If you are looking to save a few extra bucks at the grocery store and have some fun at the same time, then I can think of no better activity than planting a vegetable garden. It might seem on the surface like a lot of work, but with some of the techniques and tips I am about to give you, you will have no problems, or at least keep them to a minimum.
Gardening is a great activity, especially if you have kids and get them involved. Some of the special moments I had with my own father came when he was teaching me how to plant and nurture his own vegetable garden. Now with children of my own I plan on doing the same.
There is also a lot bending and moving with gardening so you will get some exercise, just don’t plan on it being enough to compete in the Olympics though.
My first tip is to start your garden indoors. If you have a room with some windows where the sub hits first thing in the morning than that is the perfect area. You can start your plants in a variety of ways but I found what works best is buying one of those miniature green houses from Home Depot or Lowes and starting them that way. These miniature greenhouses range in price depending on size, from $1.99 to $7.00. They are really more like plastic trays with a clear plastic top. They come with rock hard pellets made from a variety of soils that when you add water they expand to create a great starting environment for your seeds.
It’s best, as I found the hard way, to not start your plants too early indoors. You want to time it just right so that when the plants are ready indoors to be moved, you can take them directly to your garden.
Here in New Jersey, I start in indoors on April 1st, so that by May 1st, I am ready to go. I tried starting earlier one year, and halfway through the month of April it snowed and wiped me out. Now I wait out April and have never had any problems since.
Once I have moved my indoor plants to the outdoors I then put down my weed barrier made from wet newspaper, because lets face it, I hate weeding, and if you don’t do this step you will be doing plenty of it. Simply take two pages of your newspaper and lay them down, making sure you overlap the edges until your garden is covered. Just make sure you don’t cover up your plants.
I am also very fortunate that in my area our township has a recycle center where you can pick up leaf mulch absolutely free. I grab a few buckets and lay it over top of my newspaper weed barrier and I am done, and the garden looks great. If you do not have access to leaf mulch as I do, you can always buy some from a local nursery, or you could just mow your lawn and throw the grass clippings on top.
Putting the mulch on afterwards will allow for better water drainage, it will keep the soil underneath a lot cooler and as the mulch and newspaper biodegrades it will add nutrients to your soil.
Once the garden season comes to an end, and the plants have stopped producing vegetables and fruit, do not throw them away. Start your own compost pile. Although it goes beyond the scope of this article, in essence a compost pile is where you add leaves, grass and other biodegradable material, turn it over every so often and when it’s done, you have great compost that you can use the following year for your top layer above your newspaper weed barrier.
One final note that I want to get across that I can’t stress enough and that is to compost your food waste. What this means is, instead of throwing away leftovers or uneaten food, dig a hole about a foot to two feet deep and bury it. Worms and other earthly creatures will find it and eat and their castings create compost that far outweighs the benefits of any chemical fertilizer. Do not, however, add food waste to your compost pile explained in the previous paragraph. It will create a fowl smell and I don’t think your neighbors will appreciate that.
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