We had a rare spring-like day this week – sunny and warm enough to shed the winter jacket for a bit. It was also the same day my favorite seed catalog arrived in the mail. Coincidence? I think not! Garden season is close.
Gardening has always seemed to me like a thrifty three-fer: exercise, time outside, and healthy food as a reward. It’s not even that expensive to start a garden if you stick with seeds rather than starters, plant at the right time and are lucky with spring weather.
This year the rise in food prices makes me want to grow even more food, but I just don’t have the time or extra cash needed to expand my garden. My small garden will have to suffice – or does it?
There is a lot of gardening going on around me. Many of my friends and neighbors grow beautiful gardens. Several neighbors have fruit trees that practically bend in half with fruit in the fall, while others specialize in growing heirloom tomatoes. Yet another grows lovely herbs on the small strip of lawn beside her house. This got me to thinking: we should pool our resources, gardening knowledge and garden spaces and save some money on fresh food at the same time.
What grows? – One neighbor says she carefully researches her yearly garden. She considers what her family likes to eat and compares it to the prices in the store. If she can grow it cheaper, it’s in her garden.
This is a good place to start when pooling garden projects with others. What does everyone like to eat and can you get it cheaper at the store? My favorite, sugar snap peas, is more expensive at the store but is easy to grow in our area. The prolific zucchini is fairly cheap in the store, but its productivity is legendary and this is an easy one for one gardener to plant and share with the rest.
When the list of favorites is complete, your group can divide up the veggies to plant. If one gardener feels more successful at growing one plant over another, keep that in mind. Perhaps another wants to try growing something he or she hasn’t tried before. The flexibility is part of the fun.
You and your fellow gardeners don’t have to be highly organized in your shared gardening by any means, but don’t forget to decide how to share the harvest once it starts appearing.
Share styles – Be transparent with your friends about your gardening techniques. My friends try to stay as chemical-free as possible. I, too, have found it is less expensive to maintain a backyard gardens with organic methods simply because alternatives – like hand-pulling dandelions – is cheaper than Roundup. Yet, it is wise to make sure everyone in your group is on the same page.
Reap free knowledge – One friend is an incredible gardener. She uses cold frames during part of year to extend her growing season and reaps the benefits of her natural techniques in the volume of food she grows. She shares her success and we have been the happy beneficiaries of garden greens far into October. She is also great about sharing tips and very kind about answering gardening questions.
Should you lack a friend with such gardening knowledge, you can always turn to local experts for help. Our state’s Extension Service, offered through our state’s agricultural college, does a great job of providing free education on gardening and many other topics. They also have a helpful website, which makes it handy for those who live across the state.
Start-Up – I’ve learned there are several ways to get new plants without stepping into a retail store. One friend purchases her plant starts from a local gardener. This gardener invested in a nice greenhouse years ago and sells her organic plant starts every spring. These starts are a fraction of the cost of the store down the road and seem to hold up very well.
Another friend was happy to share her extra bulbs with me after I admired her bed full of flowers. In doing this, she saved me the cost of purchasing several bags of bulbs later that fall. Yet another friend plans to use the seeds she harvested from her garden last year. I hope she will share with me her harvesting and storage techniques.
Enjoy the harvest – I’m really looking forward to when our gardens are ready to harvest later this summer. I’d like to take the gardening even further and pool our knowledge on food preservation. It would be a shame to waste all that good food!