You had the best intentions. You were going to save a bundle on your grocery bill by growing your own vegetables and herbs. Instead, you broke your budget buying every gadget from the big box gardening store – not to mention the pricier mature plants and the chemicals to make them grow faster and produce more. It happens to the best of us.
I now grow almost all of the vegetables and some of the fruits my family eats through the year. Our grocery budget dropped by over $40 per week in the third year of my gardening efforts and it gets better every year. The following are my favorite tips and tricks that I’ve learned over several gardening seasons – many of them the hard way.
Grow Plants That Will Thrive In Your Climate
One of the biggest mistakes new gardeners make is wasting money on plants that are intended for climates in which they do not live. It is easy to get lured in by the beautiful, exotic plants meant for tropical climates or the crisp, sweet apples that grow better in cold climates. Surely, you will be that expert gardener who figures a way to make it work, right?
Wrong. Unless you can figure out how to control the temperatures and growing seasons in your yard and fields, you are wasting time, money and garden space. If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, you might be able to grow some tropical plants, but don’t plan on feeding your family homegrown pineapples or oranges if you live in Vermont.
Know as much as you can before digging in. Study your hardiness zone. Know approximately when your last frost will be. Have your soil tested. Talk to experienced gardeners in your area. If you read online sites, make sure the advice you get is for your hardiness zone. Don’t take as gospel advice given to someone who lives in Oregon when you live in Florida.
Grow Heirlooms And Save Their Seeds
You can easily spend hundreds of dollars on seeds, bulbs and tubers each year if you grow a large garden. Cut that amount dramatically by collecting the seeds from the best fruits and vegetables in your garden.
Most seeds will dry nicely on a paper towel. Mark the towel with the name of the plant and the date and then transfer that information along with the seeds to a paper envelope for storage once they are completely dry.
It is also a good idea to test the seeds for germination before it is too late to order more for starting indoors.
Create An Environment That Attracts Insect Eating Birds
Insecticides harm more than the bugs they are meant to kill. They kill good things in the soil too and can harm birds and other animals that wander into your garden. If you have a problem with insects, larger bugs and eggs can be picked off by hand, but some of the best natural insecticides are snakes, frogs and birds.
Make sure there are plenty of natural habitats for birds. Some shrubby, overgrown areas where fields meet woods are favorite spots, but if you want a perfectly manicured lawn put some nesting boxes up along with your feeders. Grow trees and shrubs that will provide berries in the winter months and make sure there is water for your feathered helpers throughout the year. This can be a challenge in colder climates, but it is important if you want to attract birds to your yard.
It is also a good idea to keep at least one birdfeeder full year round. Many birds that feed mostly on insects during the summer months also enjoy a meal of good quality seed. It is also a good idea to keep cakes of non-melting suet available to attract titmice and woodpeckers.
Buy Good Tools And Take Care Of Them
While you don’t need every gardening gadget found at your local home and garden center, you should invest in good tools. General purpose and trench shovels, solid and pliable tine rakes, hoes and mulch forks are all handy long-handled tools.
For hand tools, look for a trowel, bulb fork and weed fork. The best cutting tools for a vegetable garden are a long-handled lopper and smaller pruning shears. The loppers typically don’t come into play until the end of the season when larger plants like okra need to be cut down.
The most important thing is to make sure you clean your tools thoroughly and store them properly over the winter months so they don’t rust. This will ensure your tools last a good long time and you aren’t wasting money replacing them more often than you should.
Compost Yard And Garden Waste
Most home gardeners do not need to use chemical fertilizers on their vegetable gardens. It is common for those new to gardening to think frequent application of commercial fertilizer will deliver a high yield. Sometimes the opposite is true. Plants that are fertilized too much may look beautiful, but they fail to flower and produce fruit or vegetables.
Instead, use composted yard and garden waste. You can purchase commercial composting bins or build a pen with fence posts and chicken wire. Combine brown (fall leaves, sawdust, shredded newspaper, fine wood chips) and green (grass clippings, raw vegetable and fruit waste, coffee grounds, tea leaves, egg shells, barnyard manures) using the ratio of about 25-30 parts brown to 1 part green. If you have too much brown the decomposition will be slow and if there is too much green your compost bin will get a bit odiferous.
When done right, this home composted material will feed the plants in your garden and help deliver beautiful, high-yield plants. Your initial investment in bin or pen materials will be returned many times over.
Guest Post Author Bio: CollegeMom is a staff writer at ConsumerFu.com and mother to two college-age daughters. She is an avid gardener in hardiness zone 7b.