Growing Food on a Budget
As gardeners, we grow our own food at home for multiple reasons. For example, it gives us a certain piece of mind knowing exactly what inputs are involved in the
cultivation of our food crops (the food is often fresher and likely more delicious than the grocery store equivalent). But this is often not the main reason that one decides to venture into the realm of at home cultivation. A large factor of encouragement to the modern gardener is the increasingly high price of fresh foods and the strain it can have on the normal family budget. When executed properly, the act of gardening can be a way for us to take our nutrition into our own hands in a budget friendly way. One of the things we can do to save even more money is to start our own garden plants from seed before the season begins.
Starting plants at home and from seed is a relatively easy thing to accomplish, as long as you have the right supplies. The trick, however, is doing so in a budget friendly way.
Let’s begin with the seed starting containers. The first thing a grower will need is a starting or propagation tray with a plastic dome lid. The standard tray is basically two feet long by 1 foot wide and has the ability to house over a hundred seedlings. Seeds can be started by filling the tray with growing medium and, then, planting the seeds. However, this may require transplanting some of the seedlings into individual containers or even plastic cups. Punch holes in the bottom of the containers to allow for water drainage, so the seedlings can grow big enough to eventually be planted in an outdoor garden. Another route is to use individual plastic seed starting cells, which fit comfortably into the propagation tray. These allow the grower the capability to have one plant in each cell and to grow it until the desired size is achieved. The tray, individual planting cells, and the humidity dome can all be purchased for generally around ten dollars.
Adequate lighting is a must for raising healthy seedlings indoors. A two-foot, four bulb t5 fluorescent light fixture is easy to mount, low in energy usage, and provides excellent light coverage for a standard propagation tray. It will also help supply much needed heat for germination of seeds. Proper lighting is important for seedlings as they begin the process of photosynthesis and the development of both vegetative and root growth. Raising seedlings in a sunny window will result in plants that are “leggy.” This results from the seedlings stretching to receive light. These seedlings will also have little root growth. The light fixture and bulbs will be the most cost intensive part of this project, but it is an invaluable asset when starting seeds indoors. Depending on the brand, a descent light will cost around 100-150 dollars. Remember to look in the clearance section at your favorite indoor grow shop first for the best deals.
The last two items you will need are a seed starting medium and some seeds. There are many mediums to choose from for germinating seeds, but the most cost effective and reliable is likely an organic soil-less growing mix. There are many mixes intended for seed starting on the market today and, the process varies, but generally a 2 cubic foot bag will cost fewer than twenty dollars. Most growers receive several seed catalogs every year and most of us have a favorite. When ordering seeds, it is a good idea to purchase them all from the same company (with the hopes of receiving free shipping on the order). Seeds are also widely available at garden centers or grow shops and can be purchased in bulk or in smaller packages. Depending on the variety, seeds are usually very reasonably priced and will often last more than one season.