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“Without a doubt, without hesitation, I choose gardening over the gym. I can’t stand going to the gym. It doesn’t appeal to me. Give me gardening every time.” – Mary Berry of the Great British Bake Off
BY JULIA ANDERSON
Even though I grew up on a farm, I didn’t put a seed in the dirt until grown and married. A patch of exposed soil six inches wide and a few feet long out of an apartment sliding door gave me my first green thumb inspiration.
Flower seeds from a packet purchased at the grocery store rewarded me that summer with colorful blossoms and bouquets That was in 1969. They were zinnias.
I have been gardening since. Sticking with the basics, I grow beans – pole beans and bush beans. The other usuals include zucchini, some kind of lettuce, carrots, kale and spinach. Last year, I threw in nasturtiums for color. They were a visual color riot AND EDIBLE.
They make a return visit this year, along with zinnas.
Everyone is writing about the appeal of gardening while quarantined at home during the Great 2020 Virus Outbreak. The New York Times, the Seattle-Times, Wall Street Journal and others all have produced lovely pieces written for people who might be sticking their first seed in the ground.
Beginners as well as those of us already in love with gardening have been flooding online seed companies with orders. Garden supply retailers (deemed essential businesses) are seeing robust sales, two and three times that of a normal season.
Here are my tips for starting a garden on a budget:
Make a Plan: Where will your garden be? How big? Is there an open spot in your yard or along the side of the house? Is there room for a garden box on the patio or a flowerpot on the apartment balcony? All you need is some dirt, sunlight for at least half the day and water (once or twice a week).
Understand the work and time required: Taking care of a garden or even a flower in a pot requires attention (time). Plants need sun and regular watering (but not over-watering) to do well. Plants also need weeding and occasional pruning.
Make sure you (and your family) are willing to regularly put time tending the plants once it begins to grow.
Put together a budget: What do you have on hand, what do you need? A basic “garden” should not cost more than $20 in seed, plus a few tools. A scratching tool, trowel and maybe a shovel to dig up the soil are the basics. Tools could add another $50 to the upfront costs. But I’ve used kitchen forks and spoons to work up and plant in small pots.
A patch of dirt or a medium-sized planter box in direct sun more than half the day.
A trowel and a scratching tool for working up the dirt, planting and keeping weeds at bay.
A shovel, if you dig up a larger patch alongside your house or in the yard. Maybe a heavy rake and a hoe, so you can weed without bending over.
Additional needs and ideas: Bamboo or wooden sticks for pole beans to climb on, cuttings from perennial flowers from a neighbor’s yard with permission. Annuals die at the end of each growing season. Perennials return.
Seeds, not starts: Packets of seed typically cost $2 to $4. Seedling starts, already sprouted and growing, are more expensive. Try starting your own seeds inside using shallow tin cans placed near a sunny window.
Seeds packets are available at many grocery stores and at ag retail stores, both considered essential businesses during the stay-at-home quarantine. Keep in mind that the cheapest seed is not always best in terms of germination and plant performance during the growing season.
What to plant: If you have a small area (planter box or flowerpot) go with a packet of climbing Blue Lake pole beans, since they don’t need much space and will grow upward on a wooden pole or two. Or how about a cherry tomato plant (best purchased as a plant) that will reward you all summer. Stick in a few cucumber seeds at the edge of the planter. They hang out and trail down.
Throw in some nasturtiums for color, if you’ve got room. They are edible and look great on a plate. Lettuce from seed would be my next choice.
If you have a larger planting area put in bush beans (green and yellow), kale, spinach and more lettuce. Zucchini plants have never let me down for their dramatic size and production. Love’m.
TO REVIEW: Hopefully, you already own basic garden tools, so you don’t have to spend a lot of money. If not, start with a scratching tool and a trowel. (Or use a spoon from the kitchen). Buy a few packets of seed at about $2 a packet. Go with the basics: climbing pole beans, a cherry tomato plant, and a packet of mixed lettuce.
For me gardening is everything. It clears my head and restores my soul. I get physical exercise while creating beauty. I walk around my garden and yard at the end of the day and give thanks for the miracle of life. Mornings, I stroll outside (when it's not raining) with a bowl of cereal while looking at plants, shrubs and thinking about what comes next.
A quote from actor Helen Mirren reminds me of what gardening is all about -- “Gardening is learning, learning, learning. That's the fun... you’re always learning.”
"A beginner's guide to starting a coronavirus victory garden," Seattle Times, click here.
"In Lockdown, Discovering Gardening's Restorative Powers," -WSJ, click here.
"How to start a vegetable garden on the cheap," - Living on the Cheap, click here.
I meet women all the time who face job and money transitions and who want to do them right. It’s about building confidence and taking charge of the future. This is your money. No one cares more than you do!
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