This is not a how-to. I hadn’t yet begun the Starving Artist Guide before I started my raised bed garden project. I didn’t record my progress except in photos. I created this post for my own amusement, but the money you can save by planting and harvesting your own fruits, vegetables and herbs is worth noting. That said, it’s hard to put a price on the taste of a home grown tomato. Hopefully next year I will document everything from beginning to end. Until then, the following is a summation of my first ever attempt at urban gardening. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you attempt to grow your own food. Having your own fresh produce to consume every week goes a long way in making sure we are not starving artists.
The Garden Plot
In February of 2016, I signed up for a community garden plot set up by the Peterson Garden Project on the north side of Chicago. These pop up victory gardens, as they are called, let urbanites take a crack at becoming farmers, albeit on a very small scale. Growing my own fruits and veggies is something I’ve always wanted to do. Being a city dweller for the past quarter century, with no yard of my own, severely limited my options. Or so I thought. Actually, I probably didn’t think about it all that much. I was thinking about it this past February though. Thoughts of spring planting helped keep me going through the rest of the winter.
I wasn’t able to get a bed at the site closest to my apartment, but I was able to reserve a 4’x8′ plot about a 20 minute bike ride from my away. Gardening combined with exercise? That’s quite a bargain!
Grow Your Own Savings
While I may have been new to gardening, urban gardeners have been growing their own in cities across the country for decades. I wanted to join them for several reasons. For one, I was curious to see if I could do it. I wanted to see if I had the farmer instinct in me. I’m not talking about planting corn and alfalfa here, I’m talking about tomatoes, potatoes and herbs like cilantro and parsley, and enough lettuce to keep me in salads all summer. Fresh produce is a major part of my food budget, as it should be for all of us, and I was curious to see how much money I could save.
How much did it cost me to start my own raised bed garden? Let’s look at the numbers shall we?
- Garden plot, $85 (late April thru early November)
- Fearless Food Gardening in Chicagoland – A Month-by-month Growing Guide for Beginners, $16.95
- Soil & fertilizer, $22
- Pots, seeds, seedlings, string, hardware (for measuring off square ft), $27
- Three tomato cages (free, left from previous tenant)
So, that’s a total of roughly $150 for the year. Keep in mind, I bought too much soil and fertilizer (twice as much as I ended up using), so I’m set for next year too. After I had planted my first seeds, I now had five and a half months to grow my money back.
I measured off a grid and got to planting. The only seedlings I planted were tomato plants. Everything else was seeds.
Getting on the Grid
I spread the soil and fertilizer evenly on the raised bed. I spread it around the chive plants which I decided to let grow since their flowers were about to bloom. There was also a plant which a fellow gardener told me was a Brussels sprouts plant. It was not, but it would be many weeks before I discovered this. Instead of producing anything that resembled a Brussels sprout, it developed tiny, woody, bean-type pods. I eventually removed it as it was growing too big and casting a shadow over most of the garden.
I liked the look of the square foot gardening grid. There were already nails hammered into the wooden bed frame at one foot intervals. I removed them and inserted Stainless Steel Screw Eye Rings then attached the string.
It’s now four full months into my growing season. My garden has been a continuous source of fresh tomatoes, lettuce and Swiss chard. I produced three gigantic zucchini that made more meals than I can count. I used half of one to make curried zucchini soup (taken from one of my favorite, go-to cookbooks, The New Basics Cookbook ) which further stretched it out, but I was eating summer squash in stir fry recipes, omelets, on tacos and in burritos for weeks. I was able to grow radishes early in the season, but they do not do well in hot weather as I learned. I harvested more cilantro and basil than I could eat or give away.
Develop A Plot
There is a fantastic tool you can use over at the Gardener’s Supply Company’s website, that lets you create your grid, drag different plants to the sections of your garden and read up on planting and growing tips.
Remember: Plants like water! I know, big shocker, right? They also like sun and soil. Seems pretty obvious, but its surprising how many neighboring gardens were parched for most of the summer. Obviously, some people who signed up for garden plots didn’t have the drive to avoid becoming a truly starving artist. It is hard to overwater a raised bed garden due to their excellent drainage, so water your garden, please. Your plants will thank you by with delicious fecundity.
I learned a lot from my first attempt at raised bed gardening. Armed with this knowledge, I will be in a much better position next year. I hope to reserve the same plot. I still have some nice winter squash coming in this year that I hope to harvest soon, but next year I will probably not do so much winter or summer squash. They can really take over space quickly. I enjoyed having lettuce and tomatoes on demand and who knows what new commodities I will feel like experimenting with next spring. I will try to keep a better record of what I harvest and see how that affects my food budget for the weeks and months of growing season.