Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Container gardening: start-up costs

My recent focus on personal finance has affected more than just the ways I spend money. As I mentioned in my first post, it has also kindled an interest in new hobbies. One of these is container gardening.

I became interested in starting a garden partly because of the infamous 'nesting' instinct that hits many pregnant women in their third trimesters. Unlike some of the other nesting-related urges I've had (remodeling our kitchen, replacing our old carpets ...) this one is relatively low-cost, yet will hopefully improve our living space. Our balcony is sadly underused - it holds our BBQ and is sometimes used to store junk. Big windows from our dining room and living room look onto the balcony, but the view isn't much. We're street-facing, and although there is some greenery, it's nothing to get excited about. I think it'll be much nicer when we've got our veggies and herbs growing out there, and if we plan it well, I think it'll also be cooler. In the summertime the sun streams in all those windows, and it can get very hot. I hope to position hanging baskets and a trellis for our climbers to partially screen the hottest windows. My tomatoes will love it.

In keeping with our resolve to track spending, I've made another spreadsheet to track hobby expenses so that we can re-evaluate the costs of our hobbies vs. their benefits. The start-up cost so far for my garden is $35.70:
  • Soil: $11.97
  • Seeds: $18.11
  • Pots: $7.36
  • Other: $2.24
I have some big pots left over from previous years that I plan to use, but I'll probably need to buy or beg a few more to accommodate all my seeds.

If there's one area that's easy to get carried away it's seeds. Each packet is usually only a dollar or two (though I discovered after buying the first batch for $1.99 a packet at Superstore that the dollar store sells seeds three for $1), but I splurged on some fancy seeds too - $4.99 for a medley of five types of sweet red peppers and hot peppers all on a pre-spaced seed disc intended to fit a 4" pot. Even though I bought more seeds than I really need, I don't regret it - I wanted to experiment with different types of plants so that I can see which kinds I like growing. If my tomatoes don't thrive, well, I'm pretty sure the chives will.

The seeds we bought are:
  • Peppers (Early California Wonder, Super Chili Hybrid, Jalapeno Jalapa Hybrid, Red Bell and Mini Bell)
  • Tomatoes (Tiny Tim)
  • Lettuce (Cos/Romaine)
  • Peas (Sugar Snap)
  • Beans (Tendergreen)
  • Onions (Yellow Sweet Spanish)
  • Carrots (Touchon)
  • Squash (Zucchini)
  • Dill
  • Basil (Cinnamon)
  • Chives
I long to plant Cape Gooseberries, but I haven't seen them for sale in stores, and I'm not quite ready to order more seeds online! I'm tempted to get some strawberries too, but I think I'll hold off until I get the rest of these in their pots. So far my seedlings are growing strong and hearty. The lettuce was the quickest to sprout. I've been told that I didn't really need to start it inside, but oh well - this whole thing's a learning experience!

It only took a few days in my gro-dome before the lettuce sprouts started to push through the soil. The chives and basil were next, though they didn't grow quite as enthusiastically as the lettuce. The sturdy zucchini started more slowly, but is now taller than my fiesty lettuce, with great thick leaves and hearty stems. The tomatoes were the slowest to sprout, but are now the same height as the basil. The leaves are a little broader, though, and the stems are slightly thicker.

When I first started this project, I began with a Google search. In case others are looking for useful advice for container gardening newbies, here are some of the sources I used:
The next step will be to transplant my little seedlings into full-sized pots. I don't really know much about that stage of things, so I'll have to do some Googling first. It's warm enough in Vancouver for all but the tomatoes, I think, and definitely a good temperature for lettuce and zucchini, as they both like it cool.

I've gotten some advice on companion planting via Google, so I have made a list of which plants to plant together based on that:
  • Chives and/or basil with tomatoes
  • Dill with lettuce
  • Peppers go with any of: onions, basil, tomatoes, carrots
  • Keep onions away from peas, but they can be potted with tomatoes, dill , carrots or lettuce
  • Peas go with beans
I remember reading something about 'hardening off' plants before moving them outside for good, by exposing them to cooler air in small doses. I have also seen special plant food meant to help the transplanting process ... but I don't know if it's really necessary. I also know that I need to 'thin out' my seedlings, but I'm not sure when that should happen or how I do it. Clearly Google will be coming in handy!


juicyjay said...

hey - are you paying attention to freecycle? I find people are always offering strange gardening-related stuff there for free. It's a hobby ppl start and never finish I find so lots of people have the stuff just waiting to give away... mom! next time you are in LC ask mom for gardening stuff. She has HEAPS. (ha ha!)

Rebi said...

Good luck with your gardening! It's dumb, but I always feel bad when I'm thinning my seedlings, choosing which ones get to live or die. It's going a bit too far with the empathy, I think. It all pays off, though, when you get to bite into your first ripe tomato of the season!

briana said...

I feel bad about thinning my little seedlings too! I've been putting it off ... need to finish transplanting and start getting ruthless!