Saturday, May 31, 2008

Going Green, part 1

If you live on the planet Earth these days, you are realizing that the prices of EVERYTHING are going up. I cannot believe how expensive even basic things like milk and bread are becoming -- not to mention gasoline!

So, I'm starting some new things at home to try to make our budget stretch a little farther. (And go a little "greener" in the process...)

The first thing I'm trying is a little old-fashioned -- a vegetable garden.

In the past (think WWII), having a garden at home was an important way to supplement what was available at the grocery store. Oh, and by the way, the food you get is fresher, healthier and about a twentieth of the cost.

Consider this: Tomato plants cost $1.29 for four plants. Yes, you have to actually wait and grow the tomatoes, but one plant has the potential to yield 25-100 tomatoes (depending on the variety). Multiply that by 4 and you get up to 400 juicy red beauties for a buck twenty-nine. Not bad.

So far, I've planted tomatoes, peppers. peas, green beans, watermelon, canteloupe, pumpkins, and two super-easy growers -- spinach and lettuce. We are already enjoying the freshest salads ever, with no sign of things slowing down. The spinach seeds perform best when you get them in the ground in early spring. So, if you want to grow it now, you'll have to start the seeds in a cool basement and then transplant outdoors. But this is prime time for lettuce. I've sown seeds a two-week intervals for a nice long harvest. As the seeds have grown and time comes to thin them out, we make the "baby lettuce" into salads so fresh, I don't have to talk my kids into eating them!

In terms of dollars and cents, think about how much you spend on lettuce in a bag. For the price of one bag of lettuce, you can grow an entire garden of the green stuff. And keep the other green stuff in your wallet.

If you're worried that you don't have time, or you'll kill the plants, I have a few hints for you.

1. For seeds: Loosen the soil before you plant, and pay close attention to the planting instructions on the package. Water lightly each day until your seeds sprout. After that, water only a few times a week, but for a longer time. You need the moisture to get all the way down to the roots of your plants. As the weather gets warmer, be careful of scorching. You can put a light shade on tender plants, like lettuce, by suspending a cloth cover (like a piece of bed sheet) 6-10 inches above the plants. Plants like peas, beans, melons, and tomatoes will love the heat and sun. Just make sure their roots have enough water.

2. If you're planting plants from your garden center, dig a hole twice the depth and width of the pot to give your plants roots space to spread out. Fill the hole with water (and I use a little potting mix with plant food to fill the hole in, too.) Fill in loosely with the plant and soil to fill the hole, keeping the plant at the same level it was in its pot -- not too deep or shallow. Water again. If the soil settles, add some more. For the first two weeks, water daily. After that, twice a week should be good.

I and my husband and kids are already getting a lot of enjoyment from our garden. Working in it gets us outdoors in the evenings and provides some nice quiet time, and of course the freshest food you can find. (Cheap!)

Good luck in the garden!

Midwest Mom

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