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Groceries from the Backyard: A Harvest of Savings

Groceries from the Backyard: A Harvest of Savings

(ARA) – The economy is tanking, grocery bills are climbing and food safety scares are on the rise. For the 43 million Americans planning a vegetable garden this spring, growing your own is a matter of dollars and sense.

Food gardening will jump 19 percent this year over last year, according to a new survey by the National Gardening Association (NGA). Homeowners with shrinking household budgets are looking for help in their own backyards. Can planting a veggie patch really save you money? Government agencies and gardening organizations say yes.

Every $100 spent on vegetable gardening yields $1,000 to $1,700 worth of produce, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. That’s a serious hedge against skyrocketing food prices, expected to jump another 5 percent this year.

You’ll get a half-pound of edibles from every square foot of ground devoted to backyard crops, NGA experts say. Even a modest garden (15 by 15 feet) can produce more than 100 pounds of garden-fresh tomatoes, salad greens, vegetables and herbs. Better flavor and bragging rights come with the harvest.

Planting a vegetable plot and keeping it productive isn’t that hard if you start small, keep the basics in mind and plant reliable varieties. Take it step by step:

Lead with Location — A sunny, well-drained spot close to a water spigot is ideal. Leafy greens tolerate some shade, but other crops want eight hours of sun daily.

Suitable Soil — Adding organic material is the key to an easy-care garden. It loosens stiff soil, helps retain moisture and nourishes important soil organisms. Good “ingredients” include manure, humus and chopped-up leaves. Spread a 4-inch layer of amendments on your plot and till into the top 9 to 12 inches.

Fertilize Faithfully — All edible plants remove some nutrients from the soil, and can quickly exhaust the soil without the help of a fertilizer. Always follow the rates given on the label when deciding how much to use.

Water Wisely — One inch of water weekly is adequate for most vegetables. Soaker hoses or drip systems deliver water efficiently and keep foliage dry, fending off leaf diseases.

Patrol for Pests — Monitor insect damage but try to keep your crops pesticide-free. Hand-pick pests or dislodge them with a jet of water, then let natural predators do the rest. If you must spray, do it late in the day when beneficial insects are less active.

Pick the Right Plants — Flower gardeners gravitate to the newest, showiest varieties, but smart food gardeners appreciate the tried-and-true. Bonnie Plants, available coast to coast, are time-tested varieties selected to suit regional conditions. For best results you’ll need to choose veggie and herb varieties suitable to your geographical location. Because Bonnie’s varieties are distributed regionally, you will automatically have suitable varieties available to you at retail locations in your area.

Look for Bonnie Plants in eco-friendly biodegradable pots that not only keep tons of plastic pots from ending up in landfills, but also reduce transplant shock. Just tear off the bottom, set the pot in the ground and water.

If you’re ready to try your hand at creating your own backyard grocery garden, here are 10 easy crops to plant:

Basil — Perfect with tomatoes. Choose sweet basil or the compact ”Spicy Globe.”

Beans — Bush beans like “Bush Blue Lake’”are easier to pick, but tall “pole” beans have higher yields.

Bell peppers — Harvest green or red, when vitamin levels are higher. Try “Bonnie Bell” or the new, hot bell pepper “Mexibell.”

Chard — This leafy green tolerates cool temperatures well. Varieties like “Bright Lights” have brilliantly colored stems.

Cucumber — Plant after the weather warms. Choose the mild Japanese cucumber or the old favorite “Burpless Bush Hybrid.”

Eggplant — A much-loved favorite, eggplant thrives in hot weather.  Try “Black Beauty” or the white-skinned  “Cloud Nine.”

Lettuce — Go for easy “leaf” lettuces like “Buttercrunch,” “Red Sails,” or Romaine.

Parsley — Pick curly types or flat Italian parsley. This herb is rich in vitamins and a breath-sweetener, too.

Summer squash — Squash are very productive plants and easy to grow. Try zucchini “Black Beauty” or yellow crook-necked squash.

Tomatoes — These crimson favorites are the most popular backyard vegetable. Choose disease-resistant “Better Boy,” “Bonnie Original” or the extra-easy cherry tomato “Sweet 100.”

For gardening tips and more herb and vegetable varieties, visit

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Jump-start the Spring Growing Season

(ARA) – If you invest a bit of time now, you can ensure a bountiful harvest and a beautiful landscape to make this your best gardening season yet. Preparing a strong spring foundation means new plantings are better able to survive the heat, drought and pest attacks of summer.

“Start your garden off right by adding several inches of organic matter to the top 6- to 12- inches of soil,” recommends horticulture expert and author Melinda Myers. “Peat moss, compost, aged manure and other organic materials improve drainage in heavy clay soil and increase the water holding capacity of sandy soils.”

Incorporate a slow-release, low-nitrogen fertilizer like Milorganite before planting flowers and vegetables. “I like Milorganite’s low nitrogen formulation” says Myers. “This makes it goof proof so you will not harm young tender plants no matter what your gardening skill. Its slow-release nitrogen encourages overall growth without preventing flowering and fruit production that can occur when too much nitrogen is applied.”

Reduce weed problems and increase the health and vigor of your lawn by properly mowing, watering and fertilizing. “Mow high to encourage deep roots that are more pest- and drought-resistant,” Myers suggests. “Taller grass is better able to fend off weeds.” Mow often and leave the short clippings on the lawn to add nutrients, organic matter and moisture to the soil. Use a sharp blade for quicker recovery and a better-looking lawn.

Water thoroughly but less frequently to encourage deep roots. Water your lawn early in the morning to minimize water loss. If you allow your lawn to go dormant during drought, leave it dormant until temperatures cool, rains return and nature brings it back to life.

Use a low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer for your spring feeding. An organic nitrogen type fertilizer will not promote lush growth that is more susceptible to disease and requires more mowing. Plus if you stop watering or your community institutes a watering ban, it won’t damage the lawn. In fact, the fertilizer will stay in the soil until the weather improves and your lawn starts to grow.

Improve the health of trees and shrubs with proper watering and mulch. Water new plantings whenever the top few inches of soil are dry. Don’t forget about established plants. These need a helping hand during extended periods of drought. Always water thoroughly to encourage deep drought-resistant roots.

Maintain a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around trees and shrubs. Woodchips, shredded bark and other organic materials help conserve moisture, suppress weeds and improve the soil as they decompose. Keep mulch away from the trunk of trees and crowns of other plants to reduce the risk of disease.

Myers suggests you create or expand existing mulch rings without the use of chemicals.  She says it’s simple, “Just edge the mulch bed, cut the existing grass short, spread a layer of newspaper or cardboard over the area and cover with woodchips or shredded bark.  The paper provides an extra weed barrier and eventually breaks down adding organic matter to the soil.”

Use an all-purpose fertilizer to give existing trees, shrubs and perennials a nutrient boost.  A low-nitrogen, slow-release formula encourages moderate growth that needs less pruning and is less susceptible to certain pests.

And don’t forget to take a moment to enjoy the beauty of spring while preparing your landscape for the season ahead.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Spring Planting

Spring is such an exciting time.  Usually around this time, in early march  I start planting my lettuce, peas and radishes in my garden.  I was so eager for spring this time that I planted two weeks ago.  Now it is raining so hard that I am sure that the seeds will either rot or get washed away.  You are probably wondering why I would let you know of my mistakes as a gardener.  I guess it is because you might learn from my mistakes.  I know I never do.  I still hope for an early spring and plant early each and every year.  On of my favorite products is walls of water.  They are cylinders that have channels that you pour water into and they stand upright and shape to fit around you r plant.  I set mine up a few weeks before I plan on planting  anything so that they will warm up the soil.  our planting time is usually around the first of May for tomatoes.  I can put in my tomato plants at least three weeks early.  I can start watermelon or squash which are favorites in our family.  I usually buy them at the local garden center, like Lowes or Home depot, but since we don’t have those stores up here I  get them at Gurneys or gardens alive.

I often shop online because I live in a tiny community that does not always have all the plants that I would like to try.  Most of the online catalogs give a great guarantee.  If the plant doesn’t grow that you have ordered they will replace it for free.  I have taken them up on that and they have been very obliging about sending replacements.  One of my favorite flowers is flax and I have not had much luck with them and so they sent me more.  Hopefully this year will be the year that they will grow as long as all this rain doesn’t kill them.  It’s funny how too much rain is bad for the garden and not enough is bad too.

I looked out the window and I see that the rain is getting a little slushy.    My three boys are hoping for it to start snowing rather than all this rain, because then school will get canceled and they can go play in the snow.  I guess if that happens, I will go online and shop for plants for my garden.

I have decided to go shopping.  That means shopping from all my great catalogs.  I got a catalog from springhill nursery that gave 50 percent off any order no matter how big or small.  Of course I thought  I would start out small, but I am spending around 50 dollars and getting about 15 plants so the deal is pretty good if they all grow.  As you know from my previous blog, I try to save money on gardening and everything else, so I try to never pay full price. Springhill also claims a  100% guarantee, so we shall see.  I have decided to go with a red garden.  I enjoy the reds I have in my garden already and want to expand on them.  some of my favorites are : bee balm, carnations and penstemon.

Save Money, Garden More

Gardening is something I love to do.  However, gardening can get expensive, and yet with the hard economic times; it’s not something I want to do without.  Therefore, I have come up with a few ways that I save money so that I can spend more on gardening.


These ideas or not ranked in money saved but are random ideas that I do or wish I did to save money.


Your phone bill is a place to save money.  If you have a cell phone, then you don’t need long distance on your home phone, if you even need a home phone at all.  Make sure you have the right cell plan to meet your needs.  It doesn’t usually cost to down grade or up grade so make sure that you are aware of all the different plans and pay the least for your needs.  I use tracfone, because I use my cell only for emergencies.  I also use a calling card on my home phone which is 2.9 cents a minute for long distance.  The code and number are programmed into my phone for ease of use, and I save a minimum of $25 a month. Continue reading

It’s raining again!

I love the rain!! I especially know how beneficial it is for us here in California.  We are in another terrible drought, and so I know that every drop is important; but I was hoping to put out my walls of water and plant some tomatoes and peppers.  I love getting plants out early.   

  I always cover up a part of my garden with a tarp so that it won’t be as wet as the rest of the garden during the rainy time.  I then have a chance to go and work the soil and plant radishes, and peas and lettuce at the end of February. 

I grew up in the Colorado, where spring didn’t come until May.  We never could plant anything until May and then we had to have it covered because frost would come, sometimes even in June.  Now that I am in the Sierra Nevada foothills, I love to plant early and even bring tomatoes to my parents when I visit them in June.


We had our January thaw.  I  thought that spring might have come early here in the foothills of northern California.  The temperature was over 60 degrees.  My bulbs have started to poke their green tops out of the ground, and the rosebushes are getting leaves on them.  I always start getting so excited for spring to come and I get out my seed catalogs, and dream big dreams, of what to put where.  I  plan much bigger than my little garden will allow me to grow,  especially because I have so many trees and not enough sun to plant everything I want.

I did put in three fruit trees four years ago, and this year I am hoping a late frost won’t kill everything off like it did last year.   All of a sudden it has turned back into Winter.  It rained for five days straight, and there is ice on the roads and in my koi pond.  Oh well, I can still dream and plan, I just don’t feel like going out there in the cold weather.

Passing the Buck . . . and the Doe and the Fawn

(ARA) – Sipping coffee on your back deck on a beautiful fall morning, you look up and gasp — there in your suburban oasis stands a small herd of deer. For a moment you pause, enchanted. An instant later, as the deer begin to munch on your landscape, you realize they’re just not as awestruck by the encounter as you are.

You don’t have to be a wildlife expert to know that after generations of dwelling in close proximity to humans, modern deer aren’t afraid of us anymore. What’s more, they no longer fear many of the traditional repellents some homeowners still use to protect shrubs, trees and landscaping.  So when cool weather comes along and the natural landscape dies, deer have to start foraging for food sources. And they aren’t afraid to walk right into your yard and help themselves to your well-watered, well-established evergreens.

Even just a few deer can cause significant damage to your landscaping. “A single whitetail deer can consume, on average, 8 to 12 pounds of foliage a day,” says James Messina of Messina Wildlife Management. “In many areas of the country, deer overpopulation is a serious problem. With nowhere to go and not much left to eat in the dead of winter, deer can wreak havoc on shrubs, trees and gardens, and destroy new buds and leaves before they have a chance to grow, ruining your prospects for any spring growth.”

Continue reading

Garden Superstars for Spring 2009

New Plants and Accessories Star in Outdoor Scenes this Spring

(ARA) – From picture-perfect roses to containers that are works of art, spring 2009 promises wonderful color and exciting new products for garden lovers everywhere.

“People want shrubs and plants that look great, are easy to grow, are good for the environment and perform well in their gardens,” says Susan McCoy, garden writer and trend spotter. “That’s just what the new products this spring promise to deliver.”

McCoy reveals a few of her favorite garden superstars for spring 2009 to help scratch that itch to get out in the garden after a long winter.

Let the Sun Shine
McCoy loves “Sunny Knock Out,” the newest addition to the Knock Out Rose ( family. It lives up to the Knock Out reputation for blooming continuously with little to no effort, and is naturally resistant to rust, mildew, blackspot, Japanese beetles and rose midge, making it easy to avoid harsh chemicals. It is bright yellow, the latest trendy color, and has a mild, sweet fragrance. From Canada to the Gulf states, you can expect the same profusion of sunny blooms on this compact shrub that grows up to 4.5 feet tall, making it perfect to mix in flower beds, for mass plantings or as a specimen plant Continue reading

Top Ten 2009 Gardening Trends

(ARA) – Americans craving authenticity and fretting over a bleak economy have reinvigorated the trend to grow-it-yourself (GIY). From blueberries to houseplants, GIY is the new mantra as folks turn “back to the future” to simplify their lives while gardening for the greener good.

“It’s a resurgence of gardening for the greater good — for the earth and our wallets,” says Susan McCoy, trend spotter and president of the Garden Media Group (GMG). “The most exciting movement seems to be that gardening is popular again, particularly among younger homeowners,” she adds.

GMG’s gardening trends for 2009 reveal a resurgence in perennials, growing native plants, creating “blended” gardens using vegetables and herbs in flower beds, cultivating with best practices, planting to attract wildlife and going local. Continue reading

Lawn Care Tips

By: Michael McGroarty

A beautiful lawn does not come without some effort. Depending upon what type of soil you have, the amount of effort will vary. For instance when raising trees and shrubs, sandy or a gravel base soil is great. Landscape plants like well drained soiled. A lawn on the other hand is different. Lawn grasses grow constantly throughout the growing season, and need an ample supply of both nutrients and water.

The most basic of lawn care tips includes regular watering and fertilization is required to keep a lawn beautiful. If you’re lucky enough to have a lawn that was originally planted in good rich topsoil, you won’t have to work near as hard as somebody like me, who has a lawn that is planted in sandy gravel. The soil at our house has little nutritional value, nor does it have the ability to retain any amount of moisture. By mid May my lawn starts drying out. It is very difficult for us to keep our lawn looking nice. Continue reading