Save money with a garden

I’ve been reading a lot about how people are coping with the current economic downturn. I’m sure you have, too. One thing that always happens when the economy’s bad and food prices are rising to the stratosphere is that many people decide to save money by planting a vegetable garden.

Can you really save money by growing cukes and corn, peppers and tomatoes? Quite a bit, says Bob Westerfield of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service . He estimates that you can save about three-fourths over grocery-store prices – provided you don’t factor in the cost of your labor. (I always try to think of it as exercise, not work.)

Which veggies make the most sense for inexperienced gardeners? The ones your family likes best! It doesn’t matter how great they look or how easy they are to grow, the idea is for people to eat and enjoy them.

So take a poll of family favorites. Tomatoes will probably top the list. They’re not hard to grow, but you’ll need tomato cages or strong stakes, and the plants will take up space in the garden all summer.

Choose varieties that are disease-resistant. And do have at least one cherry tomato plant. My recommendation: Sweet 100. It will produce early, long, and late. And it’s prolific in just about any climate. You’ll find that its tasty little tomatoes just perfect for tossing into a salad.

Every gardener who eats or cooks with peppers should plant several. If you like the gourmet kind that are $3.99 a pound in the grocery store – the yellow and orange ones, for instance – you’ll be delighted to find that they’re as simple to grow as green bell peppers – and cost no more. A true bargain.

And peppers are easily frozen for winter use without any pretreatment. Just wash them and put them in freezer bags, either whole or prechopped for tossing into recipes.

If you want red bell peppers, just leave green peppers on the plant after they mature and they automatically turn red. Even a beginner can't go wrong there.

Hot chili peppers, come in so many different varieties now that it’s hard to keep up with them all. And every year there are more new ones. If you like heat, experiment. Grow as many as you have room for. Keep records of what you try, then next year you can look for the ones that you liked best.

I tend to grow a few old favorites each year and then try one or two new ones. They’re a good investment for winter cooking because you can dry many of the hot peppers and freeze others. I feel rich knowing I have a supply of them in the freezer.

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