Green thumb can help you save green

Darren D'Altorio

Kent residents of all ages visit the downtown Kent Farmer’s market June 21. Some visitors have come for the fresh jams, spices and baked goods, and others make the trip just to escape the nation’s rising food prices. Steve Mantilla | Summer Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

If rising food and gas prices are making you want to dig a hole and hide in it, don’t fear.

Digging a hole is the first step to having a cost-saving, healthy and fun summer of home gardening.

Wallet woes

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, retail prices for fruits and vegetables have climbed higher in the past year than they have in almost two decades.

As energy costs rise, so do shipping costs for producers and retailers, which in turn raises the price of produce.

For Americans already burdened by a sluggish economy and soaring gas prices, this is a scary thought.

Starting a garden at your house is one of the easiest ways to keep money in your wallet and eat better than ever.

With minimal effort, a bag of seeds can yield pounds of fresh produce, eliminating those costs from the weekly shopping list.

Fresh produce can be canned, frozen or pickled, extending its life for months.

Nothing has to go to waste and money can be saved for years, as most vegetables will continue to grow annually.

Seeds for produce like tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, carrots and cucumbers range from $1.00 to $2.50 per bag according to the Gurney’s Seed and Nursery Co. Web site, which sells seeds for almost any fruit, vegetable, tree or flower.

Brenda McCune, a Streetsboro mom and summer gardening enthusiast for the past nine years, has a garden at home and rents a 15-by-50 foot plot of land at Kent’s Church of the Brethren Community Garden where she grows watermelon, sweet corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, pumpkins and a variety of flowers.

“We save about $300 a year growing our own food,” McCune said. “All we pay is $20 a month for water.”

Soul food

Every year, shortly after the last nighttime frost of spring, people across America begin tending to their gardens, preparing them for summer.

They till the weathered earth, spread fresh topsoil and dig rows for seeds to be planted.

By midsummer, juicy vine-ripened tomatoes, radishes, carrots and strawberries are ready to be picked and eaten.

Gardening can invigorate a sense of pride and accomplishment within people as they sink their teeth into their own fresh, homegrown produce.

Being a part of the process from beginning to end can be fun and mentally rewarding.

Researchers at the Colorado State University’s master gardener program cite mental and health benefits such as stress reduction, relaxation and reduced risk of heart disease with gardening.

Being active, having a sense of accomplishment and developing a closer relationship with nature are some of the subtle rewards gardening has to offer, according to the researchers.

Getting started

Having a garden is a way to eat healthy and pinch pennies at the same time — a perfect combination for any student.

Most produce, such as cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes and beans, don’t need much room to grow.

All that are needed are a few decent-sized pots, some dirt and some seeds.

Put the pots on the front porch where sunlight hits them and throw some water on them once a day.

Within weeks fresh fruits and vegetables are at your fingertips.

You could even impress your friends and family with your new gardening skills and hook them up with a few items from the harvest.

Contact general assignment reporter Darren D’Altorio at [email protected].