If you walk into my kitchen, it smells like fresh apple rhubarb caramel crisp or sour cream rhubarb pie almost every other day. That’s because the rhubarb harvest from my garden in Windsor Junction, N.S., has been awesome this year. I started the garden in 2001, when my husband and I first moved into our new home as newlyweds and it’s grown every year since. In fact, the rhubarb patch was transplanted from Grandma’s garden in Antigonish County so you could say gardening is in my family genes.
Growing a thriving garden involves a lot of trial and error. But today, at age 35, I can honestly say I’m a complete gardening addict, despite the fact that I have no formal training in horticulture. While I am far too distracted to learn the proper way to do things, I enjoy spending time experimenting and feel most at home just puttering around the garden with my girls—Cate, 8, and Abbi, 12.
But there’s another great reason for gardening: It saves almost $4,000 on our grocery bill every year. These are real savings we can use for travel, more family outings or, of course, to buy more seeds and plants for next year. Every day the girls and I tally up the savings in a journal. Last year, for instance, we picked our first lettuce on May 18 and we ate only the vegetables from our garden right through until October—saving us $250 on lettuce alone.
We’ve saved even more by planting pear, apple and cherry trees instead of maples. The girls love cooking and love helping to make jams and preserves in the kitchen. Cate even has her own four-by-eight-foot garden plot. In fact, all the vegetables she’s planted this year are in her favourite colours—purple and pink—including purple carrots, purple and pink beans, and Swiss chard with purple stems. They make for a very interesting addition at the dinner table.
We also make a point of planting pricier veggies, too, so we can stretch our savings. Spinach, bok choi, and kale grow quickly and grow again and again from spring to fall. Tomatoes are winners too because they can be eaten fresh, sauced or frozen. Pole beans are the easiest to grow and freeze well for the winter. For fruit, we love the berries. Just a few canes of raspberries are about $4 and spread like crazy.
This year, we planted the “it” fruit of the season—Haskap berries. This fruit resembles elongated blueberries but has a tarter taste. A 300 ml jar of Haskap jam costs a pricey $9.99 in the store so there’s huge savings to be had, but only if we can keep Cate away from the bushes!
We love saving money, but for me the garden is priceless because it gets my kids outside interacting with friends and neighbours. For Cate’s birthday last month, for instance, she had a garden party. She made big floppy hats for her young guests and ran endless games of pin-the-petal-on-the-flower. We topped the party off with a ladybug cake. Most fun were Cate’s birthday gifts: $150 in gift certificates for local greenhouses. She’s having a ball picking out birdhouses and small windmills for her garden patch.
Back in March I held a wine and cheese party where fellow gardeners from the neighbourhood shared seeds. We then spent our summer going around to each other’s gardens. Fact is, there are more closet gardeners than you’d suspect! Take it from me: give gardening a try. It’s a modest investment of your time that will pay off in modest savings as well as countless hours of laughter and fun.