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Organic and synthetic fertlizers offer different benefits for your garden. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press/Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)
Organic and synthetic fertlizers offer different benefits for your garden. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press/Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

Home Cents

Harvest some savings with a summer garden Add to ...

Every spring, as my 300 or so bulbs begin to poke out of the soil, my thoughts turn to the summer of gardening that lies ahead.

My husband, who likes to think of himself as a suburban farmer, is not as appreciative of my flowers. It's been a point of friction in years past, as he's insisted on planting completely inappropriate things in the two-foot-wide flower bed that runs along the back of our house. He just didn't understand why I objected to having an unruly pumpkin vine smothering my blooms and stretching out across the lawn. He actually trimmed the grass by hand to avoid disturbing the vine with the lawnmower. (True story.)

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Yes, gardening is serious business at our house. Last year, I finally put my foot down and told him he needed to make his own vegetable patch as the flower bed would be off limits. He spent days - and hundreds of dollars - creating a fancy raised bed with pop-up sprinklers and filling it with strawberries, lettuce, corn and even giant watermelon vines (he never learns).

After seeing how much fresh, organic produce he got last summer - and how food prices keep rising - I've finally decided to stop scoffing and start ripping out my daylilies to make room for tomatoes, peppers and beans. Unlike my husband, however, I'm determined to keep my gardening costs under control.

According to Vegetable Gardening for Dummies, a garden that is 20 feet by 30 feet requires an initial investment of $70 for things like seeds and soil, and produces more than $600 worth of vegetables over the course of a season. It can be expensive to get started, but you can save a lot on groceries over the long run. And organic strawberries plucked fresh from your garden are simply priceless.

A good way to save money while adding variety to your garden is to share. When we first moved into our house, I cut costs by taking small hostas, ferns and other perennials from my mother-in-law's garden as she divided her mature plants. And when our strawberry patch overflowed last summer, we gave a bunch to a neighbour in exchange for some of her tomatoes and cucumbers.

Planting from seed is an economical way to grow vegetables, and the kids and I have already got some seedlings started on the window sill. My children are willing and able to water and harvest our crops, so I'm hoping to turn our garden into a summer business venture for them. I've already scoped out a couple of customers from among my friends and family.

I'm hoping to add a rain barrel and composter this year, which will cut what I spend watering and enriching the soil.

And while I try to save wherever I can, I've found it often pays off to buy higher-quality gardening equipment. Marjorie Harris recently wrote about how to divvy up your gardening budget and suggested a few quality tools - a spade, trowel and pair of good pruners - are all you really need.

Of course, having no yard is no longer an excuse for not gardening. There are lots of options available for growing indoors, on your rooftop and even at the office. (Just don't tell that to my husband.)



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