As a master gardener I have the opportunity to teach gardening classes quite often. There are always a few folks that come to my beginning gardening classes that are skeptics. Maybe they are only there because their spouse forced them or maybe they have always thought about a garden but were never really willing to commit a piece of their lawn. Inevitably they will ask me why I grow a garden? Over the years I have thought a lot about it and I’ve come up with a pretty long list of reasons why I garden. So here for you today is my top 5 reason why I think you (and everyone) should plant a garden next year!
We have a pretty decent sized garden (just under 1200 square feet) On an average year we will grow around 700 pounds of veggies and fruits. As our yard and garden mature and our fruit trees come into full production that total will reach more than 1000 pounds.
That represents a large portion of the food our family eats. I’m not one of those dooms day “prepper” types that is worried about the world food system collapsing. But it is good to know that I can provide food for my family at any time. I am also a year round gardener and there are very few days in the year when we don’t eat at least one thing that I grew myself. It is hard to describe the satisfaction I get from knowing that my family is eating food that I grew myself.
This morning we had raspberries on our cereal that were picked last night. For lunch my wife and I will share the cantaloupe we picked yesterday afternoon. And tonight for dinner we will have a delicious casserole made from potatoes dug only 3 days ago and a side dish of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini that we will pick tonight 10 minutes before dinner! Talk about fresh food. None of the produce we eat from about mid May until late in October is more than a day old. Compare that to the produce you get from the grocery store. It is usually at least a week old and often weeks or even months old before you buy it.
I’ve seen arguments between commercial and organic growers. The commercial growers say their produce tastes just as good as organic. Organic growers always argue that their growing practices make their produce taste better. Tons of taste tests have proven about nothing really. BUT, if you come to my garden and pick a tomato that is at the peak of ripeness and compare it to anything (commercial or organic) that you buy at a store you will never buy a store bought tomato again. Strawberries are a whole different fruit when you eat them fresh picked from the garden, so sweet and soft, not hard and tasteless.
Potatoes fresh dug from the garden just melt in your mouth when you have them with your Sunday roast. Home grown melons are worth the extras space they require because they taste better than any other melon you have ever eaten. Carrots, lettuce, peas, cucumbers, peppers, and onions the list goes on and on! Have I made myself clear yet? Home grown produce, grown in well cared for organic soil tastes so much better than the two week old “Franken-veggies” you get from the store. The varieties and quality of the produce you grow at home will always beat store bought for taste. Even if you are preserving your home grown veggies by canning or freezing you will find the finished product tastes better because of the high quality ingredients you’re using. Enough said, garden produce just tastes WAY better!
Let’s take my garden for an example of cost. We will grow close to 700 pounds of produce by the time the year is over. This is super high quality 100% organic produce we are talking about. Even if we were to assume only $2.00 a pound that is $1,400 in produce. We will spend between $100 and $200 per year on seeds, compost and other supplies. So we have saved $1,200 a year on our grocery budget.
But we grow a lot, what about someone like you who just wants a small garden? Let’s look at a few very common easy to grow plants and see how much you could save by growing them yourself. (Wow, my inner accountant is really coming out, isn’t he?)
Strawberries are a good example. A nice 4 x 8 bed of strawberries will produce around 25 pounds of strawberries in a year. I’ve never seen organic strawberries for cheaper than 4.99 a pound. So that little patch in one year grew $125.00 in strawberries. The cost to set that bed up would have been less than $30.00 and that patch will produce for 3 or 4 years before it needs to be replanted. See how the math works?
Tomatoes are another great example. Commercially grown vine ripened tomatoes sell for about $3.00 a pound. A little 4 x8 bed with 8 tomato plants can produce 75 to 100 pounds in a year. That’s $300 in tomatoes with only $30 in expenses. Again, a great deal!
Growing our own food allows us to eat better quality organic fruits and veggies at a fraction of the cost. I will be honest, if we were trying to run our grocery budget without a garden and buying organic produce, we would never eat as well as we do with the garden.
Many organizations publish annual lists of the “dirty dozen”. This list changes a little each year but it includes produce that are the worst for chemical contamination. This year’s list includes apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas and potatoes. These are the worst of the worst when it comes to the amounts of pesticides and herbicides contaminating the produce. Basically you should avoid all of these items if they are commercially grown and opt for organic instead.
But my argument is why buy organic when you can grow it yourself? Nearly every item on the dirty dozen can be easily grown at home. Apple, peach and nectarine trees come in dwarf varieties and a small but mature tree can produce well over a bushel each year. Grapes are fairly low maintenance plants that can be grown as decorative vines in your yard. Strawberries make a beautiful and productive ground cover. You can get two good crops of spinach and snap peas each year. And cucumbers, peppers and cherry tomatoes are simple to grow in a small grow box garden. The only two on the list that a small gardener might have problems growing are celery and potatoes. Celery depending on were you live is a little temperamental to grow, and potatoes although easy to grow do take up a lot of space
So there you have it. The five reasons why I think you should plant a garden next year. So next month I’m going to take it a little farther and we will talk about a good “starter” garden. We will cover size, location and what you should grow in your first little garden!!
This post was featured first on Bakerette.com. Thanks again to Jeni for allowing me to guest post!