When gardening on a budget, it’s important to consider your gardening priorities – because that’s going to affect both what you plant in your garden, and how you choose to spend your money.
Some of the priorities that you may have if you’re trying to grow a food garden is that you may want to can or preserve or store your vegetables for use in the winter. For instance, if you want to can tomatoes, or a tomato product, then you’ll want to make sure that you have enough space for your tomatoes. So, if that’s your priority, then you may want half of your garden to be tomatoes, or one fourth of your garden is tomatoes. And, that affects what varieties you choose, and you may want to put them in the best spot for gardening. That might mean that you only plant two or three pepper plants instead of lots of pepper plants just because you don’t have the space to do more.
Maybe your garden priority is to supplement your food budget, and to have a wide variety of vegetables your family can eat throughout the summer – but not necessarily have extras to store or save for later.
A third priority might be to grow things that you can’t easily find in a grocery store, or that you wouldn’t normally be willing to pay the price in the grocery store. For example, vegetables such as Swiss Chard and Kale are often $3 for a small bunch in the grocery store. But, they grow so well in Kansas that even with a very small space dedicated to them, you’ll end up with far more value on that space than trying to buy that same vegetable.
Another example would be herbs. Almost any herb is very expensive for a small package in the grocery store. Simple herbs like basil and mint are examples. And less common herbs such as lemon grass do very well in Kansas’ hot summer weather. The plants grow very large. You can freeze the lemongrass stalks for later. Lemongrass is either difficult to find in grocery stores, or they’re quite expensive.
A fourth priority may simply be that you’re gardening for the enjoyment or exercise. If you’re gardening for that reason, then what you’re growing in the garden may be less important than if it’s something you enjoy growing.
If you have multiple priorities or considerations when you’re planning your garden, especially if you’re in limited space, it really is important to find the number one priority, and use that to plan the core of your garden. Here in my community garden plot, we’ve made that decision. We knew we wanted enough tomatoes to make some sauce or salsa to preserve for later. We also wanted to have cucumbers for pickling. So, the core of our garden are those tomatoes and those cucumbers. But then we also really like to cook and to try new things that you can’t find in a grocery store. And then we wanted to have something fun. These pepper plants aren’t going to produce tons and tons of peppers, but we have different varieties and we really enjoy seeing all the different colors and varieties of peppers. So, we’ve wrapped a little bit of all the priorities into our garden – but we used those priorities to determine which vegetables take up the most space.
This feature story prepared with Rebecca McMahon, Kansas State University Research and Extension Horticulture Agent, Sedgwick County. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at KansasGreenYards.org.