Real Food

Budgeting and Planning for My Garden

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about getting ready for gardening season – and wishing it was already warm enough to plant! But we’ve got a ways to go yet…

I have several goals this year that are a bit different than last year. Last year I was just trying to get my plants to actually produce. This may seem strange, as many people might think that if you are growing a garden, it should produce something. But the previous year, our plants were growing but they weren’t producing much. And, the weeds were so proliferate, I couldn’t keep up.

So, last year I made one simple change that made a huge difference – I added one large bag of organic fertilizer, Happy Frog, which cost me $20, to my topsoil and mixed it in. During the whole season I had great success with plants producing and little to no weeds in my box.

Gardening is an activity that doesn’t come naturally to me, just like cooking. But as my interest in food and sustainability has grown over the last five years, I’ve been introduced to many new, great things and started to learn so many interesting and wonderful aspects of food I never knew existed. I’m so grateful to have all the amazing resources available to me both in my local and Internet communities – and especially with all the wonderful people who keep their own web sites with useful information about these topics.

I’m really excited to become engaged in gardening again this year. Gardening is not only a way to produce your own food and save money, but to understand how our food comes to us and to connect with the earth – something we as humans are constantly in danger of losing as we become more technologically-advanced. I’m concerned about the overtake of corporate farming and the destruction of our precious ecosystem and diversity of organisms in our soil. That’s why I want to do my part to set an example for my son and others, by cultivating and maintaining an interest in growing clean food.

Some new things I’ve learned this year:

Succession planting – staggering the same crop or type of plant by planting every several weeks so you can be assured of continued harvesting as the season goes on.

Composting – there are 85 percent more vitamins and minerals in compost soil than just what’s in your backyard. Yeah, really. The odor coming from your pile may mean you need to adjust your ph by using a moderate amount of wood ashes (but not treated wood with chemicals on it), eggshells, or bonemeal. These substances are alkaline and help raise the ph level of your compost.

Good compost should be moist like a sponge, but should be well-drained. To allow for air and drainage, use a base with brush or wood chips to allow aeration under the pile. It’s also good to sprinkle each layer with a watering can or slow dripping hose. It’s useful to layer really wet, sloppy layers with dry, more absorbent ingredients such as sawdust or dead leaves. Frequent turning is also essential to provide adequate breathing “air” to the compost. I need to work on all of these tips, as I didn’t turn mine once last year. But it’s getting pretty big, so I really need to get this done!

Soil – fluffy or loosened soil is best for growing healthy, hearty plants. Enrich the soil in the land you are planting in, raised beds, or pots with a nice covering of about 1/2 inch of good soil mixture and/or organic fertilizer.

Raised beds – provide a shelter for plants when it rains heavily and will allow the rain to seep in instead of collect in puddles (unless you have uneven ground). They also allow you to dedicate your soil and planting area to the items you wish to grow, and keep out other plants or weeds. Level out your dirt with a rake and if you have room, make lanes between your planting beds for walking between.

Chemical pesticides and pest removal – are dangerous not only to the environment and children, but they eliminate a variety of insect species indiscriminately – and sometimes those that are useful. Many pests are now resistant to commercial pesticides, making them harder to eradicate (sound familiar? Think antibiotics and drug-resistant bacteria).

One of the best natural aides in control of unwanted pests is to allow ladybugs and green lacewings in your garden. Another ally in the war against pests is birds. Encourage birds to come into your garden by providing a bird bath and growing plants that attract birds such as sunflowers (which happen to be perennials and will return year after year).

If you have trouble with birds or critters eating your harvest, put up chicken wire or hang an artificial “owl” in your garden from a stick. When the wind blows, the shape and movement of this fake “bird of prey” will startle intruders and frighten them away. To discourage larger insects, cover with a light netting over your plants.

This web site is a great resource for organic gardening – The Helpful Gardener.

Recap of 2009

I got a late start planting because I had a sinus infection that lasted for a long while, so I didn’t get my plants in until June 12th. Most of what we planted didn’t come up until mid-to late August.

Here’s what we grew:

  • tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • hot peppers
  • broccoli
  • chives
  • strawberries

In May I bought peppers, some herbs, and tomato plants from a local organic farm just on the outskirts of Boise called Peaceful Belly. They have expanded their farm and relocated over the last season, and I’m excited to see how their efforts have gone so far when I go to visit them for their annual plant sale again this year.

I had some seeds I intended to plant…peas, carrots, and some watermelon. I had also picked up a few other plants at a local nursery, but they weren’t organic – some lettuces, chives, cucumbers, broccoli, and brussels sprouts (which didn’t come up). When I developed the sinus infection that lasted 7 weeks (read about how I finally cured myself of it naturally here), my gardening efforts were limited during the first part of the summer. I was lucky to get the plants in my box that I’d purchased from the farm.

We had six tomato plants in all and got a lot of tomatoes. Some were cherries and some were larger size. I was able to give a lot away to family and friends, which was great (I love sharing!). We got about two or three cucumbers a week, and used our hot peppers in a variety of meals we ate.

Chives grew in the spring and we used them up early because we only had two plants. Our strawberries were few and far between, but we enjoyed them when we got them. The broccoli was slow to harvest, but then when it came we got several florets out of it (we only had one plant because the year before our broccoli didn’t do well, so I had pulled it all out, but one plant re-germinated itself and came back).

Plans for 2010

This year, my goals are to increase my yield of all our plants and start jarring my tomatoes. I’m going to start just with doing tomatoes, and then next year I’ll add something else.

Yesterday I ordered some seeds from Heirloom Acres Seeds. Thanks to Diana from A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa for pointing this and several other great seed companies out to her readers! As usual, I’m flying by the seat of my pants with most everything I do. And my planting and growing efforts each year are usually sporadic and few and far between. Here’s what I’ve ordered this year:

  • romaine lettuce
  • peas
  • red leaf lettuce
  • carrots
  • celery
  • zucchini
  • Swiss chard

I may also buy a few other seeds or plants such as broccoli or other leafy greens like kale or collards. Two years ago we got some pumpkin seeds and they grew fine, but then my whole patch got attacked by squash bugs. Doh! I was really frustrated at not being able to find a way to eliminate these horrible pests without resorting to chemical pesticides.

I tried everything I could think of that was natural – apple cider vinegar spray with Dr. Bronner’s soap and water worked great to kill the bugs, but it also killed my pumpkins. After all the bugs were dead and my plants too, I abandoned all further efforts because it was early August and too late to plant anything new.


I put myself on a $20 budget for seeds. When I go to the farm, I’ll probably spend $25 – 30 on pepper, tomato, and whatever other plants I find that look good. My organic fertilizer will cost $20 if I stick to one bag. I’m thinking about buying two bags this year for additional extra soil enrichment.


I’m going to try to find a better method of getting my strawberries to come to full maturation and find a way to ensure they don’t get eaten by the squirrels and other critters that enter my yard. Everyone keeps telling me to get chicken wire, but that won’t really work since my strawberry plants are all in pots and I have limited room and cannot plant strawberries in my garden box (which is 7 x 7 feet).

What else? Well, I have a big pot that I usually plant most of my herbs in – basil, rosemary, sage, parsley. For some reason, I completely forgot to put fertilizer in my pots last year, which is probably why my basil has never done well and why my strawberries didn’t grow as well as they could have. So that’s another important thing I can’t forget to do this year (I’m SO absent-minded!).

My handy-man husband built a compost bin for us in our alley near the new shed. We have an older home in a historic district. The shed, also built by my husband, used to be a very dilapidated garage. This summer will be our first complete year with the compost bin, and we’ve been adding to it since last year.

Oh, and I’m also keenly interested in learning about natural ways to keep pests away that actually work and learning about which plants help each other grow by being planted next to each other, which I think is referred to as “companion” planting. You see, there are so many new things I have to learn about the whole gardening process, what works, and what doesn’t. By the end of this season, I expect to have learned a whole handful of new things and be ready for the next level of gardening for 2011!

Here are some other great garden resource pages I found:

Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply – organic gardening supplies, fertilizer, seeds, heirloom seeds, organic pest control, gardening tools, and more

Natural Gardening Company – complete organic gardening resource – seeds, plants, herbs, accessories

Clean Air Gardening – environmentally friendly gardening tools and supplies

Baker Creek1400 varieties of heirloom seeds, open-pollinated, no GMOs (another great seed company from Diana @ A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa!)

Irish Eyes Garden Seeds – large selection of untreated organic seeds flower, vegetable, and garden seed varieties

Salt Spring Seedsheritage and heirloom seed catalog

eGardenSeedheirloom seeds and suppiles

Amishland Heirloom Seeds a one-woman, master-gardener operation that sells heirloom seeds from her own landall grown and produced on her property, specializing in rare varieties grown since the 1700’s.

If you have any tips or advice you want to share, I’d love to hear what has worked for you and what’s coming up in your garden once you get planting this spring.

This post is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays carnival. Please visit Kristen’s site and read all the other great posts linked there.

17 replies on “Budgeting and Planning for My Garden”

I knew there was a reason I didn’t order from seed catalogs…because there’s so much to choose from! Oh my gosh, I totally went wild with the things I ordered last week.

Last year I had success w/tomatoes, but we ate them all, so this year, I’m planting the same amount for slicing and eating and a double the amount for paste for sauce and diced canned tomatoes. I tripled the amount of cukes I planted last year. I bought a variety of seeds called “Sour Mexican Gherkins” which are supposed to taste pickled straight off the vine. This is in addition to the slicing cukes & the pickling cukes.

I also bought about 5 different cantaloupes and 3 different watermelons! LOL. I stayed away from the pumpkins. A farmers @ the farmer’s market told me here in LA, we have some sort of vine virus that makes it very difficult to get pumpkins to grow. I dunno if it’s true, but it takes up so much space that I could devote to other things.

I decided not to grow eggplant as we’ve discovered we don’t really LOVE eggplant and the plants just produce way too much. I’m growing several hot peppers, including cayenne (to make Tabasco sauce) and haberneros.

I can’t wait for spring. My husband built me a smallish greenhouse. I’ve got some seeds already started.

Paula – you are right, it can be dangerous ordering from seed catalogs, there’s no doubt! I went to their web site and ordered, which might be slightly less dangerous than having the hardcopy catalog with all the pretty pictures. That, in my opinion, sells more seeds and other products than if you cannot see the produce or plants up close. When I ordered, I didn’t have a bunch of beautiful produce staring me in the face. I think I did much better and was more frugal than if I went to the nursery. Plus, I wanted to be sure I got all organic seeds. There are not an amazingly large variety of places around here to buy organic seeds and plants from…but I am going to get my tomato and pepper plants from a local organic farm to support our local merchants.

I want to jar cucumbers too, and turn them into pickles. That is something I’ll likely try to tackle next year.

I don’t like eggplant much either…sigh. I tried to like it. I made ratatouille once, and then another eggplant dish later, but I just don’t love it. Maybe I’m cooking it wrong? My neighbor made it and gave some to me once and it was really good.

Pumpkins…I hope to grow them again soon. We had squash bugs two years ago and I heard you have to wait three years before planting again to make sure the eggs have all died.

Your greenhouse sounds awesome! Someday when we have some land, I am going to get my husband to build us a greenhouse so we can grow things in it. How big is your greenhouse?

Hi Raine. I have half-heartedly gardened for the past 3 years, but I’ve never really thrown myself into it. I do have beautiful herbs that come back every year. I’m SO excited for this year though. My husband and I are determined to do better! I’ve already ordered some seeds, but there are a few more things I’d like to get. Like you, we’re sticking with organic/heirloom seeds and plants. I need to get the the details of my plan worked out though, so thanks for the motivation.

This concoction has worked well for me in the past for pests. It has never killed my plants, but I haven’t tried it on squash.

1 gallon water
2 T vegetable oil (I don’t have this anymore. 🙂 Olive oil should work though.
2-4 T liquid dish soap

I pour it into a spray bottle and use as needed, for several days to be sure the pests are gone.

Hi Jen – thanks for the information on home-made pest control, that seems pretty easy to create! (I love easy!)

It certainly does take some time, and planning… the planning part I’m not so great at. I’m really good at whiling away the hours doing just about anything else except what I should be doing. I need to transfer my energy in that direction. Ordering the seeds has motivated me to do something about gardening right now, even though spring weather is still a couple of months away!

I think the fact that herbs come back so easily every year has encouraged me to try other plants like tomatoes and cucumbers, which were easier to grow than I thought they would be. I’m really going to be happy when I am jarring and canning my own food. I will then feel like my efforts have paid off and I am saving money. But, I have a ways to go. 🙂 Baby steps, it’s all in the baby steps.

Great post!

I’m also a huge fan of both composting and raised bed gardening. I do all my gardening at home in a raised bed.

I have to admit that I usually garden with starter plants instead of starting from seed though.

Thank you for including Clean Air Gardening in your post.

Hi Lars –

Thanks for visiting! I think raised gardening is definitely the way to go – especially if you have poor soil quality like we do. Raised bed gardening allows you to have the most control of your soil composition and nutritional value contained within it – which of course makes for healthier harvest.

The reason I am doing a mixture of starter plants and seeds is to have more control, again, over my plants. There are not a lot of places around here to purchase organic starter plants, but I do want to support one of the farms that does this, Peaceful Belly, and their plants are fabulous. I also wanted to be able to grow certain things that I can’t find plants for at all like carrots, peas, and zucchini.

You are most welcome for including your business on my list above. I really like to support businesses, food growers, and merchants selling good products for us and the earth.

Hi Raine.

I finally placed my seed orders last week, so hopefully I’ll be starting some seeds in the next few weeks. I have some here already, but I like to start crops in the same family (like all my tomatoes) at the same time. My garden has grown to around an acre at this point with over 100 varieties of fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers (it looks like a crazy quilt), so something always manages to grow well in spite of the weather, the critters or other obstacles.

I’ve had squash bugs for several years, and I wouldn’t guarantee that a three year break will stop them, as a new batch can fly in at any time. We hand pick them, either squishing them in our fingers or knocking them into a container of soapy water. I tried several organic sprays/home remedies and nothing else seems to slow them down. They are the toughest garden pest I’ve met yet. I put a bounty on them and my boys get paid by the bug or by the egg cluster. (They do more shopping in summer. 😉 As an interesting side note, they smell rather like Fruit Loops when you squash them.

Also, I’m passing along a Beautiful Blogger award to you at:

Hi Laurie –

Wow, thanks for passing the Beautiful Blogger award on to me! That is so kind and thoughtful, and it’s the first award I have ever received! I am really enthused about all the people who come together on these sites and the information we share with one another. It’s quite an extraordinary relationship.

Yes, those squash bugs are terrible, and I liken them to cockroaches as I’d almost bet they could survive a nuclear war. My son didn’t get in on the squash bug massacre I had two years ago, but I think that’s a “smashing” idea (no pun intended), should they return. I did my fair share of squashing the squash bugs and never noticed the Fruit Loops smell when I was doing it. I just thought they were evil, disgusting little creatures (and well, they are!). I think you are right, the soapy water does do them in, I think you just have to make certain it doesn’t get on your plants. At least, not on mine – it killed them. Maybe it was the combo of soap AND apple cider vinegar that did it?

Wow, your garden sounds wonderful! Where do you order your seeds from? I have a dream (and it’s hopefully becoming more of a goal) to pay off our house when we start making money on our solar/green IT business and buy a plot of land with some acreage so we can have a bigger garden, and raise our own meat – perhaps beef and chickens, and maybe some sheep.

Thanks again for your visit, hope your gardening goes well! 🙂

Hi Raine,

I saw your posts on a number of other Real Foods blogs and i wanted to come and check out your site! its beautiful and this post really spoke to me–i have been gardening since i was a little girl with my english grandfather and he told me when i was very little a girl and her spade can change the world (shovel here in the US) i am always so empowered to garden and get my hands in the dirt–here, i keep my self in the green mode by growing all manner of sprouts–but i cant wait to get my hands on that compost pile and back into the garden for a does of real contact with the earth!!!

Another great pest remedy is mixing cayenne pepper into water and spraying that on–you can also purchase praying mantids which eat a ton of bugs–i also use grapefruit seed extract mixed with water for aphids…

good luck with your garden! I would recommend you read up on permaculture too to find out what plants help others–i have a wild blackberry/raspberry guild in my garden that produce far more than cultivated fruit bushes…thats why i cant wait for july!!! 🙂

In Joy! Alex

Thanks for stopping by Alex! I’m glad you enjoy my web site, thanks much for your comments and advice. Good luck on your gardening efforts too! Your black raspberry and raspberries sound divine! I love how the garden brings peace to our hearts!


My green house is not very big. My husband took a scrap crate they were throwing away at his work. We wrapped it with black plastic we had to cover our roof after Hurricane Ike and put a grow light inside. So, I’d guess it’s about the size, lenght & width, of a 4 top restaurant table. It’s plenty big enough. We have such a long season, I can start cukes, melons, and peppers in the ground around the end of March. I start tomatoes to beat the heat that will kill them off.

Congrats on your work, learning and sharing!

I agree, raised beds makes lot of sense, especially when it takes years (7, I think) to develop a really good soil. I love Mel Bartholomew’s All New Square Foot Gardening book/method. Cuz I love things as simple/as easy as possible!


Hey babe!!

Great post gardening buddy!! You know squash bugs are the worst!!!! I hate them so much and they are so detrimental because they actually bore themselves into the plant and lay their eggs!! YUCK! What I found works the best to guard against squash bugs is to buy fabric covers.,default,pg.html Really, it’s the easiest way to keep them pest out and let the plants do their thing! And like Laurie, when I do see them, I squish them before it gets out of hand. So excited to get my gardening on Raine!!



Ann – thanks for visiting and your well wishes. I hope you are doing well!

Diana – I just received my seeds last week from Heirloom and I’m chomping at the bit to get them planted in their seedling spaces. I bought my Happy Frog soil today and I am going to start planting them in egg cartons for now and see what happens. I have about 10 different kinds of seeds, maybe 12. I appreciate the info about the fabric covers, as a novice, I’ve never really seen those before. Or maybe I did but just didn’t notice. I’ll be going back to your blog all summer (just because I love it), but especially to check on the progress of your garden and to get much needed advice and tips. 🙂


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