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Friday, April 08, 2011

Guest Post: Grow a Garden, Eat Healthy, Save Money

by Zach

Whether or not you believe in global warming, and how the current production of produce worsens the problem, I'm sure we can all agree that tomatoes and other vegetables do not naturally grow in plastic wrap. I'm sure most of you are also tired of buying tomatoes, peppers, or other vegetables weeks in advance of when you may actually need them while they slowly ripen. Lastly, I'm sure all of you do not want to continue to ingest the pesticides that other fruits and vegetables are doused in every day. Its debatable of the actual dangers of these chemicals, but even if they're ok, (which I doubt) I'd rather not have them anywhere near my food.

So how do we solve these problems. Well, a home vegetable garden is something that I started last year and really enjoyed throughout the summer. Its a slow process, it takes about 2 ½ – 3 months for the first fruits, but a very rewarding one. I guess I'll just give a brief summary of my experience last summer and if anyone has any questions about specifics, they can email me.

After I read Al Gore's “An Inconvenient Truth”, I felt inspired to single handedly save the world. But I'm only in college and couldn't afford a hybrid car, so I thought that a vegetable garden would help. I had a patch of soil 4 feet wide and 30 feet long, so I chose 5 crops and gave them 6 feet a piece: Corn, Butternut Squash, Tomatoes, Peppers, and Strawberries. You can buy seeds at Home Depot, Christmas Tree Shop, or your local guy (Herolds Farm here in Fair Lawn). You may need to add some nutrient rich soil, but I didn't and everything worked out pretty well. I started planting after Passover last year in mid-April, and within about 3 weeks there was already some signs of life.

After that initial joy of the first seedlings, things get kinda boring for the next 6-8 weeks as the plants continue to slowly grow a little every day. The corn was the most fun to watch though; I left for shul in the morning one Shabbos and they must have grown 4 inches by the time I got back a few hours later. But for the most part, if you water a couple times of week, the plants will continue to grow and strengthen as they prepare to bloom.

In late June/early July (depending on when you start), you'll finally be able to enjoy the first fruits. From here on out its really just about watering every other day and harvesting your fruits whenever they are ripe. I usually waited to do this until friday afternoon (when I had some free time) and we had enough tomatoes to last the entire week.

Here is a breakdown of how each plant grew last year. My numbers are a little rusty as I'm doing it from memory.

Corn: Worked great, the stalks grew about 6 feet tall and produced two ears per stalk. We harvested maybe a couple but then I came home one afternoon to find that squirrels had devoured the rest of them. It was fun while it lasted. Hopefully you'll have better luck.

Strawberries: Didn't grow at all. I hear they are very hard to grow from seeds, but you might be able to buy the plants themselves.

Butternut Squash: Grew very well, we got maybe a dozen or so squashes (squashi?) from just one plant. It grows all over the place though so you might want to trellice it on a fence. All squash grow similar (zuchini, yellow squash, acorn, pumpkins...) so I'm assuming that they'll all grow wonderfully in this area.

Peppers: Came in very late and only produced a couple peppers. I have a feeling we didn't do something right so maybe they'll work better this year. There are so many varieties to choose from so plant all different varieties of colors and spiciness.

Tomatoes: This was the best by far. I think we got on average a Quart of the little yellow plum tomatoes every week. I was even able to give quite a bit to some friends. They can get very tall depending on what type you buy, so you may need to stake them, or cage them, or they'll just flop over. Thats not so bad (it happened to me) but it doesn't look so nice and can get kind of messy. This year, I'm going to try and do 3 different types of tomatoes so I'll have much more variety.

Anyways, thats pretty much it from last year. I had a great time doing it, and the harvesting was the most fun of all. Its a great way to get the kids involved as well, and they can definitely help out. For the most part, you can keep your prices very low (I only bought seeds for like 3$ a pack) but if you want to keep things neat, you may need to spend some money on cages/stakes/fertilizer/ or gardening tools if you don't have them already. I was lucky and already had them.

I'll just mention the economic benefits as well, because I know this blog tries to help out in that department. I can't say that it saved my family that much money but we probably got like 30$ or something out of the process. Then again, I had no idea what I was doing last year and was so thankful it actually worked. If you do thing right, I've read that you can grow as much as $2000 worth of produce in a 20 by 20 foot area. That seems like a ton of money from just a garden, but I guess it depends on how big your weekly grocery budget is. I think in reality, if you do things correct, you can probably grow about $500 worth of food, but even if that doesn't happen I guarantee it is one of the most fun and rewarding experiences.

This year, we are going a little crazy and are growing lettuce, carrots, onions, hot peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, 3 types of tomatoes, corn, and maybe more. If anyone is interested I can keep them updated on how it goes, so post some comments!! I don't think this will pay for your school tuition (unless you go to a CUNY school) but it could help.

Again, if you need any specific help or advice on how to grow specific plants feel free to email me at countzacky@yahoo.com I'm not an expert, but I've done a ton of research so I'd be glad to help.

Best of luck to all.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Buy the book, Square Foot Gardening. After years of mediocre results with my Vegetable garden, I've had tremendous success with his methodology AND use of "Mel's Mix" instead of soil. The taste difference with fresh produce is MASSIVE, you'll find yourself no longer slathering butter/margarine on vegetables, and just eating them slightly roasted because they are so flavorful.

Added bonus, Mel's book is easily adapted for Frum Jews. He tells you to tend to your garden 5-10 minutes/day 6 days a week. Changing from not working it on Sunday to not working it on Saturday is a relatively easy adaptation.

Bara said...

Yay for square foot gardening. My good friend introduced me to this method years ago and it has been a success every year with minimal tending. Last year I used a new method form my tomatoes and it was even a bigger success than the square foot. We build a earth box out of two old big plastic bins and we had tomatoes coming out of our ears. Here is the link. It took us maybe 45 minutes to build.
http://www.josho.com/gardening.htm

Selena said...

We are building a garden this weekend! I can't wait. Bara, when do you plant? Do you wait for Mother's day? Did you start from seed?

Bara said...

That's great. I plant peas and radishes as soon as there is no frost warning. You could do those now, super easy to grow, just toss the seeds in the ground and water. Peas need something to climb on. Tomatoes I just get small plants when we get back from Pesach and keep them for a week indoors unless the weather is great. Just to comment on the strawberries, the plants are perennial, it means they come back every year and the first year harvest is very small. The next year is much better as the plants send shoots out and establish the roots. I just noticed, home depot is selling 4'x 4' square raised garden beds for $35 exactly like the square foot gardening calls for, check it out.

Avi said...

Great post - love the honest reporting on what did/didn't work and how much effort/time was required for the results.

Zack said...

Yah, I ordered strawberry plants from Burpee this year. I'm assuming that it will work much better than last year.

Normally I do everything from seed because it gives a much wider variety of types of plants and I find it to be much more exciting when you first see those seedlings poking through the soil. But there is no guarantee that the seeds will germinate and if they don't its very frustrating. I made an exception for the strawberries this year because I really wanted them to work.

Orthonomics said...

Thank you Zach for such a timely post and sharing your experience so we can all learn. My kids are very interested in planting and we are going to get started after Pesach. This will be part of camp Mommy.

Thank you also to Bara for sharing some great info with all of us.

Shoshana Z. said...

Go Bara and Selena!

mlevin said...

We used to get lots of tomatoes when we first started gardening, but we also got some peppers, eggplant and curbys. We planted red current bushes and get lots of berries each spring. We weren't successful with corn at all. Raspberries and gooseberries were not succesfull. And I planted grapes 4 years ago and still did not get a single fruit from it.

Now, we hardly get enough tomatoes to last us a week. The oak trees three houses away got so huge that our back yard is in shade. And the evergreens our next door neighbors plants are just poisoning the earth.

But our neighbor on the other side planted a sour cherry tree and half of its branches are on our side. We get lots of cherries from him too. Unfortunately as the tree grows taller and taller we need a bigger and bigger ladder to climb on.

Bara said...

Just an FYI the earth box is movable (before you fill the reservoir with water) and it can go anywhere where you get some sun. In front of the house, in the back or the side. You do need to stake the tomatoes as the bush grows tall and big and heavy with fruit( that's right, tomatoes are fruit:)

Miami Al said...

Bara unless you grow determinate tomatoes, many of which don't need staking and will give you a good sized crop in 90 days. Others do well with a little support (a simple cage) as opposed to elaborate staking methods.

Bara said...

Thanks Miami Al, I did not know that. I just know that all the tomatoe plants that I planted ( some heirloom, some Burpee ) just grew so tall, I think it has to do with the fact that they have a constant supply of water in the box. My staking was really not that elaborate. Aluminum pipes that slid on a steel stake in the ground with some mesh in between. I love it because I do not have to take it down every winter and just keep reusing it. I love gardening and growing things.

Miami Al said...

Bara,

We have two growing seasons down here. Admittedly, I've never had much success with tomatoes, but I've seen it done.

From what I remember from my efforts:

Indeterminate: keep growing until they die of frost, tomatoes grow mostly on the end of the vine, in Florida, it eventually gets too hot and they stop producing

Determinate: "bush form" and generally grow smaller, 4-5 feet tall, and get a "harvest" all at once

I've seen Tomato plants survive a Florida summer, they might be 20-40 feet long and mostly devoid of fruit, sad and sickly looking things.

You can't really grow Tomatoes in Florida sand, so you need to use pots, and the little cages stick perfectly into the pots.

One year I grew an herb garden and my parsley was out of control. I filled the seder table with Parsley for "greens," that was rather novel.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't buy any bedding plants from big box stores (Costco, Home Depot, etc.) as they are most likely genetically modified with Monsanto seed. Long term health effects are unclear, but common sense suggests this is a dangerous practice. Buy organic, non-GMO seeds or organic bedding plants at natural grocery stores. You can save the seeds and freeze for next years planting.

Anonymous said...

Monsanto modified seed is only available in bulk with a contract to not keep your seed. You can't get it in a Burpee packet.

Aggribusiness is serious business, not a conspiracy to screw you over.

Heirloom vs. Hybrid is a diffeent question. A hybrid is carefully bred to combine species to get traits, you can't keep seed because it won't grow "true."

Organic, non-GMO hybrids can't keep seed.

Non-organic heirlooms will.

You can't get Roundup Ready Corn in a seed packet at Home Depot.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:43...everything sounded reasonable until "Agribusiness is serious business,not a conspiracy to screw you." You're kidding, right?

Anon 9:43 said...

Anon 2:32,

Monsato is a multi-billion dollar company focused on patented and improving seed crop for the billion dollar agribusiness.

You think that they want their carefully protected traits sold in a packet of seeds at Home Depot for $1.20?

They are focused on making billions of dollars, not corrupting your seed stock at home depot.

Have any of you taken a high school level biology class? Do you know the basics of gene transmission? Or do none of you know what this is because it would lead to your learning evolution?

Anonymous said...

1) Another vote for the Square Foot Gardening method. People living in Israel must adapt the technique to allow proper spacing between types of plants (issur k'laim) - this is easily done with wooden planks, although it makes the garden less compact.

But the system works wonderfully.

2) Buy a nice plastic compost bin - the kind that is like a sturdy plastic garbage can.

A religious family generates a lot of peelings every week. This makes it easy to create your own compost.

badforshidduchim said...

Don't bother with the lettuce!
Lettuce is a cold weather plant. If you want to grow it in a hot climate, you need to grow it over the winter season.

If you want to grow lettuce in New York, you need to plant the seeds in February. Germinate them indoors and plant them outside as soon as the last risk of frost has passed. That's the only way you'll get a decent head.

Otherwise, the lettuce gets hot, it puts out seeds, and grows like a plant not a head.

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