With spring in full swing, it is the perfect time for Auburn residents to start their seasonal gardening, which this year, in particular, could save them a couple of bucks at the grocery store.
The consumer price index for fruits and vegetables has gone up 7.6% since last year, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The CPI measures the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a representative market basket of consumer goods and services.
Many shoppers coming out of the Publix on Moores Mill Road expressed that they are aware of the rising food prices and have changed their shopping habits so they don’t break the bank. Many claim the meat and produce prices are where they see the increase now.
Alabama Extension Master Gardeners Coordinator Kerry Smith discussed the rise in gardening as food prices increase and offered some gardening tips for first-timers.
“Even before the pandemic, an interest in home-food production was on the rise. When the proverbial Covid shutdown forced everyone to stay home for several months, this trend seemed to escalate,” said Smith. “Extension agents’ phones were ringing off the hook, and email boxes were flooded with questions from new gardeners. Garden centers could not keep plants, seeds, and related products in stock. At the same time, the number of families experiencing food insecurity rose, too.”
Smith urges community members interested in gardening to follow these simple tricks to have their own successful spring and summer growth.
“A soil test should be step one. There are seven major soil types in Alabama. Within each of these regions, a wide variation of soil characteristics can exist. Using a residential landscape or park as an example, the soils near structures, paved surfaces or in paths with daily foot traffic are often more compacted, lacking air space. Soil quality, or health, is reflective of the soil type (piedmont, coastal plain, limestone valley, etc.) and its past history,” said Smith. “Any soil can be improved by adding compost. Non-composted plant debris can be used too — think pine straw or shredded brown leaves. Use these to amend new planting beds or as fresh mulch in older beds. Composted plant debris adds several benefits to the root zone — increased water holding capacity, air spaces for roots to breathe and better retention of the soil nutrients plants need.”
Smith said that “healthy soil should have roughly 50% mineral and organic components (sand, silt, clay and organic matter) and 50% as pore space for water and air. The mineral and organic components (live, dead and composted carbon-based organisms) form a sturdy structure for anchoring plant roots, a healthy environment for soil microbes to flourish, and a warehouse for essential soil nutrients. The other half, pore space, ensures air movement and a reservoir for water.”
“Simply put, healthy soil equals healthy roots, and healthy roots grow healthy plants,” added Smith.
Smith also addressed an issue that many people face — a lack of available space to grow their own garden.
“Building a raised bed or growing your plants in containers is a great solution. Many used materials can build a raised bed—think scrap lumber or concrete blocks. Any one-gallon container is the perfect spot to plant a few happy daylilies or pansies,” said Smith. “Keep in mind that larger plants will need larger containers. Larger plants have more roots than smaller plants. I recommend a container size no smaller than five gallons for growing a tomato plant. Make sure to use a potting mix and not native soil. Potting mixes drain better in the confined space of container gardens. I also think that container gardening is a great entry point for beginners. It’s a small area, takes less time to manage, and can often fit almost anywhere.”
The Community Gardens at Auburn University is another alternative for people who have limited gardening space. Located on West Samford Avenue, the garden is an educational and community service to Auburn University. Individual plots of varying sizes are available to rent for a nominal fee each year. All Auburn/Opelika residents are eligible to rent a plot, including students, faculty, and community members. Gardeners grow everything from herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables.