That means... drum roll please.. It's time to get ready for spring and with that, spring planting.
With gasoline prices expected to soar both in the U.S. and E.U. this spring and summer, now is the time to get a green thumb and start growing some of what you eat. Gas prices mean the cost of food will go up (delivery trucks, farm equipment and farm laborers driving to work all run on gas and diesel) and the best way to offset that expense is producing your own food.
I know some who grow big crops (wheat, corn) and small crops (garden vegetables) who produce most of what they eat. However, if you do not have a green thumb or have a history of killing grass, feel free to take small steps. But hurry up and learn to walk because your life and your families may depend upon what you pull out of the soil.
To start, growing food requires soil, seeds, water and sunlight. By soil, we mean healthy soil. Most of the soil we see everyday is good for growing grass or weeds. To properly grow tomatoes or peppers, soil needs to be amended with living material, most notably, compost. However, good compost takes time to develop, so get a jump start and purchase some high quality soil from the garden store and amend it with some compost purchased at the same place.
If money is an issue (when is it not?), search out a local source such as a friend who might have some good soil available for hauling. Local farms are good for obtaining manure and other natural soil foods and with some labor and gasoline, you can develop your own healthy soil for planting. In the meantime, start a compost heap - add old soil, some yard debris like grass clippings and leaves and plenty of kitchen waste i.e. vegetable and fruit peels, egg shells and coffee grounds. That way you will have your own healthy compost to feed your next garden.
If you have the space, build a raised bed for optimum production. If that is not an option due to health, space or time, get some large planting pots or if push comes to shove, some empty five gallon buckets with a few holes drilled in the base for drainage. I grow plants in almost anything which can hold soil and which can be drained naturally of excess water.
Seeds - Seeds cost one to two dollars a packet. Yes, this is for hybrid seeds and not heirloom. The difference? Hybrid seeds generally will not germinate after they are collected from the plant thus, they cannot be reused next year. Some hybrid seeds will regrow, but won't produce fruit, so they are worthless next year. This is a big deal, unless you have never successfully grown anything and my advice is get some hybrid seeds from your local mass merchandiser and try them.
After your soil is ready and the seeds have been planted, water the plants regularly and make sure they get plenty of sunlight. That's it. Sure, there's more to it that what I have written here, but this is ninety percent of growing food.
So what is easy to grow? Tomatoes, peppers, melons, almost all herbs and cucumbers. I have found grapes and berries, particularly raspberries, are easy to grow. What's neat is much of what you can grow is expensive in the stores. A pint of cherry tomatoes can be priced as much as $3.99 each; a cherry tomato plant can produce dozens of pints in a single season. This isn't hard, it's just basic math.
What is hard to grow? Corn and potatoes. Both require lots of room. I have grown both and the potatoes were cheaper in the store when compared to the total amount of work and space I devoted to my potato crop. But there's a warning with this: Food prices are rising and if you have the space, it might be wise to try your hand at both. And there is nothing better than an ear of sweet corn right off the stalk. Yummo.
In some parts of the country, there are still sub-freezing temperatures at night. No worries, just start your seed trays in March so you will be ready for warmer weather in April. You can also cover your tender young plants with plastic sheeting during the night to lock in warmer air.
OK, so I did not cover simple greenhouses or what to do with too much home grown produce, but you get the idea. It's time to plan and start that spring garden before gas prices hit five dollars and the grocery stores are selling wax fruit.