Starting a Home Vegetable Garden: Benefits and How to Save Money

Guest blog by Tina Martino

Starting a kitchen vegetable garden is not easy, but it is not rocket science either. But before you rush to the nearest Home Depot and purchase a ton of seedlings, fertilizer, and dirt, here is a cheaper way of embracing home gardening without breaking the bank.

1. Step One: Analyze your Backyard’s Sun Availability

Before anything, do an extensive analysis and survey of the total number of sunlight hours your yard gets every day. Contrary to the common misconception, you don’t actually need exactly 8 hours to have blooming and healthy vegetables for your kitchen’s delight. In anything, there are a couple of vegetables that do best when grown in part shade or less than 4 hours of direct, consistent sunlight.

A good pick of these includes broccoli, beets, radishes, swiss chard, beans, cauliflower, leafy greens ( spinach, mustard greens, kales, leaf lettuce, endive, arugula, cress, etc . ) and peas. You can save a significant sum of money by purchasing your seedlings from independent farmers or small-scale nurseries. You can even start the seeds yourself. Big franchise stores such as Lowes and Home Depot typically have the most expensive plants; you may want to look for other cheaper alternatives if you’re on a slim budget.

2. Step Two: Make the Best out of Your Space

It is no secret that most of us can only give up a few square yards of our compound’s space to start a small vegetable garden. So you might as well want to make the best out of this. A good option is to take up container gardening in place of regular and conventional row planting. On this note, you can save a decent wad of cash by shopping for these containers at discounted garage sales or thrift stores.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re not partial to container gardening, you can consider vertical gardening to optimize the little space you have. So instead of planting your vegetables in the ground, which requires a lot of arable space, you go up. In other words, you make use of creative, frugal and unconventional ways of creating extra space around your yard. You can attach gutters, for instance, around your house and plant dozens of seedlings of shallow-rooted crops such as herbs and lettuce. Similarly, your backyard’s fence can also come in handy in growing climbing veggies like cucumbers and peas. Outdoor shelving is also an excellent idea of creating extra space in a small-sized kitchen garden.

3. Step Three: Have a Watering Plan

The first few months of your vegetable garden are going to be water intensive. So it is important to have a comprehensive plan on how you are going to water your garden even before you plant the first few seedlings. Speaking of which, this is the best time to think about investing in a good rain barrel especially now that summer is around the corner.

4. Step Four: Planting your Garden

So you have now analyzed the total sunshine hours, selected a suitable site and done the ground for your new vegetable garden. The next logical step is to start planting.

For starters, ensure that you water your seedlings thoroughly before you physically plant them into the ground from the nursery. This reduces transplanting shock and increases the chances of surviving the first three days in the new garden. Remember to incorporate a decent helping of well-prepared compost manure a few days before transplanting the seedlings from the nursery bed to the main garden. Compost is cheaper ( almost free ) than commercial inorganic fertilizers.

The new vegetable bed will need water regularly – at least thrice a week. But, of course, the frequency depends on the average amount of rain your home area receives per month and the vegetable species you have planted. In line with this, do a comprehensive research how much water your preferred crops need per week. That said, the best time to water your seedlings should be either at the crack of dawn or later just before dusk. Watering at the height of midday can burn your prized vegetables.

The Bottom line
If it possible, try to start your own seedlings from scratch instead of spending a ton of money sourcing them from Home Depot, Lowes, and the likes. Otherwise, your local farmer’s market is also another cheaper alternative when looking for veggie plants. Also, save your money by making your own plastic labels from old milk cartons instead of purchasing overpriced garden labels.


About Tina Martino:

Her passion is gardening. Along with her husband and children, each year they grow a garden large enough to provide their family of five with over half of their needed produce. Besides vegetables and a small berry patch, she also focus her attention on beautifying their home with strategically placed flowers, herbs, and flowering plants. Gardening is more than just a hobby; it is a way of life.

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No-turn compost? Seriously?


Do I have to turn my compost?


Kitchen and yard waste will compost even if you do not turn it.  Microbes, bugs and worms will do the work.  No one turns a forest floor where even the fallen trees will compost just fine.  However, in your backyard compost where you add lots of kitchen scraps, you will want to make the compost by balancing it with “browns”.  This fluffy material will provide pockets of air, too.  Add similar amounts of nitrogen-rich greens, like your kitchen scraps, to carbon-rich browns such as dry leaves, straw or shredded paper.  Add a little old compost or soil to provide a variety of microbes and grit for the worms.  Always top off with the browns so that it does not smell.  Keep it damp.  That’s it!

On the other hand, if you are making hot compost, it needs to be aerated to keep the heat-loving bugs (thermophiles) active.  Build the pile at one time.  If you are using a Speedibin, fill it at least ¾ full.  Turn it with a fork or aerating tool about every two or three days until the temperature stops climbing.  Monitor it with a compost thermometer if you have one.  Or poke in a length of re-bar and feel how hot it gets.  We’ve made compost in less than a month this way.  Then you can turn out this compost, maybe use it as mulch, and let the final stages of decomposition take their time.  Meanwhile, you’ve made room to start another hot compost pile.

We have noticed that problems with composting are more likely to be insufficient water, not insufficient air.  (Tumbler composters are solving a non-existent problem, IMHO.)  As a lazy gardener, I like to let the worms to the heavy lifting.  Check out these tireless worms in our Speedibin even through the winter!  They certainly do a better job of aerating than I ever could.

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How does compost improve compacted soil?

Organic matter feeds microscopic fungi that wind their way around clay and sand IMG_2494particles.  Bacteria feast on the fungi, plant roots chase after the exudates from fungi and bacteria, worms and a plethora of tiny creatures wiggle and creep around and gradually the soil loosens up.  As the organic matter is decomposed and consumed, it needs to be replenished.  So be generous with your compost addition.  This is especially helpful in the rainy season.  The compost mulch will keep your lively soil from washing away or being compacted from rain.

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Waste Incineration – Why burning garbage is a really bad idea!

Guest blog by engineer Eduardo Uranga

Are the officials at the Comox Valley Regional District, considering building a waste incineration facility as part of a waste management strategy?

Some supporters of waste incineration have said this is a way to produce so called “clean energy”. These projects are sometimes called “waste to energy” facilities. Whatever you call it ultimately this is really just about burning garbage and that is a really bad idea.

Currently Metro Vancouver is considering a plan to build a mass burn incineration facility that would burn at least 500,000 tonnes of garbage every year. If built this would make burning garbage one of the top three sources of the carbon emissions in the lower mainland and in the top ten in the province.

Building a waste incinerator would be a big step in the wrong direction.

New waste incinerators should not be approved for the following reasons:

  • Incinerators do not make waste disappear. For every five truckloads of waste burned, four truckloads are pumped into the atmosphere and one remains as toxic ash, which still must be carefully stored or land filled.
  • Incinerators are a toxic technology. Even the most technologically advanced waste incinerators produce hundreds of distinct hazardous by-products including dioxins, heavy metals, halogenated organic compounds and the newly discovered threat, nanoparticles. These occur both in toxic air emissions and in ash residuals.
  • Incinerators contribute to global warming. Incinerators produce more global warming pollution (mainly carbon dioxide) per unit electricity generated than most other kinds of power including coal, gas and hydroelectric.
  • Incinerators waste energy and natural resources. Incineration irreversibly destroys valuable materials and necessitates the extraction, refinement and assembly of more raw natural resources to produce new products. Alternatives such as recycling reuse and repair and composting conserve energy by efficiently using materials. This significantly reduces global warming pollution, toxic waste and ecological degradation.
  • Incinerators trap communities in a cycle of debt. They also displace more affordable and economically productive waste and energy solutions. Alternatives to incineration such as recycling, repair, reuse and composting create ten times more jobs (green jobs) and small business opportunities that benefit local communities.
  • Disadvantaged communities are disproportionately burdened. These communities are more vulnerable to being targeted as sites for new incinerators.
  • Incineration is not sustainable.

Every time a community builds a trash incineration it sets back the real solutions by 25 years – the time it takes to pay back the massive investment involved. Every time you burn something you have to go back to the beginning of the linear society (extraction- manufacture-consumption-waste). After 25 years you are no closer to sustainability. All you are left with is a pile of ash of approximately one quarter of the mass of the trash that was burned. Promoters claim that incineration produces energy and fights global warming. This is utter nonsense. Three – four times more energy is saved by recycling the same materials as burned. One European company estimates that a combination of recycling and composting reduces global warming gases some 46 times more than incineration generating electricity.

The social costs of incineration are staggering. The huge amount of money spent on incineration goes into complicated machinery (over half the capital cost is needed for air pollution control) and most of it leaves the municipality in the pockets of the multinational companies that build these monsters. With the alternatives most of the money goes into creating local jobs and local businesses, thereby staying in the community and the country. In Brescia, Italy, they spent about $400,000,000 building an incinerator and have created just 80 full-time jobs. While Nova Scotia, a province of Canada, after rejecting an incinerator, has created over 3000 jobs in the handling of the discarded resources and in the industries using these secondary materials.

So incineration is neither sound for the planet nor for the local or national economies. However, because this matter is largely in the hands of engineers and engineering consultants the only issue that has dominated their discussion is “Is it safe?”

Is incineration safe?

The incredible fact is that simply by burning household trash we make the most toxic substances that we have ever been able to make in a chemical laboratory: polyhalogenated dibenzo para dioxins and furans (PCDDs, PCDFs, PBDDs, PBDFs etc) called “dioxins” for short. There are literally thousands of these substances. There is no question that over 25 years the industry has got better at capturing these pollutants but we are still hostage as to how well the plants are designed and operated, monitored and the regulations enforced. In addition to this, incineration releases many toxic metals from otherwise fairly stable matrices. At worst these metals (lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium etc) go into the air, at best they are captured in the fly ash in the air pollution control devices (APC). But it is a truism to state that the better the APC the more toxic the ash becomes. Where is this ash going to go? In Germany and Switzerland the fly ash is put into nylon bags and deposited in salt mines. In Japan a number of the incinerators vitrify the ash, making it into a glass-like material, but that takes a huge amount of energy away from the system. Do you know where the ash is going in this proposal?

For every four tons of trash burned you get at least one ton of ash: 90% is called bottom ash (that is the ash collected under the furnace) and 10% is the very toxic fly ash.

The formidable issue of nanoparticles.

There is nothing new about nanoparticles, which are particle of less than one micron in diameter. They are produced in any high temperature combustion which includes vehicles, coal-fired power stations, industrial boilers etc. What is new is nanotechnology where these particles, which have very unusual properties, are being used in many commercial products from shaving cream to tennis rackets. This has raised the question of whether they have any negative health effects. That question has given rise to a new discipline called nano-toxicology. It turns out that these particles have exquisite biological properties which are very worrying. They are so tiny that they can cross the lung membrane and enter the bloodstream. Once there they can enter every tissue in the body including the brain. The problem with incineration is twofold: a) because every object in commerce is likely to end up in an incinerator any toxic element used in these products is likely to end up in the nanoparticles. The nanoparticles from incinerators are the most dangerous of any common source. b) There are NO regulations in the world for the monitoring nanoparticles from incinerators. In most countries the particles regulated are 10 microns and above. In some countries they regulate particles at 2.5 microns. But neither standard comes closer to monitoring nanoparticles. We are flying blind on this crucial issue.

Before any new incinerator is built anywhere, government officials (or the public) should force the project director to produce a scientific response to the key issue of nanoparticles; if they cannot do so, then clearly building such a plant is taking a reckless gamble with the public’s health. Moreover, if we return to the opening of this statement, such a gamble cannot be justified on either economic or environmental grounds, both local and global.

The alternatives are not pie-in-the-sky

Many communities in California, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and the UK have embarked on the zero waste strategy (not all call it that) and have achieved some with very rapid and impressive results. San Francisco (population 850,000) has reached 72% diversion from waste disposal. Their goal for 2010 is 75% diversion and their goal for 2020 is Zero Waste. Many other communities in California have also reached over 70% diversion. In Italy over 200 communities have done so. Novarra near Turin (pop. 100,000) reached 70% in just 18 months. Salerno, went from 18% to 82 % in one year. Villafranco d’Asti (population 35,000) has reached 85% diversion and the small town of Ursibil in Spain has reached 86%.

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Speedibin user gets his compost to 243 degrees F!

Now and then we are142-c flabbergasted.  This customer did it.  I didn’t know compost could get this hot. Here is his story, for the record. 

Just had to phone from Orangeville, Ont about results of using the device. And delighted with its performance.

Used grass clippings and then (yuck) Initially, kitchen scraps, ending up with a foot or so in the bin,  mounded up like a little mountain,  and because waiting for fall of maple leaves and had nothing more to add except human urine which worked great as an activator, ending up initially with a foot  If leveled off, and before mounding up.

Watched a  woman on the web site, was told to mound it up to help retain heat and worked out well.

Of course, having watched many composting web sites, added small twigs about a foot or so long along the bottom for additional air supply.  Temperature gradually climbed to top up at 132 degrees.  Remaining  for about a week, slowly falling.     Compost yes, but half done, enough to dump blobs of it where grass refused to grow, even though plugs of good grass inserted in the bare patches gradually died.

Those bare patches where I used raw vinegar left lawn in terrible shape, embarrassing, and prone to weeds.

Not only did vinegar kill weeds, but dawned on me I’ve killed the soil bacteria too.   Any wonder nice grass plugs slowly died.

Those compost blobs slowly penetrated, and brought bare patches back to life, and happy to see them fill up with fresh grass  from seeding and covering with more compost.

A week or so accumulated 4 compacted big garbage bags of  maple leaves, laid down more twigs first, then thin layers of browned grass to prevent compacting, then another 2 to 3 inches of leaves loosely dumped in over the grass, another thin grass layer, followed by another scattered layer of leaves, gradually completely topping up the bin.

Sprinkled half a watering can of water, then some fresh urine.  Closed the lid and waited a day or so.  Hmmm not much action, so Sprinkled more water to drip down the contents and saw rise in temperature to 80, then  100, then over 150, wondered how high it would go, heck it reached 200 and still climbing.  Leave it alone Tony, its doing its thing.  Began to worry a bit about fire.  Left lid closed, its still climbing, finally topped at 253 degrees, and remained there for about 3 days.

Today, Oct 15th phoned Speedibin, related the whole story to her, meantime temp slowly fell in 2 days to 241, thank goodness.

Didn’t lift lid supplying oxygen to prevent combustion.  Outside temp 70 deg this afternoon

Going to peek at the compost tomorrow, but let temp fall a bit more.. Gone right now to check temp at core and its now, wait a sec.  It reads 240. Outside Is 69 deg. Time now 4.43 pm and now gone to watch blue jays get slaughtered again.

Regards Tony.

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What is your compost style?

The Saskatchewan Waste Recycle Council 20160507_111425-003 put together a fun interactive way to test what compost method suits your lifestyle. Check it out!  Their infographic is cool too.   And their full report is well worth reading.  Their results are very similar to our observations, summarized in our “13 Ways to Compost” report.  So kudos to SWRC for making backyard composting more accessible!  They didn’t test a Speedibin this round but at 0.4 cubic meters, it would be one of the largest in their small compost bin categories.  So what compost method fits your life?

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How To Identify 4 Troublesome Vegetable Garden Pests

Guest post by Angela Thomas, NY City Pest Control

(Make sure you click on the excellent infographic!)

One of the most common problems discussed among all vegetable gardeners is about pests and pesticides. Only by identifying problems in your garden, you can come up with solutions accordingly. You must know some of the insects are beneficial to your garden, and some might cause trouble. This infographic describes many of the natural ways of controlling pests in a garden.

The best way to maintain a healthy garden is by learning to identify the pests that cause trouble. The sooner these pests are identified, you will be able to control them organically.

  1. Aphids

The symptoms of aphids are yellowing, and distortion of leaves; stunted growth and a black sticky substance on the plants. Aphids feed on a wide variety of plants, and if the infestation is severe, plants may even die. Some say they don’t respond well to natural pesticides. But, there are friendly insects that can be attracted to your garden which will prey on them. By planting mint, fennel, dill, yarrow, and dandelions you attract bugs like lacewings and ladybugs, and they will be helpful in wiping out the infestation.

  1. Armyworms

Armyworms are larvae of moths. They are light green in the early stages and dark green or brown when they are fully grown. These worms mainly feed on grasses blades and also eat some vegetables like beans and cabbage. It is hard for them to survive in freezing temperatures but, adults do and their infestation is severe during the summer season. To get rid of them, you have to rely on pesticides or contact pest control services in your vicinity.

  1. Root Maggots

They have the name root maggots because they attack the roots of vegetables. They are white in color and about ¼ inch long. It is hard to spot the infestation until the damage is done. Damages are in the form of holes or tunnels in the roots or tubers of the plant. If the infestation is severe, the plant will wither or turn yellow. An organic cure is spreading diatomaceous earth around the plants while they are sprouting. Pesticides can also be used, but it will be difficult for the chemicals to react once they affect the roots.

  1. Asparagus Beetles

Asparagus beetles are orange and black in color and they look similar to ladybugs. They mostly damage asparagus plants and they feed on the tips of the plant. Organic methods must be followed unless the plant is in danger. As soon as you notice them, start handpicking them and toss it into a bucket of soapy water. Neem oil can be applied to the plants. Try to terminate them in the initial stages as they cause serious harm to beneficial insects.

Controlling pests is a round the clock job. Do some research and find out crop varieties that resist common pests in your area. You can also purchase beneficial insects and pets to control pest infestation in your garden. Keep your garden clean by clearing out garbage and dead plants.

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No Smell Composting

From the Comox Valley Echo, Tuesday 7 January 2014, Ask a Pro

How can I make sure my compost does not smell?
Compost does not smell if it is made right. Usually any smells are caused by nitrogen being released as ammonia. And what a waste of nutritive nitrogen! Or there may be anaerobic pockets that release sulphur. Here are some tips to ensure that these tragIMG_4311-001edies never happen.
• After you add your kitchen scraps to your compost bin, always top off with a layer of    carbon-rich browns like leaves, straw or shredded paper.
• When you are adding stinky stuff, it’s best to dig a little hole in the compost and bury the matter. Then cover with browns, of course.
• If there are anaerobic pockets, get out your garden fork or a stick and churn the compost up a bit. This invigorates the aerobic microbes.
• If you aerate or fork over your compost, add some old compost or browns on top afterwards.
• Make sure there is drainage under your bin so that there are no puddles under it.
So don’t throw away those valuable food scraps. Your garden will love the nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients. It’s easy and rewarding!

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Hot vs Cold Composting

From the Comox Valley Echo, Tuesday 5 November 2013, Ask a Pro

What is the difference between hot and cold composting?
Answer: 2015 model
The hot compost method takes some effort. You need enough biomass with a fairly precise carbon to nitrogen ratio. The temperature climbs to about 60 C (140 F) and kills most seeds. The pile needs to be aerated regularly, every day or two during the hot stage, and moisture levels maintained. Commercial and municipal facilities take advantage of hot composting systems and may aerate and mix continuously. You won’t see worms here, just thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria. The hot stage may be finished in as little as 10 days but needs to cure for at least another two weeks before you can call it compost.
By contrast, passive composting takes almost no work – toss in the materials as you gather them, then sit back and wait. Let the worms and microbes do the heavy lifting! This is what most backyard composters do. The finished product takes from 6 to 24 months. Cold composting does not lose as much nitrogen, there is a greater diversity of soil life and you get to be lazy. Hot or cold, the Speedibin rodent proof composter is ideal. And you will be growing your own soil!

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Compost Mulch

From the Comox Valley Echo, Tuesday 1 Bin w raised bedsOctober 2013, Ask a Pro

Should I be putting compost on the garden now?
I can’t think of a time when it is not good to add compost. The fall is an especially good time, though. You will be protecting your garden from the driving winter rains that compact the soil. The compost helps to insulate the soil and allow those millions, oops trillions, of worker microbes you have to continue to do their magic. The warmer the soil, the more busy the microbes. In the spring, the soil will be so primed for growing your plants; you will be startled at how vigourous your veggies will be. So, yes, find a sunny day and spread a layer of compost on your garden. If you want to take it a step further, plant a winter cover crop on top.

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