Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cheap Gardening: What to Plant and When

Are you ready to get your hands dirty for the best tasting produce you've ever had? I sure am. I've been craving old-fashioned tomatoes, berries, cucumbers, peppers, and lots and lots of basil for a few months now.

I have written in the past about getting cheap planters and soil and how to find seeds for cheap or even free, now it's time to figure out when to plant your seeds and what is best for your area.

First, you'll want to figure out what zone you're in. Here's a nice map that allows you to search by your zip code. I am lucky enough to live in Southern California, where we have less "bad weather" even though we complain if it drizzles or drops below 60 degrees. Spoiled people problems.

Next, you can look at charts (or the back of your seed packet if you already have some) to figure out the best time to plant for your zone. Here's a nice basic chart, another that let's you search by zone, or you can get a lil fancy and sign up for this one and order seeds at the same time. If you want to grow anything unusual or heirloom I suggest you just obtain seeds on your own. If you're looking to be more modern, there's even this plant app for $2.

Before you plant anything outside, you may want to do a quick weather search to make sure there's no storm or frost coming up. If you're lucky enough to have a greenhouse these rules don't necessarily apply to you. You can usually start growing earlier or even year-round, depending on the weather where you live.

Now, what do you plant? I personally really like growing heirloom and unusual plants. Lots of tomatoes - they taste nine million times better than store bought. Fresh herbs make a huge difference in your cooking. Rare and unusual varieties of peppers, cucumbers, and other vegetables that you've never seen in a grocery store. If you have lots of room you can grow melons, rhubarb (gets huge and easy to grow), artichoke (also huge and easy to grow). Last on my list is corn. Why? It takes sooo much room to grow, you don't get much, if you don't act fast enough wormy guys eat them all up, and you can buy them for cheap in stores.

You can check for native plants in your area, especially for yard decor (non-edible) - they may grow better and be easier since they are already used to the climate, soil, and insects. Here's a website for wildflowers, but I haven't been able to find anything for edible plants that covers the whole U.S. You will probably have to do a search for your state or area on your own.

Lastly, check your dirt and the amount of light in the area you want to plant. You may need to mix some nutrients or bagged garden soil to feed your plants so they're big and healthy. Keep in mind that some plants need full sun and others want shade or partial shade. Here's an inexpensive soil testing kit and here's a chart for garden pH levels.

painting: "Spring Dress-Up" by Gil Elvgren

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