Growing our own vegetables is the most local food we can eat. What’s closer to home than meandering out the backdoor to the garden to pick fresh greens, beans, corn, tomatoes and a multitude of other fresh foods?

And best of all, they are so much tastier and fresher than anything else we can buy, including the local farmer’s market, although that, too, is a wonderful alternative to buying vegetables at the supermarket.

Growing your own takes a lot of hard work, but that work is something many gardeners enjoy almost as much as the vegetables themselves.

I love “playing in the dirt.” When we do, we are all the more closer to our food and I believe, to our own souls.

Producing your own food can also cost a bit more than we may expect. But there are ways to reduce or in some cases, eliminate, the extra expense of having your own fresh-grown foods.

Here are a few well-tried ways that I have used to cut the costs of having a garden that provides most of our vegetables for not only the season, but also for throughout the winter after canning, storing, or freezing them.

*Become friends with your neighbors or relatives who also grow gardens. Sometimes both you and they want to just try a new vegetable without planting an entire packet of seeds or flat of seedlings. Bartering also helps reduce costs. Perhaps you have something that your neighbor didn’t grow or preserve and would be willing to trade for what you need.

*Although this is not the time to find seed deals, when the end of the season comes, often good quality seeds can be purchased for far less than they cost in the spring. Stock up. Nearly all seeds will last for a year or two, or even longer. And I have found the really cheap seeds also do well most of the time.

*Keep an inventory of what you have bought so the seeds can be used when the time comes and you won’t be buying duplicates.

*Buy seeds in bulk, such as can be found in farmers union stores. They are generally less expensive than packets and you can buy exactly the amount of seed that you will plant.

*If you know of a neighbor or friend who raises nearly any kind of poultry or livestock, perhaps they will let you come and gather some poop. That’s the best fertilizer for virtually every plant. And again, maybe you can trade some of your produce for the manure.

*Another way to fertilize the garden is with compost. This can cost virtually nothing. It requires only that you are vigilant about saving all your vegetable scraps — wilted lettuce leaves, apple and squash peelings, and so many more, and tossing them in a bin set up precisely for a compost heap. Autumn leaves and grass are also wonderful additions to compost heaps. Compost can be used not only for fertilizing, but also for mulching.

*When starting seedlings, peat pots are nice because they can be planted directly into the earth and the pots will break down. However, to save costs, use small plastic containers such as those that contain margarine, sour cream, or other similar foods. Poke a hole in the bottom to allow drainage, fill with soil and plant two or three seeds per pot. Make sure the small pots are placed in a large flat container without holes in it, then keep well watered from the bottom. When the seedlings have germinated, remove the weaker seedlings and keep the strongest one.

*If planting just a few pots of vegetable seeds, set pots in the window, turn three or four times a day to face the sun, and use plastic containers or coffee can lids to catch the water.

*Garden supply companies have many seed starting devices. They may look nice and work well, but they can cost a lot. Instead, build your own or ask a significant other or friend to build it for you. It takes only a few pieces of narrow wood, and a couple of long, florescent lights hanging from the top wooden pieces. Keep seedlings watered and be sure to give the seedlings 12 to 14 hours of light a day.

*Try to find a 55-gallon plastic barrel (sometimes they can be found in yardsales) that was NOT used to hold anything toxic, and place it near the garden to catch rainwater.

*Use sticks from brush to mark garden rows rather than buying the perfect wooden slats. Much cheaper and works just as well.

*Keep the garden tools cleaned. A good quality hoe or rake will last for many years if properly cared for.

*Tell all your friends and relatives that you want to get into gardening. They may have hints or may add gardening store gift cards as part of Christmas or birthday presents.

*Look around the house. What are you no longer using that would make a good container for starting seedlings. An old muffin tin that has seen much better days became the perfect container for growing some of my seedlings this year.

*Plant some vegetables in large, old pots that no longer are pretty enough to show off flowers. I always plant a few just off the porch with tomatoes. But cucumbers and other vegetables can also be planted in them.

And above all, have a good time planting, gathering and eating all that very local food growing in your own backyard garden.

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