I’ve been thinking about growing a vegetable garden to help save on my grocery bill. There’s nothing quite like picking something fresh from your garden and cooking or eating it right away, is there? Today I’m absolutely thrilled to share a guest post with you from my friend Dawn Smith, who blogs at Crazy Organic Mama. Dawn has a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture from the University of Connecticut and has been gardening organically for over 25 years.
If it weren’t for Hubs we’d have NO plants in or around my house so I thought it best to consult an expert when it comes to growing a garden. You’ll just have to trust me on this one…anyhow, let’s get started – here’s Dawn!
Starting Your Own Food Garden Without Breaking The Bank
I’m guessing that since you’re here on the AWESOME Older Wiser Money Miser blog, you might be kinda interested in saving money. Amiright?
One great way to save money while also getting some exercise and growing your own fresh, wonderful food is to start a garden. However, there are cheap ways to do this, and there are expensive ways to do this. Let me show you how you can have AWESOME fresh veggies and fruits every year without spending your kid’s college fund to do it.
Wanna get started? Me too. Let’s go!
In all honesty, this is one of the two biggest expenses you’re going to have with your garden, and is going to need the most explanation, which is why I’ve included it first. Fencing is crucial if you’re planning to grow a traditional garden (although that’s not a necessity, I’ll explain below). Unless you live in the middle of the city and you’re gardening on your roof (yes, that’s a thing), you’re going to have rabbits, groundhogs, deer, or something that wants to eat your garden.
The major problem with rabbits and groundhogs is that they can burrow UNDER a fence and the problem with deer is that they can jump OVER a fence. Yay! NOT! Let’s chat.
We’ll start with deer. Although white-tailed deer can jump really high (8 feet!), they can’t jump both high and far at the same time. They also have poor eyesight, and don’t like strong scents that don’t allow them to smell predators nearby.
You can take advantage of these issues in a number of ways. I would NOT advocate an 8 foot fence as that’s going to cost a mini-fortune. However, if your garden is fairly small and you don’t have heavy deer pressure, you may find that a 4-foot fence is okay because deer won’t jump inside of something small enough that they feel trapped.
My garden is approximately 20 x 40 feet with a 4 foot chicken wire fence around it. I know deer have visited because plants outside the fence have been damaged (and that would be why I had no sweet potatoes last year!), but they have NOT jumped my fence (yet). Now maybe I’ve just gotten lucky, but I don’t think so.
First off, my vegetable garden is situated along the side of a large flower garden (including several large bushes/small trees) that won’t allow a running start. That takes care of one long side. The other long side has 4 foot wide planter boxes along it, so the deer can’t jump both them and the fence at the same time. One short side has a large wooden trellis that won’t allow the deer through. That only leaves one short side, and I think they won’t enter because they would only have the one exit.
So, adding things around your garden, whether they be flower gardens or bushes or boxes or other impediments, is a good place to start. It’s especially good if whatever you add is solid (like bushes) that they can’t see through. Because they can’t see in, they’re unlikely to take the chance that there could be something dangerous in there. If that’s not possible though, I have some other ideas.
If you put up a 4 foot fence, leave the posts at their full 8 feet (or whatever size you use). Then just string thin wire between the posts. Here’s the trick, though. The deer need to know the wire is there, so you’ll want to add a few white rags here and there so they know not to try to jump it. Don’t just put them on the top wire, but vary their location.
PRO TIP: If you’re in an area with white-tailed deer, use white rags. To them, white is a danger signal (they flip their tails up to signal danger to others of their kind), so adding white rags will help to warn them off.
If you have very light deer pressure, you might be able to get away with placing posts in the ground and just stringing several layers of wire between them. DO NOT put flags on these wires, however. You want the deer run into wire they can’t see and don’t understand, so they will leave thinking it might be dangerous. The problem with this solution is that it’s not going to keep anything else out (including the neighbor’s dog who loves to eat tomatoes. Hey, it could happen, trust me on this).
Remember how I said deer don’t like strong scents? This is because they rely on their sense of smell heavily to warn them of danger and if there’s something strong-smelling in the vicinity, it makes them vulnerable.
I’ve had great success in this regard with Irish Spring soap. I personally can’t stand the smell of the stuff, I think it’s vile, and apparently the deer agree. The easiest thing to do is to get (or make, you can check out a how-to here) a couple of mesh bags and hang a bar of soap about every 4 feet along your garden.
I know, soap isn’t good for the soil or for plants, but I haven’t had any trouble with the small amount that leaches off with each rainstorm.
There are also multiple herbs and other plants out there that smell very strong and are said to repel deer, including garlic, chives, cosmos, bee balm (which as a bonus will attract pollinators!), rosemary and Russian sage. Oleander is said to repel deer because it’s poisonous to them, but it’s also poisonous to humans, so not a great choice if you have kids.
Now, on to rabbits and groundhogs, the bane of my gardening existence! They can be really obnoxious and really destructive, and as I mentioned, they can dig, so a fence won’t work so well against them if they’re hungry (and they’re always hungry!).
However, there are two things you can do, if you’re installing a fence. First, when you install, bury the bottom of the fence about 18 inches to 2 feet into the ground. This will foil most of the little buggers.
The other thing you can do, which is much easier and which I did, is lay chicken wire flat on the ground inside the fence under your garden soil. You’ll want to make sure it’s at least 2 feet wide (wider is better). This works because they burrow under and come up underneath the wire. As they aren’t particularly smart, they won’t say “Oh, there’s chicken wire here, I’ll just keep going until I get to the end of it”. Nope, they give up, go back the way they came and bother your neighbor’s garden instead. YAY!!!!
The funniest, but most effective, solution I’ve come up with for my groundhog problem was totally by accident. This past summer, I had a family of 5, yes 5, groundhogs living in my yard. I thought my garden was doomed.
However, I also feed the wild birds in the backyard (my garden’s in front) with black oil sunflower seeds. Apparently, groundhogs love black oil sunflower seed even more than they love garden-fresh vegetables.
They never touched my garden all summer, never tried to burrow under the fence, nada. They spent all their time getting (REALLY!) fat on sunflower seeds. I’m not convinced that the fox family living behind our shed didn’t finally get their fat little behinds because they all disappeared rather abruptly towards the end of the summer, but we’ll see….
In Part 2 of Starting a Garden Cheaply and Easily, Dawn will show us how to get started with soil, seeds, containers, and more. Stay tuned!!
Be well and God Bless – until we meet again…