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Starting a vegetable garden

Starting a vegetable garden

Growing up, I hated working in our garden. Every so often my dad would make me weed, or water the flower beds, or help him pick tomatoes. I hated being hot, dirty, sweaty, tired, and I especially didn’t like it because I hated eating vegetables. Why would I kill the slugs eating the tomatoes? The more they eat, the less I would have to. Luckily, over the years, my eating habits have (slightly) changed. Alongside my desire to eat healthier, I also desire to eat local foods, so what could be healthier and more local than my own little vegetable garden?

So one of my goals for this summer was to start a garden. My wife and I managed to grow a few tomatoes in the summer of 2008, but last year we were too busy getting married and moving to remember to spend much time working on our measly garden. I think last summer we managed to harvest about 3 little cherry tomatoes. This summer, we’ve got the time, energy, and money to invest in a garden, so that is exactly what we did.

We live in a rented basement suite, so we don’t have a large yard to work with. We do have a bit of a patio, so we have access to sunlight and growing space, but we are going to be limited to container gardening. That is fine by me, as it helps restrict the “mess” a little more. Also, it makes our garden a little more mobile. All we have to do is make sure that we buy container friendly vegetables to grow, like cherry tomatoes, herbs, lettuce, and peppers. We’re even trying some carrots.

In order to make it as financially appealing as possible, we have decided to use as many of the containers and tools that we already had available to us. I’ve even read about a number of people who have successfully grown vegetables in old yogurt containers. Thankfully, we can be yogurt free as we have a few pots from the last couple of years. Another way we are planning on saving some money is by starting our garden from seeds. Instead of buying a small plant from a local retailer for four or five dollars, we’re planning on planting seeds that cost just a fraction of a pre-grown plant. This not only gives us a larger variety of choices when it comes to the type of plants we are growing, but it also makes it much cheaper, meaning any harvest we manage to collect will be all the more lucrative.

So here’s what we’ve done so far. We first went seed shopping. We found a number of stores that have row upon row of seeds for sale. They averaged in price between one and four dollars for a packet of seeds, depending on the rarity of the quantity of seed. We read the back of the packet, making sure that the variety would be good for container gardening, and that we would be able to start the seedling inside. Once we settled on a number of seeds, we got some soil (specifically, seedling starter soil – ask at your local gardening store), some small peat pot containers, and a tray with a clear plastic lid that goes on top.

We put the peat pots inside the tray, filled them with dirt, and soaked the dirt through. Then we read each packet of seeds to see how deep they needed to be planted, made a small indentation in the soil, and dropped 2-3 seeds in each little hole. After that, we covered it back up with soil, put a little more water on top, and set it on a shelf by the window. Then we waited.

I’m happy to report that just over one week later, we have TONS of little seedlings growing in our window. We’ve made sure to keep them warm, wet, and happy, by watering them from the bottom (removed a peat pot section, added water to the bottom of the tray) so as not to disturb the seed, rotating the tray daily (so the seedlings grow strong growing towards the light), and making sure that the temperature is warm by keeping the plastic lid on.

The next few steps will be harder, but that will have to wait for another day. For now, I just want to encourage you to grow some of your own food as well. I highly recommend starting simply. Some friends of ours wanted to get into gardening, so we thought that they should simply try kitchen gardening and grow some basil in their window. The purchases were very inexpensive, as it was simply a tiny bit of soil, a single pot, and a packet of basil seeds. They have reported that their little seed has started to grow, so by the time summer rolls around, they’re going to have a small pot of basil growing right next to their kitchen.

An unfortunate end to our vegetable garden

We did manage to get a few small harvests from our garden. We got three or four large cucumbers and some squash and were just beginning to harvest all of our tomatoes when disaster struck. We went away for the week, and our house sister unknowingly left our backyard gate open. This was great for the deer that live nearby, and they had a wonderful buffet over the week that they were here.

Everything that we worked so hard for is now gone. The tomatoes have been torn to shreds, the beets had their tops ripped off, and the carrots were “harvested” too soon. Even a bunch of the plants that we were hoping to save for years to come, like some hostas, were also eaten right down to the ground. In short, our backyards went from fall-harvest to complete destruction in just one week.

It is sad, and very frustrating, to think of all the “sunk costs” that had gone into this garden without any sense of real reward. It’s disheartening to think that all that hard work we put in was essentially for nothing.

Overcoming setbacks

However, we are trying to not allow a small setback to prevent us from continuing on towards our eventual goal. There’s always going to be setbacks whenever you’re working towards a specific goal. Perhaps you’re saving up for a vacation or for retirement.

Inevitability, life will come along and prevent you from completing your goal without some sort of trial or tribulation. Your emergency fund may take a hit, your income might drop, and you’ll have to reevaluate whether or not you can still meet that goal. For us, this was a setback, but it was only a set back for this year.

We’ll be able to save some plants, replace some others, and put some more work into the yard this fall and next spring and get right back on track. Even though we already sunk a lot of costs into the garden, that money would have been spent regardless of whether or not deer got into our yard. Sure, we’ll have to spend more money this fall buying vegetables rather than just picking them, but that’s a decision we have to make based on what is available to us now, not on what could have been.

The reality is, if we had never spent any money on the garden and we had a backyard that had been eaten by deer or never cared for at all, we would spend money fixing it up so that it is an enjoyable place for us to spend time and garden. It doesn’t matter if the work we did was undone, we’ll happily do it again.

Likewise, regardless of what disaster may befall you, always base your financial decisions on what is true right now, not what could be true. If our garden wasn’t properly fenced off, then yes, it would be a foolish decision to keep planting things for the deer to eat. Leaving the gate open is not something that will happen every week, and we’re confident that our garden will be bigger and better than every next year.

While we had some problems, it really is a lot easier than you might think, and the benefits are vast and numerous. If nothing else, you can rest easy knowing that a little piece of your meal was home grown without pesticides or preservatives, and that is a good feeling worth pursuing. Good luck!


  1. Lillie

    Thank you, thank you! You absolutely made my day. I am planning on returning to my roots this year and planting a garden is on my agenda. I grew up in the country and fresh vegetables. You outlined all of the steps that I need to do to make it happen. Now is the time and this weekend will be perfect to get the ball rolling.

  2. Cindy

    Oh I just love starting vegetable seedlings myself. I’ve spent so much time doing it over the years and my favorite part is when they get their first true leaves. I almost hate putting them outside. Like a little bird learning to fly!

  3. Ralph

    While there is nothing wrong with the information in this article, it is so rudimentary that I am stunned that people would actually find this useful. Put-seeds-in-dirt, add water, etc. If people are so removed from basic food production that they need a tutorial on the concept of growing seeds (and that is all this article is), we are in much more serious trouble than I already suspected.

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