Start a Garden, Save on Groceries


Fresh, organic vegetables are good and good for you. But are they good for your budget? Prices for some organic vegetables can be as much as 75% more than regular store produce.

But thrifty consumers don’t have to resign themselves to paying sky-high prices for good food. They can grow it themselves and save money at the same time.

Growing Savings: By the Numbers
For example, if you were to buy a $1.95 pack of tomato seeds online from Gurney’s Seed and Nursery Co. in Greendale, Ind., and plant them in a 100 square foot garden, you could expect to grow as many as 16 tomato plants on the plot, according to Anu Rangarajan, the director of the small farms program at Cornell University.

Within six months you could harvest as much as 20 pounds of tomatoes from each plant, depending on the weather, says Ranagarajan.

That harvest would cost you $99.80 if you bought the tomatoes from Whole Foods (Stock Quote: WFMI) in Manhattan, where they retail for as much as $4.99 a pound.

Hey, if First Lady Michelle Obama can start a garden on the White House lawn, you can start one at home.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Plot in advance. Think about how much space you have and what makes sense to grow.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac says vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, squash and corn grow best in the warmest part of year and need to be planted from late winter to early spring. Vegetables such as peas and lettuce tend to grow best in fall, so their seeds should be planted April or May.

2. Follow the sun.
Your garden is going to need six to 10 hours of direct sunlight or your yields will be lower, according to Virginia Tech’s guidelines for planting.  If you can’t plant your garden in direct sunlight, vegetables such as beets, carrots and celery can tolerate partial shade.

3. Seed your investment. Try buying seeds online. You can find seeds for less than two dollars a pack by visiting nurseries such as Gurney’s or The Etowah Seed & Nursery Company.

4. Test your soil. Your soil type will determine how well your vegetables grow, says, so test its pH before you start planting.  You can get testing equipment from hardware stores such as Lowe's (Stock Quote: LOW) , where the Mosser Lee Soil Master Soil Testing Kit will run you $14.88. At Ace, the RapiTest single sample test kit costs $8.34 with tax and shipping.

You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of time getting your pH in perfect balance since some plants grow better in one kind of soil than in another. Visit for a list of crops that grow best acidic or alkaline soil.

5. Cover your roots. Organic mulches such as chipped bark, straw or shredded leaves can help conserve water and cool the soil around your plants, according to You can make your own, or purchase organic mulch at True Value Hardware Stores.

But if you’re looking for a deal, many cities such as Los Angeles and Fairfax, Va., provide free mulch to area residents. Contact your local government in order to find out where you can get your share.

6. Join the club. As a new gardener, chances are you’re going to make a few mistakes along the way. However, you can give yourself a leg up by learning from other people’s experiences. If you’re looking to become a master planter, consider joining a garden club where you can get tips, meet new people and find out how green thumbs in your area make their gardens grow.

You can visit the National Garden Clubs or GardenCentral to find a listing of clubs near you. Membership dues hover in the $15 to $20 range. You can find the National Garden Club application online.

Happy gardening!

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