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Queen of free: Grow own greens to save on green

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Slowly but surely, the ground is warming, and the sun is filling our skies. Spring may have taken her sweet time, but she’ll arrive soon (perhaps not soon enough for some of us). Of all the many things you can do to enjoy the milder weather, it might be a good idea to explore planting a garden this year.

I’d never claim to be a home farmer, but our family frequently enjoys the fruits of our summer labor through the fresh fruits and veggies we grow in our own backyard. Best of all, growing our fruits and veggies means we get to cut down on the grocery expenses during the summer months. But the real fun (and of course some work) begins during the spring months.

These money-saving tips will help rookie gardeners and old pros alike save green while you grow your greens.

Book it

Do some research before buying anything. It’s so easy to get caught up in the change of the seasons at your local home improvement store. Everything’s so shiny and green and full of life. But you’d be wise to first find some solid resources to aid you in your efforts. Head to the local library to check out a book such as “All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space,” by Mel Bartholomew.

You can begin to get a better idea of what supplies you’ll need for your garden before you hit the aisles, which will help you build a plan for how to save on those items. From magazines to books to Internet resources, your local library will help you begin your path to gardening without spending a single cent.

On sale?

Buy clearance lumber and paint. Building a square foot gardening box for the first time? Head to the clearance area of your lumberyard. The boards don’t have to be cosmetically beautiful or perfectly square. Skip the pre-fab kits and expensive timber. Want to add a splash of color to the outside of the box? Ask if the paint department has an “oops” section where customers have returned paints that weren’t quite right for their purposes. You’ll have a beautiful box at a fraction of the cost.

Don’t be wasteful

Save your seeds. If you plant a garden annually, don’t pitch those extra seeds in the bottom of the packet. Instead, place them inside of a glass jar and keep them in back corner of the refrigerator. We’ve been using the same packet of seeds for the past four years. You don’t need all of the seeds, and you definitely don’t want to waste them.

keep crop simple

Plant a limited crop. Speaking of seed packets, I get so wound up and excited at the thought of all of the vegetables that I could grow that I often overbuy. Be sure that you plant only those items your family will actually eat and don’t bite off more than you can chew or take care of during the summer months. Especially if you’ve never planted a garden before, you will want to keep things simple and avoid overbuying and creating more work than necessary. From my experience, tomatoes and zucchini are the easiest and hardiest plants to grow. Chose two to three of your favorites and stick with a limited crop.

Prepare Early

Start from seeds now. It’s not quite warm enough to buy plants or even start seeds outside yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t begin the gardening fun inside. Save old toilet paper or paper towel rolls and use them as seed starters. Cut the smaller tubes in half or the longer tubes in quarters. Cut four 1-inch slits, spaced evenly around the circle. Fold the slats in to make a bottom. You can use a small piece of duct tape to secure the bottom.

Fill ¾ full with soil. Plant your seeds and label the outside of the tube so you can remember what you’re growing. Once you’re ready to transplant the sends into the ground, remove any tape and then simply insert the tube directly into the ground. The cardboard will biodegrade.

Wait for sales

Watch for plant prices to drop. If you’re not adventuresome enough to start your veggies from seed, be sure to wait a few weeks before purchasing your plants. Grocery stores and home improvement stores drop the prices gradually as the spring months wear on, and you can pick up a healthy plant for a lower price if you exercise just a bit of patience.

Store carefully

Take care of your tools. Be sure to store tomato cages, trowels, gloves and any other gardening tools during the winter months so they don’t get damaged during inclement weather. These items should only have to be replaced every five to 10 years or perhaps not at all if you take good care of them.

There’s nothing like the taste of fresh salsa made from the veggies grown in your own backyard. A garden can save you plenty on your grocery bill if you’re wise about how you invest the dollars required to plant it.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. Send questions, column ideas and comments to newstips@dailyjournal.net

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