PhotoWhen winter finally ends and the spring thaw begins, a growing number of consumers will take hoe and rake in hand and head for the back yard. In communities large and small, more people have begun to grow at least some of their own food.

Gardening has always been a pleasurable, relaxing pasttime for some. In recent years doomsday preppers – people anticipating the collapse of civilization – have taken up the practice. For economic reasons, others have embraced small-scale gardening as a way to save money and eat fresher, healthier food.

First Garden

One of the most famous backyard gardens is at the White House, where First Lady Michelle Obama broke ground not long after moving in. Heidi Godman, Executive Editor of the Harvard Health Letter, says Obama inspired her to give gardening a try, even though she admits to being all thumbs, none of them green.

Godman says students at Harvard have also created a campus garden as a large collaborative project, donating the crop to Boston-area food pantries.

Theresa Martz, author of the book “Organic Gardening: Cutting Through the Hype to the 3 Keys to Successful Gardening” and the popular organic gardening blog, TendingMyGarden.com, has been gardening organically in Virginia for more than 35 years. She says growing food in your back yard isn't overly complicated.

Keeping it simple

“There are three things you need to do, and there are only three,” Martz told ConsumerAffairs. “Number one is you have to prepare your soil deeply. Number two is you have to add organic materials. Number three is cover your ground. That's it, you'll be successful if you do those things.”

Martz recommends loosening soil in your garden plot to a depth of 18 to 24 inches. That will be difficult or easy, depending on soil conditions where you live. Remove the topsoil and set it aside. Work in organic materials, such as leaves, straw or small, ground-up twigs. Next, recover the garden area with the removed top soil and cover with more organic material.

“If you do that correctly you never, ever have to do it again,” she promised.

Site selection

Site selection is also important. Choose an area away from trees, both to avoid the shade and the trees' roots. The best location will offer morning sun exposure. The garden plot doesn't have to be that large, especially if you follow Martz's advice about soil preparation.

“After you improve your soil like that you can grow a lot more things in the same space than conventional gardeners can grow and you can grow it closer together,” she said.

And it may surprise some would-be gardeners that Martz says that once planted, watering the garden isn't really necessary.

Save the water

“It (not watering) is not promoted now because irrigation systems are big business,” she said. “That's why you hear that everybody has to water. But I never have and I do fine in drought. No one likes a drought but when things are done like nature does things, you can make it through the drought and still have something.”

Martz grows all her food from seeds and lately has become disturbed by a consolidation in the seed business, especially what she views as the growing presence of chemical companies. Martz produces her own seeds but suggests that consumers who purchase seeds try to buy them from a small, “mom and pop” company – and not just stick with the most popular breeds.

“Every year there are thousands of wonderful seeds that have been developed over thousands of years, that are for certain areas, to grow in every condition you can think of,” Martz said. “Many are being dropped and if someone doesn't grow them, you can't have viable seeds.”

For consumers who not only want to eat healthier but also save money, Martz's brand of backyard gardening seems to have a lot to offer; it costs nothing to prepare the ground, you don't need a lot of space, you don't run up your water bill, and once you start producing seeds, your crop costs nothing.

“People think organic gardening is hard, but it's a lot easier than people make it out to be,” she said.


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