Neighbor Nancy Blows Raspberries at MSN Money Over Hunger-Fighting Gardening

(Neighbor Nancy removes her garden apron and plops in front of the computer for some clarifications on the frugal hunger fighting garden.)

Being a total junkie for news on the effects of this current economic state, I read the following article on MSN Money.

5 Foods It’s Cheaper to Grow

To say the least, I was … disappointed. Oh, you can do way better than that!

Either the writer is a lousy gardener, who had under-researched by reading only a few popular books on the subject or she has never been unemployed/underemployed, fighting hunger and poverty in her own household. A mighty learning motivator, indeed.

Just about everything that is appropriate to your growing region and doesn’t have some tricky harvesting method is cheaper to grow, especially if you are using integrated gardening methods.

There are many simple, little techniques like seed saving, composting or encouraging mason bees that can make a huge difference for the frugal gardener.

Let’s skip right to the part with which I have the most concern. Then I will offer some additional suggestions and further readings.

In the MSN author’s opinion–5 to leave to experts (or farmers) and in mine –why she might be wrong

“… not every crop is cost-effective to grow at home. Skip these five if you’re in it primarily to save money”

Potatoes — Absolutely, positively disagree! For every pound you plant, a lousy yield is 10 pounds a good yield is 20. Plant them in a whiskey barrel of straw, a plastic grocery bag full of leaves or directly in the ground. If you can’t grow them for less than you buy them, contact your county extension agent or try directing that question here: Extension.org

Carrots — Semi-disagree. Carrots are a little fussy about soil, however the varieties for home gardeners do taste far lovelier than commercial varieties. But for the most part, carrots are still an acceptable price in the store. Again, contact your county extension agent for regionally appropriate varieties that can make it worth your while.

Celery — Agree … but only if we are referring to the novice gardener. Celery is left to the more skilled gardener. Once everything else is old hat, then try celery.

Asparagus — Couldn’t disagree more. While it does take a few years to get going, it is well worth a little effort. For the same amount as a single veggie isle bunch, you could get your perennial asparagus patch started. Weed problems? Try old news papers, moistened and covered with free wood chips from the tree trimming contractors that are out and about. I’m a lazy weeder and yet these thrive on year after year.

Wheat — hm… Wheat is a little more labor intensive, yes. But still very affordable for the big backyard. The amount of labor and yield is very much variety related.

A less labor intensive grain choice might be hull-less oats that are great for poorly tilled areas. They can be simply harvested by hand and threshed by banging them on the inside of a clean garbage can or 5 gallon bucket.

What about field corn that can be dried in the field and stored in any cool dry place?

Rotate corn with nitrogen producing soy beans (also field dried) to offer your family a fantastic source of protein, especially if you have no other.

Don’t take my advice or that of the MSN Money author. Do you own research.

Read everything you can get your hands on. Compare methods. Every garden is different and it is up to you to figure out what works best.

Mound your soil. Practice composting, use biochar, add crushed egg shell or fish bones.

Read. Research. Engage your brain. Be brave and start a conversation with a neighbor whose garden you admire. Don’t just read what’s popular, ask yourself, “is that practical for my situation?”

Things I will always have in my garden, due to ease and efficiency:

Potatoes — prolific, stores well, low maintenance, surprisingly decent source of vitamin C, Niacin, B6 and Folate.

Soy beans— extremely prolific, dried or frozen stores very well. According to the USDA a 1 cup serving of soybeans, contains 17 grams of protein … that’s a lot! Also, they are an excellent source of vitamin C, Folate and Thiamin.

Tomatoes — ease, flavor and yield vary greatly by variety. With a good seed catalog or your county extension agent, you can make an appropriate choice.

Soft fruit — raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, etc. You can even grow a dozen plants in a nice, sunny apartment window. Click here for a Ton of Garden, A Tiny Space: Strawberries

Recommended books that can be found at most free libraries or through interlibrary loan:

The Self-Sufficient Gardener by John Seymour — a wonderfully integrated approach from man with a lifetime of experience. Much of that experience was gained working in countries where food supplies was in crisis. The best gardening book in my vast collection. Also by this author, The Self-Sufficient Life is outstanding and includes animals for smallholders, skills and much more.

Backyard Homestead edited by Carleen Madigan — Typical to Storey publications it covers a wealth of information. This one is targeted for people trying to be self reliant on two or less acres.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery — Oh, it just has everything.

Gardening When It Counts by Steve Solomon — an experienced seed man’s methods to high-yield, low-cost gardening. Another author, who encourages you to mix methods, depending on your situation.

Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel — a classic on the subject first published in 1979. Now it is in its, at least, 28th printing of the second edition. And no, you don’t need a separate “root cellar.” A great book to help you choose what varieties to grow and how to store them.

Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving by the USDA. Paid for by your tax dollars Click here to read it online for free.

So, remember that what may grow efficiently and inexpensively for one person may not for another. Check you resources and make up your own mind. Click this link for local gardening advice.

For more information on getting started, whether in a sunny window or in a big field, check the Beginner Gardening category on the right.

(Neighbor Nancy reties her garden apron, decorated with the grime of the season, and brushes her hands of the subject. As she heads back out to the garden, the screen door slams shut behind her with an air of finality.)

What do you think?

What are the “always there” plants in your food garden?

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Zucchini another evil childhood food. Along with large mushy peas. Out the bedroom window they flew.
    Did you try presoaking the beans over night. Rinse, then planting the ones that sprout?

  2. always there plants in our garden include: tomatoes (of course), peppers (bell, banana, jalapenos, and some specialty varieties just for fun – different ones each year, but always those first three), herbs (parsley, basil, cilantro, chives) [let me just stop here & say that I LOVE parsley & it freezes so nicely for me that I harvest it in the fall & chop it all up & package it into 1/4 cup servings & freeze it. it lasts me almost until the next year] I imagine you could probably do that with most herbs, but there is such a HUGE DIFFERENCE between fresh & dried parsley, so that’s why I started doing this with my parsley. Actually, I did the same thing with my basil and it worked too, but I don’t use basil all that much. Other foods that are always in my garden: cucumbers, zucchini, green beans (they didn’t make it up last year – don’t know why! and i usually end up canning a bunch of them too). Last year I made about 2 dozen loaves of zucchini bread and froze it in our chest freezer so that I would very easily have something to take to church dinners. Then I realized that someone else at my church already does this. I’m not all that crazy about zucchini bread & my husband can’t stand it. So, I’ve still got loads of it in my freezer! so much for being prepared, huh? Oh well, i guess you can’t win ’em all!


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