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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.