How to Become a Gardener {7 Days, 7 Tools: Build a Better Grocery Budget}

This post originally appeared as part of a 7-day series announcing the launch of my ebook, Your Grocery Budget Toolbox. Your Grocery Budget Toolbox is over 150 pages long, each page loaded with all the tools you need to build a better grocery budget.

In Chapter 8: Take it to the Next Level, I bring you all sorts of strategies about how to take your frugality to another level, one that goes beyond the bottom line of how much you fork over at the grocery store. Because that total at the bottom of your receipt only tells you part of the story. True frugality is a lifestyle, and involves active participation on your part.

We all know, of course, that fruits and vegetables should make up the largest part of our diet. But that can get confusing… and costly. These thoughts probably run through your head:

  • Should you buy organic? 
  • Or is it more important to buy local? 
  • Is organic worth the price?
  • Do you even have enough money in my budget to buy organic or local produce? 
  • You understand that you should eat more fruits and vegetables, but if you bought as much as “they” say you should, you’d end up spending your entire grocery budget! Especially if you only bought organic and/or local!

These problems (which, by the way, I specifically address in the book!) can all be solved by growing your own fruits and vegetables yourself. Oh, I know, I know. That brings up a whole other host of questions and concerns, like:

  • Uh…. I don’t know the first thing about gardening!
  • And um, yeah. I live in the city. No yard!
  • Apples? I can grow apples? 
  • I’ve tried gardening before. I stink at it. 

Once again, I address most of these concerns in the book. But the truth? I am not a gardener. Not even close! However, I keep trying. Remember the old adage that says, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” There’s a lot of truth to that pithy old saying, so I keep chugging along. Every year, I start a garden, and every year, I eventually fail. But I’ve had some success along the way (check out my flourishing garden last year before the whole concept of watering began to slip my mind), and I’ve learned a lot from my failures.

Arm Yourself with Resources

One big mistake I have made (repeatedly, actually) in my gardening career was just winging it. There are a lot of things in life wherein one can successfully “wing it” – trust me, I do it all the time – but for me, gardening is definitely not one of them. My thumb is as black as the night, and despite my mom’s best efforts, gardening does not come naturally to me! So I have started following gardening blogs, checking gardening books out of the library, and looking up gardening websites. Pinterest has proven a valuable resource as other people pin gardening tips that you won’t necessarily find in a book. I’ve collected quite a few of them on my Garden Help Pinboard. I include a ton of links to great gardening resources in the book, but right now I’ll give you my favorite: Urban Organic Gardener, a blog by Mike Lieberman that’s all about how to garden in small spaces. Even if you have a spacious yard, you’ll find helpful information and resources on  his blog, so I highly recommend following it! I made his self-watering plant containers, and I love them! Super awesome invention for a forgetful gardener like myself. Ahem.

Start Small

I have also often been guilty of attempting too much. You should see my massive collection of empty plant containers. On second thought, you shouldn’t, because it’s not very pretty: It’s like a plant graveyard. I’ve learned to curb my enthusiasm and go slowly. If you’ve never gardened before, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll harvest a farm’s worth of produce in  your first year. It’s best not to try, because you’ll only get discouraged.

Instead, start small. Choose your favorite vegetable (you could go with a fruit, but most of them are harder to grow than veggies), find out if it grows well in your area, read up on it, and then plant it. If you have a yard, go ahead and fill a whole plot with that one vegetable. If you only have a balcony, just start with one pot (and make sure your plant will grow successfully in a pot!). Once you’ve mastered that vegetable (What a sense of accomplishment!), then you can proceed to others.

Start Simple

I don’t recommend starting with seeds. It’s cheaper, for sure, and easier to ensure organic and non-GMO produce, but it’s a lot harder. If you’re just starting out in the gardening world, definitely – definitely! – go for the seedlings you can find at the farmers’ market or local nursery. Bonus: You can ask the farmers or nursery workers to help you find a plant that’s perfectly suited for you (your gardening level, space accommodations, level of sunlight, type of soil, etc.) instead of blindly picking up packages of seeds that may or may not grow well in your situation.

Also, I really recommend starting with easier plants. A tomato plant is a great place to start, or perhaps zucchini. Herbs are fairly easy to grow as well (although I’ve found that a little strategic pruning is very useful with certain herbs like basil).

Water, Water, Water

This is my biggest downfall every year, and this is how I always kill my plants: I forget to water them! This is especially important if your garden is all in containers – you must water your plants daily or they will not flourish. And if you forget for even a couple days, the hot summer weather will kill them for sure. If you’re going away for more than a few days, find friends who would be willing to water them for you. Plants require water to survive. It’s so basic, but it’s so easy to forget. (Of course, that could just be me.)

Don’t Sweat It

There’s absolutely no need to stress out about the success or failure of your garden. Unless it’s your livelihood (which I highly doubt it is if you are still reading this!), a dead plant or two is  not going to spell the end for you. Learn everything you can from your mistake (Not enough watering? Too much watering? Not enough sun? A pest or disease?) and try again. Whether you harvest 1 little cherry tomato or a bushel of zucchini, just keep going. The longer you garden, the more you’ll learn, and the more successful you will be.

And just to prove it to you, I’m going to show you my garden, which is doing quite well, considering it’s already the middle of June! Of course, we haven’t had super hot weather here yet, which always seems to do me in. But I’m quite pleased so far with the progress: I’ve even harvested a jalapeno pepper! (I put it in this Black Bean Chili with Avocado Mousse.)

Clockwise from the top left:

  • One of my two tomato plants, with 1 growing tomato on it, and 2 little baby tomatoes!
  • Spearmint, which is kind of gangly, but growing.
  • Cucumbers, flourishing but not quite at the fruitful stage yet.
  • Basil and Sage, both of which have been pruned since I took this picture last week. They’re looking fuller already!
  • Stevia – it’s supposed to get to 2 ft or more, and it’s well on its way!
  • Jalapeno peppers – already harvested one, and a couple little baby ones in the works.

I am struggling with my second tomato plant. It looks great:

… but it’s not producing any fruit, and when you look closely, you can see this:

If you can tell me what causes that and how to fix it, I’ll love you forever!!

See? Gardening, like anything in life, is a mixture of success and failure. Keep at it, and the success prove to be worth every failure!

So… get out there and grow a garden! 

What keeps you from gardening? And if you’re an expert, any advice to share with us beginners on Authentic Simplicity?