It’s a grow­ing pas­time

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Kate Forgach

YOU should ex­cuse the pun — gar­den­ing is rapidly grow­ing into the No. 1 North Amer­i­can hobby. Maybe we’re try­ing to save money by grow­ing our own veg­gies or maybe gar­den­ers are re­turn­ing to the soil as a means of work­ing off stress. What­ever the rea­son, gar­den­ing is one of the most fruit­ful re­turns on in­vest­ment one can make.

Un­for­tu­nately, novice gar­den­ers can end up spend­ing more on seeds, tools and the other doo­dads re­quired for a startup patch. The good news is, there are a few tricks that can save you money while still turn­ing out a good crop. Here are 10 tips to get you go­ing.

1. Plan early: Plot out your gar­den be­fore turn­ing the first spade of earth. Sev­eral web­sites make it easy to plan your gar­den, ei­ther at no cost or free for the first 30 days. I’m par­tic­u­larly par­tial to GrowVeg.com, which helps you plot out the amount of space you’ll need for each plant and where each should go in re­la­tion to other plants. The Farm­ers’ Almanac is still one of your best guides to when you should start plant­ing and what kind of weather you can an­tic­i­pate for the grow­ing year.

2. Un­der­stand your land: Be­fore you shell out a ton of cash for new plants, ask your neigh­bours what plants thrive in the soil of your re­gion. Keep in mind plants ap­pro­pri­ate for your grow­ing zone might not work in your gar­den due to vari­a­tions in soil com­po­si­tion, mi­cro­cli­mate, pests, sun­light ex­po­sure and wa­ter avail­abil­ity. Visit your lo­cal nurs­ery or call your mu­nic­i­pal­ity to learn how to get an anal­y­sis of your soil and rec­om­men­da­tions for suit­able plants.

3. Dig deep: Dig­ging a deep gar­den bed can in­crease the num­ber of plants you grow and en­sure roots have plenty of room to thrive.

4. Mulch: Mulching your gar­den — or cov­er­ing the sur­face layer with plas­tic, wood chips, etc. will keep the soil and plant roots cool, re­tain mois­ture to re­duce wa­ter­ing and pre­vent weeds. An or­ganic mulch such as shred­ded leaves or com­post will feed the soil and im­prove its tilth.

5. Plant from seeds: Starts are 10 times more ex­pen­sive than seeds and of­ten are sold long af­ter the plant should have been un­pot­ted. (Never buy starts with roots grow­ing through the bot­tom of the pot.) Start­ing seeds in­doors is cheaper and will give you a jump on the sea­son. Save even more money by cre­at­ing your own seed-start­ing pots.

6. Save and swap seeds: Seed pack­ets of­ten con­tain far more seeds than you ac­tu­ally need, so con­sider start­ing or join­ing a seed ex­change in your area. You can also har­vest and store seeds for use the fol­low­ing year.

7. Profitable plants: If you have limited space, con­sider plant­ing pro­duce that costs the most in a store or at a farm­ers’ mar­ket. Mon­e­tar­ily, you get the best bang for your buck by grow­ing ci­lantro, salad greens, chives, toma­toes and squash.

8. Be sun savvy: You’d be sur­prised how of­ten ex­pe­ri­enced gar­den­ers put a shade-lov­ing plant in full sun or a sun- lov­ing plant in the shade. Day­light is a mov­ing tar­get, so it can be dif­fi­cult to as­cer­tain the best lo­ca­tion for each plant. Be­fore plot­ting out your gar­den, spend some time study­ing the move­ment of the sun over that patch of land, pay­ing par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to those ar­eas that are heav­ily shad­owed.

9. Smart wa­ter­ing: Con­sider in­stalling an Evap­o­tran­spi­ra­tion ( ET) Con­troller, if you have an in-ground sprin­kler sys­tem. These sys­tems use real-time weather data sent by satel­lite to con­trol when your sprin­klers turn on and off. This can cut your wa­ter us­age by up to 30 per cent. Con­trollers costs be­tween $300 and $400, depend­ing on sys­tem size, but some mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter agen­cies of­fer re­bates, par­tic­u­larly in arid re­gions.

10. In­stall drip ir­ri­ga­tion: If you don’t have an in-ground sprin­kler sys­tem, con­sider in­stalling a drip-ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem. You’ll save on wa­ter bills be­cause the wa­ter won’t evap­o­rate as quickly and plant roots will re­ceive a more thor­ough soak­ing.

— Canwest News Ser­vice

Plant from seeds: starter plants are 10 times more ex­pen­sive and are of­ten sold long af­ter the plant should have been re­pot­ted.

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