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Family Gardens for a Tight Budget

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

I love to garden. Not necessarily flower gardens (though I do want to eventually branch out into raising a cutting garden when we have our own place again), but I LOVE vegetable gardening! I love growing food for my family, I love the excitement that my kids get when they see something that we’ve planted start growing food for them to eat, I love it in the winter when I can add a handful of our sweet and savory pear tomatoes into a soup or sauce to give the flavor an extra punch! Everything about growing my own food makes me happy! Vegetable gardening for food production and self-sufficiency is one of my favorite ways to keep my food budget down. We have been married for 12 (almost 13!) years now, and we have had a garden for 11 years, all but our first year of marriage! Some of the benefits my family has seen of raising our own vegetable garden are: · Lower food costs, and fresh food year-round · Family learning experiences as we watch our plants grow · Increased interest in new foods as kids want to taste what we grow · Healthy organic produce available year-round through canning and freezing What you grow in your garden will depend on how much space you have to grow in. In our original medium sized garden (4’ wide by 12’ long) we grew loads of tomatoes, peppers, peas, and zucchini every year. We also lived in a community that valued gardening, so there were almost always people we could trade produce with to have a larger variety of veggies available. Though zucchini isn't our favorite veggie to eat all the time, I grow at least one plant every year because I find that zucchini is the perfect hidden veggie! Shredded or blended up, zucchini can be added to almost every recipe to add extra bulk and nutritional value. Soups, breads, baked casseroles, I have yet to find something where zucchini's mild flavor and easily hidden texture doesn't blend in perfectly.

Right now we’re renting so we don’t have a dedicated space for a garden, which means we plant in our friend’s gardens and use container garden boxes in our yard. We're entering our third year with garden boxes, and the container gardening has been a learning experience for me! I've learned that the larger plants just don't do well in the boxes because there isn't enough room for their root systems to go really deep. However I've had great success with our strawberry plants in boxes, and things like herbs and salad veggies do wonderfully!

In our friend’s garden last year we had two varieties of bush beans, and some sweet peas, four tomato plants, 10 pepper plants in a variety of flavors/heat, six banana squash plants, corn, three varieties of cucumbers, beans, beets, and greens. That amount gave us plenty to harvest and set up for the winter. Once we buy our own place (hopefully within the next year or so) I’ll have another dedicated garden space, and depending on the size of the plot that we buy my goal is to have a large enough garden to grow at least 50% of our food for the coming winter, in addition to small scale livestock like chickens and rabbits. I’d love to buy a big enough plot to raise pigs and goats, but I’ve also got to be realistic about what we can likely afford! But a 50% goal for growing produce is a great start, especially considering how much produce my children can eat in a week if given the chance. When my friends ask me how to plant a food garden, I always encourage them to go with a permaculture type design. One dedicated spot, that can be disrupted as little as possible. I prefer using a deep mulch method, where the garden is marked out with either cardboard (if you can let it winter over) or about 6 layers deep of unmarked newspaper (if you’re starting in the growing season), covered with about 18-24 inches deep of mulch, and then watered deeply till it’s soaking. The cardboard or newspaper suffocates the weeds and plants beneath it, the mulch keeps in moisture and gradually degrades, turning into rich soil. After a couple of years the soil under the cardboard is free from weeds, and after being protected and nourished by the mulch turns lovely and soft. The mulch also makes it easy to pull weeds that start growing on the top, since they aren’t digging their roots deep into hard soil. Using a permaculture method in the garden keeps the soil healthy and makes for a low maintenance plot to plant in.

Incorporating organic matter like compost and even manure as a layer above the cardboard/paper and below the mulch creates even more benefits to the soil, and give plants a great start. Since we're nearing the end of winter I'm beginning to figure out how to plant a food garden for next year. I haven't yet talked to friends about whether we will be gardening with them again, so I'm focusing right now on our containers. We emptied the dirt from them last year into a neighbor's veggie garden so we could stack the containers, and I'm already planning how I'm going to set them up differently this year. One thing I'm going to incorporate are some live worms in the boxes so they can help build and work the soil in the box. I may also persuade my husband that we need to invest in a Kobashi food waste fermentation system so that I can add the food scraps to the bottom of the boxes when I refill them.

When your garden is set up even tolerably well, plants will thrive! If you are scared of getting started with a garden then start small, and see how it goes! Vegetable gardening for food production, and self-sufficiency, is a great way to keep your food budget under control, and is really helpful when you’re meal planning on a budget. If you’d like more tips on keeping a budget then follow us on Pinterest!

This is part three of our Monthly Meal Planning on a Budget series. You can find our other posts here.

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