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  • Nancy Dunham

How to Start a Garden to Save Money on Food

Whether you live in an urban apartment or on a rural farm, you can grow food. Here's how to get started.

You don’t need tons of acreage to grow food. Even a few containers and a bit of sunshine can make it possible to enjoy produce that is both fresher and far cheaper than what you’d find at a supermarket, or even farmers markets.

The payoff can be significant. The trick to making the effort worth your time is to plan and maintain a garden that is right for you.

Consider your space

Start by evaluating your space and top picks for crops.

Some plants (corn, lettuce) take an enormous amount of space and may crowd out anything in their path. Others, such as tomatoes or radishes, don’t require much room at all.

Note that some plants need full sun, while others need a break from the heat. And, of course, you don’t want to garden on top of tree roots. Better Homes & Gardens has a terrific starter guide to help you plan your garden. It even has a “gardening where you live” guide that will help you choose the right plants for your weather.

Choose your plants strategically

Prioritize which plants you want and to learn how they grow best. A guide to small-space gardening in Mother Earth Living magazine explains it this way:

Which crops are at the top of your list and which will you squeeze in only if you have the space? As part of that process, you’ll want to take a close look at how much room each plant requires for healthy growth. Armed with this knowledge, you may choose to grow more plants that require minimal space per plant (salad greens) and fewer plants that sprawl (squash).

Think about which fruits and vegetables you enjoy. Plants that yield the most bang for the buck — again, depending on your climate and conditions — are:

  • Salad greens

  • Tomatoes

  • Beets

  • Broccoli

  • Potatoes

  • Strawberries has a terrific starter guide of options for your edible garden.

Don’t just buy the seeds and hope for the best. That can backfire. For example, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers won’t do well if they are planted in cool, spring soil. Refer to GardensAlive for a handy guide that tells you which plants do best in cool weather, warm weather or even inside.

Keeping your garden growing

Once your garden is started, plan how often to water, fertilize and harvest. Many of those particulars depend on the size of your garden, its location and the type of plants grown. Eartheasy offers practical tips on choosing soil, checking pH levels and more.

Herein lies one of the biggest challenges — persistence. If you want your garden to pay off, you need to stay with it.

Preserve the bounty

Sure, you want to eat as many of the fruits and vegetables you grow. But what about extras? You can take some to neighbors or co-workers, but leave enough for yourself to enjoy in the fall and beyond.

University of Minnesota Extension provides a guide on how to best store and preserve your bounty. Eating Well also provides tips for the best ways to lock in the flavors of fresh produce and freeze them. If you plan to can, do so carefully to make sure home-canned food remains safe. The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers guidance.

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