or preserving a large harvest. So I dug up just about 6 feet by 10 feet of the yard, used the Square Foot Gardening method, and made more food than my family could eat. Honestly my neighbors also enjoyed the bounty of that tiny garden throughout the growing season, right along with my own family.
The kids helped, and we used it as a learning experience as well. They kept charts on weather conditions, plant growth and so on.
The point of having a garden is, naturally, to produce food. But it should also be enjoyable. Not something to be dreaded. So if you are just starting out, start small. Choose a few of your favorite vegetables, and learn about their needs. Do they need full sun, or will they do better with a little shade? What type of soil will your plants require? How much space is needed for each plant? What are some good companion plants for the vegetables you want to grow? What pests will possibly invade your plants, and how will you deal with them? Try to answer as many questions for yourself as possible before you buy seeds or transplants.
Even a Small Corner Works
Choosing What To Grow
I think a good idea when deciding what to plant, is to plant what you know will be eaten. There is no point in harvesting a bushel of lima beans if no one in your house likes lima beans. But that's just common sense.
Is there something that gets gobbled up as soon as it makes it home from the store? If so, that is an ideal vegetable to grow.
Is there a speciality vegetable that you love, but is more expensive than what you like to spend? That would be another good choice to grow.
Maybe you love cantaloupe and watermelon, and want to try your hand with one of the many varieties.
The choice is yours, and that's all there is to it.
Fresh and Yummy!
Decide What You Need To Get Started
You will not need every gardening gadget on the market to get started. You will need a tool to break up the soil. But that doesn't mean you have to run out and buy the most expensive tiller at your local supply center. I once broke up a very large garden spot with only a sharp hoe. Yes it was work, but it got the job done. So pick a tool you are comfortable working with. And remember you can rent a tiller, if you really need one. But for a small starter garden, you probably can use a shovel, hoe, or even a hand trowel in really very small spots.
You may want a good garden rake. Not to be confused with a leaf rake, which is larger on the business end, and much more flexible than the garden rake. The garden rake is handy to get weeds and roots out of your freshly broken ground, and to break up chucks or clods of dirt. The prongs can be drug over fresh dirt to leave little trails of indentions, helping you to place your seeds where you want them. It can also be used to cover your seeds after planting or sowing them. Honestly a garden rake is one of my favorite tools.
You will need a watering method. It won't always rain when you want it to, and your plants may get thirsty. According to the size of your garden you may want to hand water with just a watering can or use a hose with the right nozzle setting. You can set up drip irrigation, or sprinklers. Again, the choice is yours. Use what will save you time and hard work.
If you plant a garden, weeds will come. That's just a fact.. I always try to get rid of as many invasive weeds and grasses as possible when I break ground. But there are always sneaky weed seeds, or grass roots that slip by me. So after I plant, I spend a few minuets everyday weeding. It's just so much easier to pull up tiny little weed seedlings than to muscle them out after they have gotten a good toehold. The new gardener will have to be careful not to pull up their vegetable seedlings as they sprout and show themselves. So it's a good idea to find photos of what your seedlings will look like, so you won't misidentify them.
Another way to avoid weeds is to mulch. I mulch after my seedlings are between 3 and 6 inches high. Some people rely on a roll out ground covering. There are many on the market. But since I don't use them, I can't testify to the way they work. I use dried leaves, raked up in the fall for mulch. They break down into compost, and this adds to the quality of the soil. I just add new layers of leaves as needed. I have even been known to ask neighbors for their leaves so I know I have plenty on hand in the spring. Bagged up in large garbage bags, and kept dry, they last until needed.
You will need fertilizer. There are a million and one fertilizers out there, and not all of them are good for everything. I don't use chemical fertilizers, so I can't say which are good, and which are not. I just don't like the idea of chemicals on my food. So I use natural fertilizers. You can buy natural, organic fertilizers at garden centers, or online. Or you can find your own.
Animal litter is a good place to start. Rabbit poo can be used without composting. It is a wonderful fertilizer. Chicken poo works also, but must be composted first, or it will burn your plants. Cow poo is another good source, also composted. I have even used horse poo, but I ended up with a few wild oats in my garden patch.
Look for people who have an abundant supply of animal litter and ask if you can get some. This may mean going out into a pasture with a five gallon bucket, and a shovel. This isn't for everyone, I know. But it may be as simple as just sweeping up a sizable amount of rabbit "pills" and bringing them home. Worm cashing are great to enrich your soil.
Start a compost "bin" or spot and use the results in your garden. You can compost all your vegetable and fruit peelings and scrapes that have no butter, oil, or other fat added to them. Leaves, grass clippings, and spent vegetable and fruit plants can go into your compost. You can use a bucket, a trash can, or a couple of hay bales set at an angle in your yard to hold your compost matter. Turn the compost once in awhile, and be aware compost produces heat as it breaks down. When it is ready for use, it will feel crumbly and clean in your hand, and smell like rich dirt.
It's all up to you how you fertilize. But don't over do it. Especially if you are using non-organic fertilizer. There are time released, organic, or chemical fertilizers out there that come in a pellet form, which release their nutrients as you water.
If you have very limited space, you may want to have a container garden. This is a great way for apartment dwellers to grow their own free food. You can also grow in containers in addition to planting in the ground. Container gardens can be anything from a tiny pot of dill or basil on your kitchen window sill, to a 55 gallon barrel in the back yard.
You can use recycled 5 gallon buckets acquired for free from a bakery, or a pretty decorative planter from a garden supply center. It's all about what you what, and what you need.
It would be hard for someone in an apartment to grow a huge crop of potatoes in containers on the patio. But easy to grow plenty of eggplant. So if you decide on using containers, be realistic about the amount of certain types of foods you can produce in abundance.
Container gardening can be fun, and supply you and your family with a very satisfying harvest!
Enjoy Your Free Food
After all the planning, working, and watching, your garden will begin to feed you and your family. It is very rewarding to pick a fresh tomato right off the vine, rinse it off and indulge in the flavor and texture of a natural, whole, fresh food, and the satisfaction of a job well done. Nothing compares to popping a pale green sugar pea out of your own warm garden and munching it so tender, fresh, and ripe.
You will save money on your grocery bill by growing your own free food, and you will know exactly what you are eating. But I have to warn you... once you start gardening, you may not be able to stop! You may end up reading the almanac and planning way ahead. Or find yourself waiting on pins and needles for your new seed catalog to arrive. It could end up that you spend more time than you mean to at the garden center trying to decide if you want the bamboo stakes or the wire pepper cages. You may even start thinking about your fall plantings before you have harvested the produce from your spring plantings.
I'm telling you... gardening gets into your soul, and can change you in ways you never thought about before.
Everyone who knows how, should teach another how to garden, in my opinion. One hand receives, as the other hand gives.
Happy harvesting, and may you always have plenty!