How to Start a Sustainable Home Garden

In early spring, Hiner's sustainable home garden bears micro greens, tomatoes, eggplant, tomatillos, garlic, onions, beets, celery, beans, broccoli, lettuce, dill and other herbs. Although Hiner's been a home gardener for a few years, it took less than a year for her backyard garden to bloom in its current location. She's moved three times in the last three years, and plans to move again soon, so Hiner is proof that it doesn't have to take a long time to enjoy sustainable produce grown at home.

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Once her home garden is organized and planted, Hiner spends about 30 minutes each morning tending to it, and a few sporadic hours on the weekend when she pulls out old crops, puts down compost, and gets new seeds started. She's built an irrigation system that helps cut down on watering time, but also harvests rainwater that she uses during the rainy season to hand-water her plants.

The pride of Hiner's garden: her heirloom tomatoes, which can cost $5 at the market. "The tomatoes are the best I've ever tasted," brags Hiner. "And potatoes just out of the garden are awesome—you can almost get them as fresh from the farmer's market, but there's nothing quite like pulling the potatoes straight from the ground and then cooking them."

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How Much Does a Home Garden Cost?

Cost really depends on how big and elaborate you want to make your home garden, but it is possible to grow your own organic fruits, vegetables and herbs for a relatively small up-front investment of $350 to $500 (possibly more if you decide to get an irrigation system installed) or so. Costs include: dirt or planting mix and any fertilizer, beds, seeds or plants, gardening tools, a hose or irrigation system (having an irrigation system installed can cost between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on the space involved; you can also install a system yourself).

Because Hiner's set up with her plant beds and irrigation system, she has the once-in-a-while cost of dirt delivery to her home, which is $300 for a large area, and the cost of seeds, which she buys online at groworganic.com from a company called Peaceful Valley.

"Starting from seeds is a lot cheaper," advises Hiner. "You can plant your whole garden with $20. But, if you want to start from plants, then you pay about $3 for one plant. If you buy a $3 broccoli plant then wait six months for it to give you one head of broccoli, that's not really cost-effective. But, if you buy a whole packet and grow a whole bed, then you get your money's worth."

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Do You Need to Compost at Home?

According to Bartholomew, composting at home is a vital part of maintaining nutrient-rich, organic soil in an economical, eco-friendly way. Hiner maintains a compost pile at home in her backyard that contains kitchen scraps, plant waste and leftover hay from the goats that she helps milk and tend to at her neighbor's house. The drawback of composting, according to Hiner, is that it takes about a year to form a healthy pile to use in the garden, and moving so frequently has taken a toll on her compost project.

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Hiner recommends placing all of your food scraps, yard waste and any "brown bits" such as hay in one place in the yard, and to simply keep piling it up. "Anytime you cut down plants that you're not going to eat, or anytime you weed wack, put it in the compost pile instead of putting it in the green bin, then having the truck come pick it up to put in a landfill. They'll just use it to make compost out of it anyway, and you'll go buy that compost right back to use in your garden."

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