Money smart gardening

Hydroponics and aquaponics are no-mess gardening techniques that adapt to kitchen counters, patios, or large scale gardens

CALGARY, AB, May 2, 2014/ Troy Media/ – As I write this, parkas have been replaced by shorts and sundresses, and I’ve turned my thoughts from ducking sleet to greening up the yard and patio. So what’s that got to do with cutting corners? Gardening is a real mood booster after a long, grey winter, but it is also a great way to improve your financial health.

In fact, putting pennies into your yard and patio planters is one of the few ways you can save money while keeping up appearances!

If you’re thinking of selling your home, most real estate agents will tell you that even adding a couple of rose bushes to your front yard, or a pot of flowers on your patio, will boost the frequency and price of your offers. You’ll make even bigger gains by planting trees, flower beds, water feature, and a wind-sheltered patio or deck to view it all from.

But financially-smart gardening is not just for those who are thinking about how to make a few extra Loonies re-selling real estate. Renters, apartment dwellers and people staying put at one address can profit from their green thumbs, too.

Gardening can cut your grocery bill dramatically, and you don’t even need dirt to grow one! Hydroponics and aquaponics are no-mess gardening techniques that adapt to kitchen counters, patios, or large scale gardens. Lettuce tomatoes, cabbages, potatoes, and carrots can all be grown in water, with or without the fish.

Both gardening techniques replace garden soil with water. Aquaponics combines hydroponics (growing plants in water with added nutrients) and aqua-culture (raising fish).

About a year ago, I interviewed Penny Takahashi, Aquaculture Technician in Lethbridge College’s Aquaculture Centre of Excellence, about her specialty aquaculture for the College’s Alumni Magazine, Wider Horizons.

The college’s aquaculture program produces a greenhouse full of vegetables all year long using massive fish tanks that supply nutrients to hydroponically grown plants. The plants, in turn, clean the water and return it to the fish tanks. It’s a sustainable, bountiful and cost efficient operation that produces bumper crops on an industrial scale.

Penny also showed me how the technique worked for apartment dwellers and patio gardeners, too. I was amazed at what a few tubes and aquarium pumps could accomplish when it came to growing food.

Beginners might want to start with a simple money-saving crop, like growing salad sprouts in a jar on your kitchen counter. A sprouting jar, a tablespoon of seeds, water, and a few days of sunlight are all you need to sprout up your own salad for pennies. Better yet, the quick harvest time – in three to five days, you have a crop – provide a quick return on your investment.

I’ve had a pot of basil growing on my kitchen island for the past four years. It looks pretty, and I put the trimmings in my stew pot and salads.

Whether you use water or soil as your growing medium, nothing tastes better than food prepared with your own home grown herbs, lettuce, and other salad greens. Better yet, no one will even guess you’re cutting corners when you dish up fresh parsley, cilantro, and salad greens all year long.

Potatoes are another easy crop you can grow in water or soil on your patio or kitchen. A two kilogram package of Russet Seed Potatoes costs roughly the same as the same-size bag of eating potatoes but, planted and watered; it yields you up to 50 pounds of potatoes. I grew them on my deck last summer using instructions I found on the internet.

Invest in your garden this summer. Sure, you’ll have to do a little work to profit from those seeds and pots. But you’ll get a two-fold reward: a little green therapy won’t just remove your winter blues; it will improve your financial health.

Jane Harris-Zsovan offers her readers practical money advice for the real world.

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