Tired of watching TV all of the time? Feeling unproductive? Hate the taste of store bought veggies? Make yourself a little more useful and start a raised bed this spring, and start growing your own food! I have 5 raised beds I’ll be cleaning out today and preparing the soil, as my indoor seeds are already a few inches high and with their true leaves (that means they’re super cool right now and partying under the grow lights).
To make this little endeavor easier on you, I’m going to tell you exactly what you need to do to get started and about how much it will cost. What’s great about raised beds is that you can place them just about anywhere and then fill ’em with dirt, but it’s easier if you already have a spot on your lawn. This won’t be painful or expensive, trust me. In fact, you’ll save money on veggies, they’ll taste better and be chock full of nutrients that are sorely lacking in their store bought cousins.
1. Sun. Your plants need sun. Some only need about 6 hours of light, but bigger feeders like tomatoes want 8 or more to grow properly. Find a location that gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.
2. Buy or build a raised bed. I bought cedar planks and nailed them together myself, but you can purchase a nice 4ft x 4ft bed here: Pre-Made Raised Bed. This is plenty of space for a starter bed. You have 16 sq feet to garden in, and if you follow the Square Foot Gardening Method you can fully maximize the space. So perf!! A Raised Bed will cost between $15-$30 depending on whether you build it yourself or buy it.
3. Dirt. Ya need some dirt ya’ll. You need to fill that raised bed with a lot of dirt, since that will be the primary growing medium for your plants. If you build over concrete or any kind of material plants can’t use (nothing toxic, please!), you may want to consider stacking another 4×4 raised bed on top to make the soil nice and deep. If you have native soil under the bed, you’re good. I had municipal compost delivered to my house for $40. Most cities have free compost available, or, you can seek out local community gardens that sometimes off free compost. For municipal compost, you can pick up as much as you want for free. I had mine delivered because I needed A LOT. Lastly, you can buy compost from Home Depot or local garden shops but it can get a little pricey doing it that way, even at $2.50/bag. You can mix a few bags of that in with the free compost just to amend the soil a bit. I don’t recommend just digging up your native soil from somewhere else in your yard and using that exclusively, as it may not be nutrient-dense enough for gardening. If you do, make sure you mix in some good compost with it. Compost will range from free (municipal/community garden) to $2.50-$5/bag (which could cost roughly $40-$60 to fill a 4×4 raised bed).
4. Water, water everywhere! If you’re lucky, rain will fall on your plants once a week and deliver a good inch of it and you’ll never have to do any of your own watering, you lazy bum. As we generally don’t get that lucky, you need to ensure you can deliver a good inch of water to your plants each week. The best way to do so is by using an irrigation hose. You’ll wind this through your plants, which will deliver water to all of your plants without much attention from you, the Master Gardener. Drip irrigation also prevents soil from splashing up on your plants, which is a good way to spread plant diseases. Irrigation Hose costs about $12-$15.
5. Plants. Ok, so after all this back-breaking work and pocket-busting expenses, we can finally stick some plants in the dirt and yell at them for not growing fast enough. I enjoy growing from seed because I can buy special heirloom types you won’t find in any store and, likely, any of your neighbors gardens. When you show off red and yellow green beans, yellow tomatoes, or purple carrots, you can bask in the glow of super-coolness and be the envy of everyone who has ever wanted to eat a purple carrot. The easiest option is to simply purchase starter plants from any local garden shop, community garden, or even Home Depot or Lowe’s if you’re desperate. All you have to do with these is dig a hole for ’em, stick ’em in the dirt, and water ’em. Make sure you follow the spacing/planting directions. Tomato plants look small at first, but by the time they bear fruit, they’ll be huge so you want at least a foot between plants. They also need stakes planted with them, so as they grow, you can tie them to the stake so they don’t collapse under the weight of those huge tomatoes. Starter plants can be anywhere from $2-$6 per plant. A pack of seeds costs as little as $1 for 50-100 seeds.
There you have it. Let’s say you purchased a raised bed, bought some compost to mix with free compost or native soil, an irrigation hose, and some starter plants and seeds to fill your bed. Total Cost: about $100. That’s a reasonable cost to getting a garden raised from the dead of your backyard. Not to mention, the initial cost will carry over to subsequent years where you’ll only spend money on additional compost (or none at all, if you start your own compost) and plants. You’ll also save a lot of money on vegetables you’d normally buy, and have the convenience of having a variety of herbs you probably would buy in the store, only use a bit, then throw the rest away.
One tomato plant can grow a good dozen or so 1 lb. tomatoes (of the Brandywine type). It’ll cost you at least $2-$3 per 1 lb tomato in the store, and won’t taste nearly as good. Most store-bought fruit and veggies are harvested before they’re ripe, so by the time they arrive at the store they only LOOK ripe. Tomatoes are the biggest offenders, as shippers pick the tomato green, preventing it from achieving it’s full flavor. Cucumbers and other fruit are glazed with a thin wax to preserve it long enough to not rot by the time it gets to the store. In 2 or 3 days, it’s mush. One cucumber plant will yield 12 cucumbers, and they’ll keep in your fridge for a month (or for years as pickles!).
When the scourge of insects and disease eventually rear their ugly heads (and they will), it’ll be tempting to go all Jesse Ventura on them and “Spray’n Pray” with chemicals. But, it’s worth trying the organic route because that’s part of the benefit of growing at home: knowing what you’re eating hasn’t been saturated in chemicals. Going organic takes more patience and time, as you’ll need to be perceptive of insect/disease damage and find out how to combat them without chemicals. If you do use chemicals, they have “safer” organic ones you can use, but are still not recommended in high dosages.