smart spending

Plant a garden, harvest savings

Roger Doiron is the founder and director of Kitchen Gardeners International, a Maine-based nonprofit that promotes "relocalizing" food.

He's also a father to three hungry children.

Doiron and his wife turned 1,000 square feet of backyard space into a field of cucumbers and tomatoes, squash and salad greens.

Through careful, successive planting and choosing foods that the family enjoys, Doiron avoids waste.

"With an $85 seed order, we had vegetables from June to the end of January," he says.

Doiron suggests new gardeners start easy.

"Start with salad greens," Doiron says. "They're easy to grow, and in many cases, if you cultivate the 'cut and come again' variety, you'll get several harvests out of the same row."

He points at the economics of salad greens: A seed packet of mixed lettuce costs $2 to $4, but generates a month's worth of nightly salads.

"If you're buying packaged greens from the grocery store, they've been in transit for a week's time," Doiron says.

By contrast, homegrown salad greens are only minutes from tilth to table.

"In terms of freshness and taste, there's no comparison," he says.

Dollars and sense

To make gardening worthwhile, you need to keep costs low.

Seeds are the least expensive option for your plot. Munts says most seed packets stay fresh for two to three years: Just keep them in a cool and dry place for next year.

"But pay a fair price for seeds," Munts warns. "With bargain seeds and off-brand seeds, the viability is questionable."

In other words, the seeds may be stale or low-quality, and won't sprout.

As always, check the seed packet to see when veggies will be ripe and ready. Some foods -- such as radishes -- make for a quick harvest. In 28 short days, you can pluck a bunch of radishes straight from the soil.

"They're basically just cultivated weeds," Bewick says.

The region of the country in which you live in may dictate how much water and fertilizer you need to use. Some foods also grow better in one region than another. Plant the wrong food for your location, and you could end up babying your plants until your savings disappear.

Also, don't spend a fortune on fancy gardening tools.

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"Tools can be scrounged at garage sales and thrift shops," Munts says.

To reduce your water bill, purchase a soaker hose (typically only around $10) and run it through the vegetable garden. Soaker hoses are perforated with tiny holes that allow water to seep out slowly and directly to the plant roots. This prevents you from wasting water through evaporation or runoff.

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