Since we’re heading into winter soon, it’s of course time to think about gardening. If you’ve gardened, you know what I’m talking about — the joy of sitting in front of the fire and sipping a cup of hot cocoa while you peruse the seed catalog.
Please tell me I’m not alone. You’ve done this, right?
We don’t have a fireplace, really. But I am already drinking hot cocoa and have been cruising around online trying to plot out our garden for the spring. It will be a straw bale garden, this much we know for sure — and that’s about it.
But while in the past we’ve fantasized about generating all our vegetables from our garden. This time we plan to be pickier and garden with frugality as our rule.
Why We’re Planting a Frugal Garden
Yes, it’s nice to think things like, “The green beans from my garden just somehow taste better than the ones from the store!” But is it really true? And how much more are you willing to pay for that taste? Don’t forget, you’re not just paying with money — you’re paying with the time it takes to plant, water, fertilize, weed, harvest, and process those beans, too.
Meanwhile, a can of organic green beans at the grocery store will run you just a couple bucks and take almost zero time commitment — and recently we purchased regular canned green beans for 59 cents per can.
Can your homegrown beans really compete with that? (Don’t forget, growing them in your yard doesn’t automatically make them “organic,” and there are time and money expenses to committing to an organic garden different than those of a “regular” garden. Not to mention, there’s no guarantee your garden will thrive or that the deer and wildlife won’t feast on it before you do. Oh yeah, and those mason jars, lids, and canning equipment cost money, too.)
For some people, the answer to the question — “Can your homegrown beans compete with store-bought beans?” — is yes. For us, the answer is no. Here’s why.
Our homestead and the HPMDU are our retirement plan. In order for our retirement plan to work, frugality is key. (We do not see frugality as a bad word or a limiting lifestyle in any way — if you do, you might want to follow J.D. Roth’s blog for a perspective shift on that.) That means when it comes to deciding which vegetables make it into our garden, they must be vegetables that are cheaper to grow than they are to buy.
Note for the prepper- and survivalist-minded people out there: Being able to garden some basic vegetables will help you acquire and practice the skills for gardening on a larger scale. So if your idea is to survive off your garden…but the world hasn’t actually ended yet…you might try planting a frugal garden as as simple and cost-effective entry point.
At present I am thinking we’ll grow the following:
- Bell Peppers — I love having them on hand and they are stupid expensive to buy
- Tomatoes — Easy to grow, prolific, the base for so many things
- Lettuce — We’ll plant leaf lettuce, not head lettuce, so we can pinch off food as needed, way cheaper to grow than buy
- Garlic — Can be grown in summer and winter, easy to grow, prolific, long storage
- Melons — We love melons and rarely eat them due to the expense, but they’re easy to grow
- Winter Squash — Easy to grow, prolific, can store for a long time
What do you think? If you were planting a frugal garden, what would make the most sense for you? Which foods do you eat most often, pay too much for, or find to be a no-brainer when it comes to producing? I really want to know!
We’ve got some time left before we order our seeds and map out our straw bales. So with your input, we’ll keep pondering what the best vegetables are — and we’re also drawing up plans for our greenhouse so we can get our starts…started. More on our final veggie decisions and the construction of the greenhouse later this winter.
Our Anti-Vampire Strategy
In the meantime, I’m stocking us up for the coming vampire apocalypse. (That’s a joke for all of you who’ve ever mocked me by accusing me of preparing for the “zombie apocalypse.” I know trying to be respectful of the planet and make your energy footprint smaller is kooky. It’s easier to joke about zombies.)
By that I mean, I’ve started our garden by planting garlic! We picked out two varieties in part because they are both cold-hardy, long-storing, tasty hardneck types — and in part because we’ve been so busy that by the time I ordered these there weren’t many options still available! But we’re excited about what we’ve planted: Music and Chesnok Red.
I got a pound of each, which when you break up the bulbs into individual cloves comes out to approximately one million Music cloves and a half million Chesnok cloves. The Chesnok cloves are HUGE. (I ordered through Urban Farmer, by the way, and the service was great.)
I, of course, did a bunch of reading online before planting the garlic. There was some discrepancy on when you should break apart the garlic bulbs, as well as how close and how deep to plant the cloves. Farmer’s Almanac said one thing and Mother Earth News another. I read a bunch more articles and ended up aiming for somewhere in between their recommendations — breaking the bulbs apart shortly before planting, putting them three inches deep, and spacing them six inches apart.
I dug little trenches, and I added peat moss and straw to the dirt. Our soil is very dense and has a lot of clay in it. It holds water, which garlic doesn’t like so much.
Once the dirt was broken up and the cloves were planted, I added a layer of magic pellets! Oh yes, magic pellets. Also known as rabbit poop.
Our rabbits poop magic.
Yep, rabbit poop. It’s the favorite fertilizer of gardeners everywhere and, wouldn’t you know, we raise rabbits. You can learn more than you ever wanted to about animal poop at this link, but the short story is rabbit poop is considered “cold” and that means the chemical make-up of it doesn’t “burn” things you toss it on. This makes it safe to directly apply to plants and gardens, unlike a lot of other manures that need to be aged. It’s rich in nitrogen, which is great for getting new plants going.
Our rabbit magic is also mixed with alfalfa bits since it falls through the rabbit cages when they eat. Alfalfa has a lot of wonderful qualities when it comes to its mineral make-up and its ability to stimulate compost.
A layer of rabbit magic and alfalfa slobber.
Then I added a nice layer of straw to put the garlic to bed for the winter and keep it nice and warm.
A fluffy blanket of straw.
Hopefully this works. We’ll see. This is my first attempt to grow anything in our soil, so wish me luck!