Photos of some of the bounty from my first garden ever last fall (2013)
Much More to Gardening than Economics
Growing a garden can reduce household expenses; however, there are several things to consider when starting a garden. Adjust your expectations accordingly--especially if this is your first time. Let's begin by remembering some of the benefits gardens can provide in addition to reducing household expenses. Your garden increases food security for your family--particularly if you grow herbs, vegetables and fruits organically. You will know that no harmful pesticides or herbicides have been used in the production of your crops. You will know for certain that you are providing safe, healthy food for your family.
Gardening is good for the gardener.
You will get more fresh air and exercise. Gardening is good for the spirit as well. It provides a strong connection to the seasons and to the continuity of living things (particularly if you plant perennials). You will experience firsthand the fragility of nature as well as its strengths, adaptability and perseverance. Last and certainly not least: gardening is a social activity that can strengthen relationships and build new ones--especially if you dig up your front lawn as I did. Because of that one decision and my resulting garden, I've met and made friends with over 100 people in nine short months. A garden in your front yard is a social magnet. If you are allowed in your neighborhood to put a raised bed in your front yard, I highly recommend that you do so. Your life will change in the most unexpected of ways. When that happens, please write to me. I would love to hear your story.
View your garden as a long-term investment
You will get a return on this investment the minute you begin to plan your garden, but be forewarned, it won't be an instant monetary return on your investment. In fact, you may reach an early point where you ask yourself why you are spending all this money to grow a few edibles that you could purchase at the store for a fraction of the cost.
There is definitely a front-loaded expense to creating a garden. For example, creating one 4 x 8 foot raised bed can cost as much as $150--particularly if you purchase new cedar boards for the sides of your raised bed from your local lumber yard and purchase your plants, garden soil, compost and other soil amendments at retail prices.
[By the way, members of Loving Garland Green encourage this route if you can afford it--as long as you buy local. Even purchasing from a chain store located within your city can help to stimulate the local economy. If you shop in Garland, all items you purchase which are subject to the 8.25% sales tax will give back 2% in tax revenues to our city. This is not chicken feed. It amounts to several million dollars annually. Thus, if you live in Garland and shop at a grocery store located in Sachse, you are not helping the local economy of the city where you live.]
Additional Tips for Successful Gardening
One important tip that trumps all other gardening tips for people who live in Garland: Unless someone before you had a garden on the same plot where you plan to put another one in, don't expect to till up the soil and grow edibles without first amending the soil. You'll get the first hints as to why when you start digging. Most of the soil in Garland and the DFW area is compacted clay--very tough to dig and hard on roots. You need to add materials such as expanded shale, vermiculite, or pearlite to create airpockets for aeration. Roots need room to move and clay makes it difficult for roots to breath properly. You'll also need to mix in compost for nourishment and add some garden soil to enhance the mineral content. As for nitrogen, green manures usually work well. Mel Bartholomew, author of Square Foot Gardening, recommends a mix of 1/3 compost; 1/3 vermiculite; 1/3 peat moss to hold the water. Some argue that peat moss is a non-renewable resource and they have a point. Bartholmew argues that you only have to add it to your beds once and the savings to the environment of an organically managed garden offset the use of peat moss. As I've mentioned before, there are levels of green. There are some folks who go so far as to only eat fruit than has fallen from the plant. If you are bothered by using peat moss, then use sphagnum moss.
1. Obtain the wood needed for your raised bed for free or at reduced prices.
For example, if a friend is tearing down an old shed, ask to use some of the lumber. Drive around Garland on Monday and Tuesday. You will be surprised to find what gifts are waiting for you curbside. This is where members of Loving Garland Green have found some of the wood for our beds and much of the items for our yard sales.
2. Obtain compost you'll need to amend the soil in your raised bed from Mesquite.
The city of Mesquite sells two cubic yards (enough to fill the long bed of a 3/4 ton pickup) for $10. This same amount of compost would cost approximately $125 or more bagged retail in 2 square foot bags and sold at $5.98 to $7.98 a bag. Get together with a friend who has a truck. You don't have to shovel it into your truck. The city of Mesquite has a front loader that dumps it in the truck in a matter of seconds. The whole process, including paying for it, takes about 8 minutes. (Of course, you do have to shovel it out once you get home.) If you live in Mesquite, you can get up to 4 cubic yards free each month.
3. Grow your plants from seeds and plant cuttings donated by friends.
4. Plant perennials that will come back year after year.
My appreciation for perennials is boundless. Last year in June I was having some serious second thoughts regarding the several beds I put in containing: 20 blueberry bushes, 4 blackberry vines, 2 grapevines. two peach trees, two pomegranate bushes, one plum tree, two almond trees, rhubarb, countless numbers of strawberry plants and several drought-tolerant flowering bushes.
This year, seeing them in bloom and noting the comeback of the rhubarb was a wonderful reward that I hope to reap year after year for many years. This year I also planted asparagus--a perennial vegetable. No tilling, no back-breaking work for perennial beds. All beds are mulched with a layer of straw.
5. Start small and grow your success from there.
It will be less expensive and more manageable to begin with one raised bed or perhaps two or three containers. You might be surprised at what can be grown in a container. I know I was. Last year I grew what turned out to be the best tasting cantaloupes I have ever eaten our of a pot about 2.5 feet high and about 1.5 foot in diameter. Look in the early archives for my articles to read about that story. This year I planted potatoes in a container and then three in an enclosure in my raised beds--all are thriving.
6. Plant food that you like and that is also expensive to buy.
For example, this year I planted artichokes and okra--both of which are ususally expensive to buy and both of which I enjoy to eat.
7. Keep records of how your garden grows.
Learn from your mistakes and triumphs. One of my larger gardening regrets is that I did not keep records of my crop yields last year. I planted very late--June 12. However, I had a bumper crop of kale, radishes, and okra. I wish I had kept records of my crop yields. This year, however, I'm ready. In fact, I've already created a format on which to kept track of my harvests. If you go to the Loving Garland Green site, you can download a crop yield record sheet for free. Crop Yield Records.
You may not need all the spaces provided as I designed this particular sheet for me. I have about 40 different beds (plots) so far in my yard. To determine market value, look in your local newspaper advertisements for the price of the produce the week you harvest it.
Come join us at the Garland Community Garden!
Stay tuned for the installation of our first raised bed, Saturday April 12 at 4022 Naaman School Road here in Garland! Find out more about Loving Garland Green's plans for loving Garland and our economy green by attending one of our meetings which are open to the public.
We meet every Monday from 6:30 to 7:30.
216 East Kingsbridge Drive
Garland, Texas 75040
For more on our program "Another Urban Garden"
For more on our plans for the Garland Community Garden Exhibit C