It’s Almost Spring (One Can Hope)–Time to Cheap Out at Home


My married daughter recently said to me, “Mom, I hate to eat tomatoes at restaurants. I keep remembering how delicious and sweet the tomatoes were that we used to grow in our organic garden. Most tomatoes I taste now pale by comparison.”

This was the same child who wowed the nursery school field trip farmer knowing the difference when he tried to stump the kids holding up the green kale leaf with “What’s this?” All the other kids yelled, “Spinach!” It was the same daughter who tasted sugar snap peas for the first time and asked, “Is this candy?”

“Teach Your Children Well,” as the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song goes. Children respond so well to early tactile and taste stimulations. If they are imprinted with early tastes and smells for foods in their natural states, it stays with them the rest of their lives.

Having a garden is the best way to introduce them to nature and understanding that food doesn’t grow in a shrunk-wrapped package at the grocery store. As the snow hopefully melts, and the scents of spring beckon children outside, starting a cheap garden is a great way to keep them outside. Growing your own is almost always cheaper than buying produce at the store. Some plants can even re-seed from year to year keeping the cost of buying new seeds each season very low.

The first place is taking a soil sample to your local county extension service to get an analysis of your soil. This will give you a place to start in figuring out what you can and can’t grow well in your soil. Soil that is mostly sand may only be able to support citrus crops for example, but just a little farther inland can give you up to a half a year of a great cross-section of vegetables.

It’s easier to grow a garden from plants that are already started and are ready to transplant. But it’s also fun for kids to start seeds from starter pots.

If getting non-gmo seeds are important, try Seeds of Change. They’ll also provide tips on how to start your own garden. You can also join a local farm or community supported agriculture farm to find out where they get their seeds from. You can find them at

If you don’t know anything about gardening, spend a season volunteering there to see how and what they do. You’ll also get first-hand knowledge about what grows well where you are. If it is an organic garden, you’ll learn all kinds of great ways to make and keep your garden organic. If you can’t find such a farm, there are many great organic and container gardening books and online resources. Don’t give up if you have failures. Just remember that it is to be expected.

It’s best to just choose 3-4 vegetables your first year. Pick some vegetables like tomatoes that grow fast and furious. Some varieties will “re-seed” themselves. That means their seeds will drop into the soil and grow again the next year. Talk about easy! Learn what crops grow especially easily where you are. I planted a few pumpkin seeds one year, and once I figured out how to keep out the rabbits, had pumpkin vines and pumpkins taking over the yard and a nearby hill. It was SO much fun for me and my children!

Live in the city with no land for planting? Get an Earth Box complete with organic soil if you like. The boxes are about the size of a recycle bin and have a grate on the bottom to keep the roots from drowning in water. Or a smaller window sill garden can easily produce spices and even salad greens.

Start slow planting a few easy herbs like dill and mint. They are also classified as weeds and will definitely grow like one if you don’t control them. Send your children out to the garden before dinner when they are hungry to “harvest” whatever you’ll be making for dinner. These are memories and foods that will last a lifetime!

Happy spring!

Journalist Ellen Jaffe Jones is the author of “Eat Vegan on $4 a Day,” “Kitchen Divided-Vegan Dishes for Semi-Vegan Households,” and “Paleo Vegan: Plant-Based Primal Recipes.” Ellen is a certified personal trainer (AFAA) and certified running coach (RRCA) and is currently 7th in the US in the 1500 meters for her age group. She is 3rd in her age group in FL in the 200, 400 and 1500 meters. She has placed in 65 5K races since 2006. Ellen won 2 Emmys and the National Press Club Award for Consumer Reporting during 18 years as a TV investigative reporter in Miami and St. Louis. She was a media consultant for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and taught PCRM’s Cancer Project cooking classes for 6 years.