Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rethinking the Garden with the Budget in Mind

With the downward spiral of the economy and food and gas prices racing to all time highs, even some of my most thrifty concepts are being fine tuned. One of those is my garden. Usually filled with flowers and crops that I only "hope" won't fail; this year, I'm more serious about the decisions being made. For instance, I've always grown jalapenos even though those locally grown are available at the store for a fraction of the cost. This year, I will buy them instead. The same situation exists with tomatoes. In my area, they require a great deal of care, constant struggle against leaf devouring grasshoppers, careful attention to moisture control and protection from late summer's extreme heat. When I discovered a half bushel at the Farmer's Market for $10, I couldn't justify my efforts, much less my potential failures. I began to consider the things we eat on a regular basis...not only the fresh produce but the canned and frozen vegetables as well. I took a look in my pantry, revisited some old shopping lists and gave thought to our ordinary weekly menus.
  • I cannot grow corn in a pot on the deck.
  • 35 heads of lettuce, all maturing at the same time, cannot be consumed quickly enough or canned or dehydrated or frozen.
  • Dried beans are far too inexpensive to take up valuable (and limited) space in the garden.
  • There is too much clay in my soil for potatoes.
So what are my options? Red Bell Peppers are so expensive at the store these days that I removed them from my shopping lists altogether. However, I can grow them as easily as I've grown Jalapenos in the past. Green Bell Peppers have risen in price a bit but continue to be purchased. They, too, can easily be grown in containers and freeze fairly well. Organic carrots are also pricey but easy to grow. Broccoli, cauliflower and assorted greens grow well here as a fall crop, when overnight temperatures begin to cool. I grew them in Alaska but never even thought of them here. Cilantro is also something I buy regularly. A single packet of seeds will meet my summer needs and the excess can be dried for winter use.

In addition to reconsidering the things I will grow, I've given a great deal of thought to the occasional bargains that come our way. Georgia peaches are sold in season here, at roadside stands and can be bought in bulk and canned for much less than frozen slices or cans at the store. There is absolutely nothing to canning them, freezing them or even putting up spiced peaches for the holidays. When bananas go on sale, they are natural candidates for the dehydrator. And, speaking of dehydrating things, a daughter has had success dehydrating tomatoes and canning them in oil for "sun dried" tomatoes at a fraction of the cost. So, these are the things that accompany my transition into the sunny season. As I put things together, work them out and determine if we are actually able to eat better for less, I will let you know.

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