One of the biggest complaints for moms trying to make healthy lifestyle changes on a limited budget is that fresh produce is so expensive. And that is a legitimate complaint. Let’s face it, it is getting harder and harder to stretch that dollar without at least compromising nutritional content of the food we eat. Forget buying organic, a lot of us have trouble just buying fresh vegetables.
What would you say if I told you you could have fresh, organic produce every single day, in abundance, all summer and even most of the spring and fall for about what one trip to the grocery store’s produce section costs you? Ok, stop laughing! I’m not joking. It’s true. I too am a mom working on a limited budget, trying to get healthy for the long haul and help my family do the same. We are a one income family, which is an amazing blessing but also can be challenging. Let’s just say you learn to be creative.
As I’ve mentioned, we are doing an expanded container garden this year to help cut costs while providing ourselves with delicious organic produce. And if you have never so much as nurtured a houseplant, don’t sweat, it is incredibly easy and very affordable. I’m going to try to break it down to the very basics for you here.
Home grown produce is out of this world on flavor. You will never want to eat a store bought “tomato”again.
Growing your own produce ensures a superior nutritional content. Under ripe, synthetically matured produce lacks a lot of the nutrition of fully mature, properly ripened fruits and vegetables and also contains harmful chemicals and insecticides.
Growing your own produce is convenient. No trips to the grocery store, just pop outside your back door, or your front door, wherever.
Growing your own produce can greatly reduce your impact on the environment. The fuel and chemicals it takes to grow your store bought produce, to package it and ship it, all the plastic involved from seedling containers to shipping containers to marketable packaging. Seriously, just think about it.
And I’m sure there is more, but these things were more than enough for me.
So, let’s get started. I’m going to assume for now that you have never grown a thing in your life. Let’s say you are someone who is greener than grass when it comes to your green thumb. Let’s start really simple. Let’s grow salad items and maybe some herbs. Here’s what you’ll need:
A little bit of space with access to sunshine, so a porch, balcony, front or back yard, just a little bit of room, not much, that gets at least half a day of direct sunlight.
Some planters. these can be anything from terra cotta pots to repurposed items like coffee cans and old tires. (Search “repurposed planters” on Pinterest to find some very creative ideas.)
Some soil. It doesn’t have to be potting mix. In fact, you will do better with a top soil or garden soil mix. I got mine $2 a bag at the local value market. You will probably need no more than 3-4 bags.
Some seeds or plants. Seeds can be a lot of fun to watch the entire process from start to finish, but I would recommend plants for a beginner for the head start they give you. Just keep in mind that if you get plants, you want to gradually increase their exposure to full sun since they have more than likely been raised in a green house and need to be eased into the full impact of the elements. So some of my favorites for a beginner would be 2-4 varieties of leaf lettuce or salad greens, a tomato plant, a bell pepper plant, a cucumber plant (you will want a sturdy trellis for it to climb, especially if you are limited on space) snow peas, and for herbs, basil, parsley, cilantro, thyme and oregano are all pretty simple and they are some of my favorite and most versatile flavors to use in the kitchen.
“Peas please!” Our little snow pea sprouts are up.
Of course, if you have more space and are feeling ambitious there are more things that could easily be grown in containers, but for our purposes I’m just touching on the simplest container garden strategy. See how you do with this and next season you can make adjustments. Like for instance, one tomato plant would NEVER be enough for our family, we’re going to need at least 3 because my hubby and daughter will need a plant to themselves – each. But, generally speaking, the items above should give you quite a few bowls of salad over the season. If you live in a very warm climate or the South in general (USA) your lettuce and peas won’t need direct sunlight and would even enjoy being shaded by the bigger plants as they grow, they like it cooler. Everything else will thrive in a mostly sunny spot, especially your tomatoes and peppers. They like it hot and jungly humid.
I used a sour cream container with holes poked in the bottom to start some cucumber seeds since my garden spot is still a couple weeks from being ready for planting.
Lettuce has a shallow root system, so the pot doesn’t have to be huge. I have mine in long narrow planters on my porch railing. Tomatoes will need the biggest pot, like a 5 gallon bucket size, something big enough to be able to support a cage as they get bigger and start to produce fruit. Same for the cucumber, which is a vine, and it can be trained up a sturdy piece of trellis to save space. Chicken wire stretched over a 2′ X 5′ frame and leaned against a railing or the side of the house would work fine. Again, Pinterest has some fascinating ideas. The pepper plant and your herbs will be fine in medium sized pots, or you can let your herbs grow together in one big pot or a tiered planter. Even hanging planters can be used. You’ll want to keep everything watered, probably daily during the hottest summer days. I like to collect rain water as much as possible and save it in buckets or gallon jugs for use later. Plants just love rain water, it doesn’t have the chlorine that tap water has plus it has all kinds of molecular nutrients that just pump plants up and give them an extra “umph”. But, you can also save water you used to boil pasta or potatoes or steam vegetables (as long as you didn’t salt the water, salt will quickly kill your little salad friends, so don’t reuse salted water.) And of course you can just turn on the hose or tap, that’s fine too.
A red leaf lettuce will add variety to our salads this season.
There’s not much else you need to know. Your plants generally come with harvesting instructions, and if for some reason they don’t or you lose the info, the internet has you covered. You can find anything you need to know, from how long before your first tomato is expected to how much lettuce you can harvest without damaging the plant. You should also find trouble-shooting tips for any issues that arise like bugs or fungus and there are tons of organic pest control options to be found.
Have fun! Get the kids involved, they will love to help with this project and it is a good way to get your stubborn picky eaters to try more vegetables. It is much more fun to eat something you grew yourself, I promise! Let me know how it goes, leave me comments with any questions you have or any tips you’ve come across. I’m always looking for new innovative ideas in the garden department. Has this post inspired you? I’d love to hear how!
My son loves to help, especially when the task includes dirt and digging.
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