If you’re looking to get started gardening, the garden catalogs will happily sell you thousands of things you don’t need. For most purposes, there’s a simpler way! In this post, I’m going to detail some of the basic tools and vegetables you should and shouldn’t invest in.
Don’t buy: Expensive Swiss-made forged steel garden tools.
Do buy: Unless you’re a professional gardener, you’re unlikely to be able to tell the difference. A cultivator tool (the claw looking one with three or four prongs) and a small trowel are invaluable, but since it’s still a pretty simple item, you can buy nice ones at home stores for less than $10. I am still using the ones I got out of the $1 section at Target three years ago.
A large long-handled shovel is also helpful for larger gardens, but it doesn’t need to be super fancy. You can get a large shovel for less than $20 at a local home store, but don’t worry about expensive features like teeth on the end since these features aren’t that helpful. Also, be sure to get a shovel with a bullet-shaped head, not a flat head, since it’s difficult to get a start in the ground with a flat head.
Don’t buy: Giant container gardens on wheels.
Do buy: Once you fill them with dirt, you’ll never be able to move that thing again. Trust me. If you have a small space and can’t put in a regular raised bed, try grow bags. They are sturdy fabric bags that you fill with dirt and can be moved more easily. At the end of the season, dump the dirt out or put the whole bag in your garage. You can also get smaller containers for individual plants to make it easier to re-landscape whenever you want.
Don’t buy: Any upside-down tomato planter. They tend to dry out quickly and tomato stems can break.
Do buy: A small container – even a tub with drainage holes – and a tomato support cage. With regards to the support cage, even though most varieties of tomatoes are pretty sturdy growing the right way up, some do need help. If they’re given some support by a tomato cage, available at most home stores for a few dollars, they can produce more tomatoes than you can eat. Feed them and water them and they’ll reward you without anyone getting dizzy.
Growing vegetables is fun and gets you fresh veggies for a low cost – most of the time. If you have a small backyard garden, space is at a premium and you can’t afford to waste it! Here is my opinion based on firsthand experience:
Don’t bother with: Large pumpkins, watermelons, corn, or anything else that takes more than a few months to be ready. The amount of time and water it takes to produce one is not worth it for something you can buy for a couple dollars at the farmer’s market and tastes pretty much the same. As a kid I lovingly cared for a watermelon plant that produced precisely one baby watermelon in four months. And then, when the plant died and I figured it was time to take the watermelon off, it turned out to not be ripe enough to eat, and was gross looking inside. Sad kid. End of story.
I love growing: Peas, tomatoes, carrots, and herbs. These sorts of plants produce lots of smaller items, so if one is bad, the rest aren’t. Peas can be sown in both the spring and fall, and are great fun for kids to watch them develop. Kids who won’t touch a vegetable will eat a pea straight off their own vine. Tomatoes produce until the frost and require little more than dirt, water, and support. Carrots can be sown over and over all summer, and if you pull it up too soon, well, it’s a baby carrot!
Unexpectedly entertaining: Potatoes. You might think of potatoes as a boring vegetable – after all, the action’s all going on below the surface. Not so! Potato growth up top is pretty interesting too, with many varieties having colorful leaves and pretty flowers. And if you get a potato grow bag, you can simply upend the bag of dirt and out come potatoes! And homegrown potatoes are low maintenance plants that produce spuds that taste miles better than the bland varieties that you get at the supermarket. Potato starters are cheap, and if you see a type you like at the farmer’s market, just cut them up with one eye per piece, and voila…you can start planting your own potatoes.
What’s your favorite vegetable to grow? Any tips on inexpensive garden tools that have helped you out?
(photo credit: N Houlihan)