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Plant a garden, harvest savings

Munts says that while canning requires an upfront investment in jars and lids, everything can be reused for decades.

Freezing is the easiest and quickest method for preserving the modern family's garden.

Blueberries, strawberries and other fruits can be frozen after washing, while most vegetables require a quick blanch in boiling water before heading to the freezer.

Cooks can prep tomato sauce and pesto in August, then freeze both for pasta night in November.

Kinnane dices red peppers for stir fry, chops rhubarb for pie and even has a method for savoring the last of her summer produce: She picks all the still-green tomatoes right before the first frost.

"The larger ones are wrapped individually in newspaper and put on a shelf in a cool spot," she says. "They gradually ripen, so you have fresh tomatoes from the garden into November."

Be sure to stick some of your vegetables into the deep freeze, including green beans, broccoli florets, sweet potatoes and sweet corn. You can also freeze fruits such as cherries, blueberries, peaches and strawberries.

For more on how to freeze and how long frozen foods retain their freshness, see the USDA-funded National Center for Home Food Preservation Web site.

Learning curve

Many successful gardeners agree that your first year might not produce a bumper crop. After all, there's a lot to learn about your soil and how it interacts with rain, sun and insects.

But by consulting with gardening sages and asking neighbors for advice, you won't need to bet the farm on a failing crop.

One type of local gardening expert -- known as a master gardener -- especially can boost your odds of success. These gardeners typically provide their help by e-mail or phone, rather than coming to your house.

"A master gardener's services are free," Munts says.

For example, master gardeners can help identify the type of dirt in your garden (sand, clay or loam-based soil). Knowing this information helps them to treat the soil in a way that can increase your yield.

Finding a master gardener
To find a master gardener in your community, check out the American Horticultural Society Web site.

If the garden turns out to be a bust, try other inexpensive alternatives to the grocery aisles. Munts suggests buying a membership in a community-supported agriculture farm, "if you're looking for organic, quality produce and want to make sure your dollar works in (the) local economy."

"U-pick" farms are another option. These farms allow you to pick produce right from the source, providing you with fresh fruits and vegetables at lower prices.

However, even if your garden wilts, you may want to try again. Amateur gardeners swear that you can't beat homegrown, for economics and taste.

"It is something we enjoy doing (and) it's the right thing to be doing," Doiron says. "We're out there in the garden with our three sons, who are seeing where their food comes from. We're building a long-term relationship with good food."

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