Monday, December 19, 2011

Budgeting for a New Garden

Food security is a powerful need in human beings as in all God's creatures.  During recent years the "Great Recession" has prompted a lot of people to start their first garden.  A recent issue of the Grow It Eat It News shared a few tips for gardening on a budget, but I haven't found a lot of good resources out there to help would-be gardeners to estimate their gardening costs.  My personal gardening philosophy in years past has been that if I am gardening to increase my food security it doesn't make a lot of sense to include a bunch of materials that are difficult to find in my area or which have to be transported over a great distance; however, sometimes I think such purchases are justified if I can imagine a reasonable substitute that requires more time/labor on my part that would be available in the event of major transportation interruptions.  (For example, I could probably use poo in my garden in a desperate situation, but for now store-bought fertilizer is a safer and more pleasant substitute.)

So here is a list of things you might want to put in your gardening budget:
  • land expenses (unless you happen to already own a patch of land with good sun exposure)
  • water (watering my community garden plot also incurs transportation expenses)
  • seeds and/or plants (see below)
  • soil amendments (e.g. compost, sand, manure, Mel's Mix -whatever you feel like paying for)
  • fertilizer (unless you are amending with composted manure; don't waste all the rest of your invested time and money by skimping on fertilizer or soil tests!)
  • soil test
  • tools (see below)
At the risk of sounding preachy, please do yourself a favor and buy quality plants from a local nursery.  Inspect your purchases carefully (especially tomatoes) for any yellowing of lower leaves, or mottling (yellow splotches) or purple streaks anywhere on the plant.  If you bring a infected plant into your garden you will get very poor yields from it and reduced yields from other plants when the fungus or disease spreads to them; the disease and/or fungus will also remain in the soil wherever infected plants have been grown and infect next year's plants.  It's just not worth it!

New gardeners should try to borrow and/or buy used tools where they can; it's a good way to decide what tools you prefer working with, and will save you a lot of money if you end up deciding in July that gardening is just not for you.  There are a few basic tools, however, that you don't want to have to borrow every time you tend your garden:
  • a nice spade
  • trowel
  • wheelbarrow / garden cart / buckets
  • gardening gloves
  • trellis materials (stakes, fencing/net, and ties)
  • seed-starting trays
  • seed-starting soil
  • seed-starting fertilizer?  (I like to buy liquid for seedlings and dry for my garden)
You can argue with me about the gloves, but you'd be wrong.  You never know when you might squish a bunch of bugs with your bare hands, only to go inside and read online why they're called blister beetles.  Gardening gloves are very reasonably priced, too.

Trellises can be made from a really wide variety of scrounged materials.  Do a little snooping around the internet before you buy something expensive.

If you plan to start seeds indoors, you should think very honestly about how much natural light your plants are going to get and strongly consider also buying a shoplight.  Many people who think that their south-facing windowsill will be a good place to start seeds end up with a bunch of extremely tall seedlings that never get past the first (false) set of leaves. 

Things you can probably do without for your first season include:
  • season-extension devices like wall-o-water, Reemay, cold frames, hoop houses, etc
  • fencing
  • raised bed frames
although you may want to consider the last two if the appearance of your garden is very important.

I'll try to update this post if I think of more.

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