Family life

Grow your own savings

Looking to trim their summer expenses, Sandra and her family cultivate a kitchen garden. Will it really help them spend less at the market?

Sandra’s kitchen garden.

I’m all for progress — small, lightweight cell phones; electric cars; tankless water heaters. But time and again, I find that the best money-saving ideas aren’t from the present or the future; they’re from the past.

To wit: “Victory gardens.” While the concept goes back to humans’ ability to cultivate crops, that particular term started in government propaganda offices during the two World Wars when homeowners — anyone with access to a patch of ground, actually — were encouraged to grow veggies and fruit as a way to do their part for the war effort. Food supplies were hard to come by in those days, even for those with money, so families’ personal harvests of beans, squash and berries were essential.

Right here and now, families are finding their kitchen gardens to be essential again, as grocery bills soar. This year’s crazy weather, with its late frost, has hurt fruit crops; according to this article in the Sarnia Observer (in southwestern Ontario), up to 80% of Ontario’s apple crops was wiped out.

Because of the economy’s troubled state over the past several years, backyard gardens are no longer the preserve of retirees and latter-day hippes in urban centres. Seems like just about everyone is doing it. (Hey, the very high-end Wall Street Journal ran an article in 2009 looking at whether the financial payoff is worthwhile; kitchen gardens have got cred.)

Our garden cost very little to set up. The dog had already “tilled” that patch of lawn for us, so Matt simply raked in a bag of topsoil to add nutrients; we bought a box of bean seeds to augment Isobel’s single bean plant from school (about $2), and hit the garden centre for a couple tomato plants, broccoli, cauliflower and sweet peppers (about $10). We did buy some inexpensive wire fencing to keep the dog out ($18) and Matt is confident that a sprinkle of hot-pepper flakes (already in the pantry) will keep out the squirrels and other critters.

Have a look at the photo of our veggies-in-progress: All the girls’ favourites are covered! (Well, they don’t like tomatoes raw, but they DO like the sauces and chili I cook from scratch; I’m hoping to excise canned tomatoes from my shopping list very soon.)

Are you growing a kitchen garden? Please share your tips for success with us here.