Food prices are prognosticated to rise sharply in 2011. Agricultural products such as beef, corn, cotton, soybeans, eggs, and wheat are all up. In fact, corn prices are up 41% in the last 3 months. And it isn’t just large commodity sector prices which are up. Most of the vegetable crops are following suit. Many of these rises are due to weather and climate anomalies around the world such as floods in Australia, drought in Russia, China, Argentina, Brazil and central Europe, and fires in Russia which damaged wheat crops. Even in the US, drought has plagued some crops in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Farmers in the US increased planted acreage of winter wheat in 2010/2011 and are expected to increase corn and wheat acreage in 2011. But, this doesn’t help keep your food prices down this summer. Here are some tips to help you eat better, get outdoors more, and have lots of fresh vegetables to feed your family this spring, summer and fall in 2011.
Glacier View Landscape and Design, Inc. can’t help you learn to raise and slaughter cattle, chickens, or swine, but can offer some tips in this article to help you reap a plentiful harvest from your existing landscape without adding to your food budget. The idea of a vegetable garden attracts many people into thinking they can save money by growing their own crops. Saving money is possible, but usually not in the first few years if you are planning on building raised beds, importing soil, and adding irrigation, and composting. Those methods will work over the long haul to create large swaths of planted gardens where you can grow all sorts of vegetables including vine crops (cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, etc) that need a lot of room. There is another way which can be attractive to the family who wants to plant in their existing landscape and offset their food costs.
If you have an existing landscape that has drip or microjet irrigation in the beds, you can tap into that irrigation system to water your vegetables. You can also adjust lawn irrigation heads to provide a little overspray to a bare planting bed area and use that as a spot for a few vegetables. It’s easy. You just have to plan and time the planting a little more carefully than if you have a large traditional vegetable garden. For example, let’s say you have an area that has perennials that are sprayed by microjet nozzles in a sunny location. Create a spot in that area for two tomato plants. Tomatoes are summer crops, but you can find one variety that matures very early and one that waits until the end of summer. The early variety will be a smaller plant and produce less fruit (yes tomato is a fruit), but you will begin to harvest in late July. The other plant won’t ripen until late August or September. And here is the big mistake people make (I know because, years ago, I did it several years in a row without learning my lesson)….If you are a family of 4, DO NOT plant more than 2 tomato plants unless you know how to can tomatoes safely. We all think we’ll give them away to friends and family, but the truth is, it doesn’t usually happen. I pick 5-6 ripened tomatoes every 2-3 days for a month and use them in my cooking and salads until I get word of the hard frost coming. I cover my plants at night to get a few more days or a week of ripening. Then I pick what is left and try to get them to ripen in the window. Then I make fried green tomatoes out of what is left. So, plan and plant accordingly for your needs. Besides, rotten tomatoes are a pain to clean up….and they can stink too.
Here is a list of tips to help you plant:
- Use an area that is near irrigated sod to take advantage of overspray by adjusting the spray.
- Put up a cheap, sturdy wire mesh trellis and train cucumbers to grow up instead of out.
- Sow no more than a 3’ x 3’ area of lettuce at a time in early spring.
- Find multiple locations to sow lettuce so you can stagger plantings by 2 weeks.
- Plant tomatoes, peppers, and yellow squash in the same bed as lettuce and spinach. The lettuce and spinach will be finished by the time the other plants get bigger.
- Plant lettuce and spinach again around August 10thfor a fall harvest.
- Do amend the soil with compost at least 12” down when planting.
- Plant as close to the kitchen as possible so it’s easy to get the food when you want it.
- Spray seedlings every morning before going to work so the soil stays moist. The irrigation system for the perennials is not flexible enough to water effectively without hurting the perennials.
- Keep the irrigation system timed for the lawn, perennials and shrubs, and add water by hand for the veggies as needed, especially when seedlings.
- If using potted plants, you must water daily or they will dry out due to the increased exposure of the pots.
- Run spaghetti drip lines from existing shrub irrigation to potted plants to help stave off exposure issues. You’ll still need to water by hand a little.
- Watch your plants. It’s fun and educational for children too.
- Fresh compost each season means little if no additional fertilizers are needed.
- Learn from your mistakes. Research the results if something fails and try a different tactic next season. It takes farmers a lifetime to get it right.
- Plant herbs sparingly….unless you plan on drying and saving them. I use mine fresh and always have too much.
There is nothing better in my mind than a cold, fresh, cucumber, tomato, and onion salad marinated in an Italian dressing (made with fresh herbs of course) on a hot summer’s eve. Use the spaces you have and with a little time and effort, you can stop shopping for vegetables this spring, summer and fall.