Monday, April 27, 2009

Money Monday: April 27, 2009

Last year, I faced some pretty bitter disappointments in the fresh food department. I waited in vain for the price of corn to drop from fifty cents an ear. I wanted red and golden bell peppers, but I didn’t want to pay four to five bucks a pound for them. I lusted after the big, juicy beefsteak tomatoes (because I have a recipe for roasted tomatoes stuffed with a b├ęchamel sauce and I can eat those until I fall over in a food-induced coma), but again…holy smokes, the prices!! (Not to mention the ‘eh’ flavor when I did actually cough up the dough for them.)

From leeks to watermelons, it seems that most of my favorite fresh-crop treats were just too expensive for my budget – and that was when we had a lot more money flowing through the old Den of Chaos!

So…this year…we replaced the finest crop of organic weeds in San Joaquin county (behind the broken spa that I refuse to fix because I have already spent $200+ having it repaired three times and Enough Is Enough Already)…

broken spa NOW WITH WEEDS!

…with a garden.

garden beds

We’re (hopefully) growing corn, sunflowers, pumpkins, cantaloupes, watermelons, zucchini, summer squash, leeks, candy onions, and carrots in those two beds. Obviously not a ton of any of those, although I admit to being tempted to simply cover all of it plus perhaps another acre or two with corn because I loves me the fresh corn.

What can I say? It has sweet, starchy goodness. And then you put butter on it, and possibly salt as well. Starch, sweet, butter, salt – it’s like, all the best foods in one convenient serving!

Anyway. Inside, I’ve got some cherry tomatoes in the Aerogarden, which is also serving to start my herb garden – the black things on either side of it are loaded up with lavender, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley and oregano seeds.

Aerogarden nursemaid

The little pots there with greenery? Heh. OK, this is me being a little bit on the nutty side: I had bought two bell peppers at the dollar store, one red and one gold. They were awesome. So I pulled the seeds out of the compost bin, planted them, watered them, talked to them, played Canasta with them, and read them bedtime stories, and viola! Bell pepper plants! When they’re a bit sturdier, I’ll replant them outside – we have plenty of drip-system-accessible dirt still available in other parts of the yard.

This is actually a perfectly decent way to get started with your gardening endeavors. Save a few seeds from what you eat and plant them in small pots, then transplant whatever deigns to grow to your garden. If you’re already eating it from the supermarket, chances are good you’ll eat it from your garden as well (you laugh, but the first time I had a garden, I planted things I do not like and pretty much refuse to eat because, uh, well, it’s a garden, it’s supposed to have radishes…), and you’ve saved anywhere from $1.25 to $2.50 depending on the cost of a packet of seeds in your area.

Once the herbs are well-sprouted and ready to survive the tough outside world, some of them will go in this bed…which is currently keeping the beefsteak, early girl and yet-more-cherry tomatoes out of the way and watered while we continue work on the Den Farm:

Herb garden now with tomatoes

What doesn’t go in there will go in the weed patch planter in front of the house – currently a pathetic assemblage of half-dead plants because the front watering system has been OFF for weeks and does anybody listen to me, no, because I have been saying for some time now that the front lawn is looking awfully dead-ish and dry-ish and are you SURE the front sprinkler system is working, dear?.

You can imagine how hard it is to resist the snark when he suddenly announced yesterday that ohmygosh, the front system has been OFF, all this time, even though it was ON, because of {blah blah blah something about plumbing-stuff}.

The next thing to go in will be a small strawberry “tower” (it’s a prefab thing we bought many years ago and then found while cleaning out the garage recently…one of those ‘oh yeah, I remember this thing…huh…why didn’t we ever use this, again…?’ finds), and a couple of dwarf blueberry bushes, which may or may not actually produce berries this year…but, housing market being what it is, I expect we’ll be here long enough and can wait a year or two for our blueberries.

Obviously, this isn’t going to supply all our needs. While we do have a lot more space we could have dedicated to food-growing, and while I’ll admit that the idea of going all self-sufficient has a certain appeal (especially if I can set aside the knowledge that this is backbreaking work requiring a great deal of careful attention, focus and daily oh look, a squirrel!!!…darn, I appear to have spaced and all my plants have died because I got distracted…), we wanted to start small-ish and see how it goes.

So I went through the grocery list and picked out the things that I had balked at buying because I felt they cost too much – hence, things like potatoes, broccoli and celery didn’t make the list, while corn, watermelon and blueberry bushes did.

In some ways, it feels more symbolic than anything else. I suspect the first year of a Garden As Such always does, given the constant $15 here and $50 there spent on things like drip system tubing and fill dirt and soil conditioners.

It’s also great for bringing up insecurities. I now get to worry my socks off about whether or not I’m killing everything we planted. Oh sure, I’ve poured over the instructions and scoured the Internet and anxiously measured the quarter-inch of soil covering those BUT these need half an inch, a hill for this, a trench for that…but let’s face it: I’m going up against an army of plant-chomping bugs, a lovely assortment of funguses and mildews, a drought and my own inexperience.

There’s every chance I’m going to raise a bumper crop of nothin’ over here.

But the way I figure it, even if the “crops” don’t turn out the way I’d like this year, I’m still making an investment in hands-on education. If this year fails, I’ll find out why and go on from there.

Eventually, I’ll be good at this. Eventually, I’ll be able to reliably grow produce in my backyard. Shoot, eventually, I might even be good enough at it that I can actually provide for my family’s basic vegetative needs right in my own backyard.

For the advanced vegetative needs, well, there’s always cable television.


Stephanie said...

You should make sure that you plant one zucchini plant. If it is anything like the garden we had in our backyard when I was growing up (in the way back days when we lived in Arkansas and the backyard was heeyuuuge) you will be leaving bags full of zucchini on the neighbors' porches in no time.

Magpie's Mumblings said...

Coming out of lurkdom with a suggestion I'm amazed that noone else has posted...IF you don't ever intend to use your spa, fill it with a layer of styrofoam and plastic castoffs and then top it off with a nice layer of dirt. Voila - a raised garden to plant more stuff in!! (The plastic 'stuff' makes it cheaper to fill 'cause you use less dirt, plus it provides good drainage).

natasha the exile on Mom Street said...

You are making me wish that I didn't have such shade-giving pecan trees!

But I do get free-range pecans in the autumn.

kimbobim said...

If you have a huge bug problem, get a few chickens! They'll eat all the bugs in your yard, table scraps, weeds, weed seeds, and their poop composts into great organic fertilizer. Oh, and all those fresh eggs are the best! We have 7 hens, but are getting a few more next week. These are the lowest mainenance animals we've ever had - should've gotten them years ago.

Science PhD Mom said...

Here are a few specific tips for you Tama:
1) Make sure you cover up the leeks as they grow, leaving only an inch or two of green stuff at the top. Otherwise you get lots of green stuff and no yummy white leek to eat.

2) Blueberries prefer acidic soil, so make sure you give them some acidic amendments, like coffee grounds or sulfur. They also need plenty of sun.

3) Plant marigolds with your tomatoes to help keep the slugs & snails at bay.

4) Are those soaker hoses or drip lines? Soaker hoses are prone to decomposition if left exposed in the sun. They also work better when covered with soil or mulch.

HTH--you can ping me via email if you like, we are in year 3 of vegetable gardening and still have frozen or canned produce to nosh on from our garden from last summer.

Anonymous said...

I got nothing about gardening, but would dearly love to hear more about the tomatoes stuffed with a b├ęchamel sauce.

Rena said...

Very nice. I guess it's better than a spa :-)

I tagged you for a motherhood meme.

Anonymous said...

At the end of the season let a few plants go to seed and actually let the seeds drop in the garden. They tend to come up really early in the spring and do quite well. I call these my "volunteers" and can be moved to another location when they are bigger. I usually just leave them and plant other things around them. Lettuce, squash, and tomatoes come up early.

Elizabeth L in Apex, NC said...

I'm finally starting my veggie garden here; 8 years without one has been just awful. It'll take a while to transform this clay into soil though... a slow, annoying process.

One suggestion: for those things that you don't want to grow, you might consider starting a produce co-op and hitting the local farmers market. I participate in one, and plan on starting another, and it saves piles of money every single month.

Steph B said...

Good for you! Hope everything grows and flourishes. Weeding is great for character development, I'm sure the Denizens will love it! (snort) As for the blueberries, a little sawdust around the bushes works well to increase the acidity of the soil also. Looooove blueberries....

Cimorine said...

You're doing fine! Just remember, they need lots of attention! you can't leave them because they will get eaten. But I am fully inspired by your eagerness. It's the kind of thing I've been bragging I'll be doing for years! (If only it wasn't so wet in Portland now, I'd start planting in a second!) good luck!

Michelle F said...

We planted 2 Blueberry bushes years ago and just finally got a "decent" crop this pst year so be patient with them. There is nothing better than garden fresh tomatoes!

Steph B said...

By the way....some of your yarn is coming to live with me. I have no idea what I'll do with it, but that blushing orange insisted on being mine!