June Food Stamp Challenge — Day Ten, Gardening

by Katy on June 10, 2010 · 30 comments

Today is day ten of the June Food Stamp Challenge, and I want to focus on gardening as a way to enjoy fresh, local produce at rock bottom prices.

Although this may not be well known, food stamps can be used for seeds and plants that grow food.

Because my ample lot only provides a four foot square space of sunny earth, (the shade producing maple tree in my backyard can be seen from space!) my gardening prowess is less than stellar. Add to that the apocalyptic amount of rain Oregon has received this year, and my gardening savings is nothing to blog brag about.

I do have perennials of raspberries and blueberries, (although my blueberries have never really thrived) and smack my lips whenever I pass them by.

I can do some container gardening, even even plan on constructing my own Topsy-Turvy tomato planter using a sturdy handled burlap bag that my Costco rice came in. I know there are community garden that I could participate in, but I’m fiercely protective about my energy and time, and am hesitant to take on new time consuming projects.

Do you plan on gardening more this year for edibles than in years past? If so, what will you be growing, and what tips do you have to share with The Non-Consumer Advocate community?

Sorry that I don’t have a wealth of knowledge to share, but perhaps you’ll understand when you see my photos below.

This was during our daily rain storm yesterday.

My downspouts could not keep up with the deluge of rain yesterday, so they were pouring down onto my veggie patch.

I'm surprised than anything is growing, let alone surviving after the insane amount of rain that Oregon has been cursed with this April, May and June. I think I recall that April only had one or two days without rain.

I suppose I should have gone out and moved my lettuce and carrot garden wheelbarrow, but I'm not sure my swimming skills were advanced enough.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruthie June 10, 2010 at 9:55 am

I garden and love it.

Urban homesteading all the way!

Check out this site for some inspiration:


Laura June 10, 2010 at 10:03 am

Katy: I heard two or three nights ago on the news that rain levels in Western OR for June were 700% above normal. 700%!!! And it’s rained every day since that. Our tomatoes, zucchini, lettuces, greens, beans, cilantro and peppers seem to be doing OK, but we lost our cucumber and basil plants. Our blueberry bushes are loaded this year though, and could possibly ripen if the sun ever comes out.

I am enjoying getting lettuce and greens from the garden already; it is really helping our bottom line for food this month.

I’m wondering what the strawberry harvest is going to be like this year, or if there will even be one.


Lisa June 10, 2010 at 10:07 am

Good grief, Katy! With those amounts of rain, you should have planted a rice field! Have you considered doing some vertical planting to maximize the amount you can grow in your limited sunny spot? It looked as though your pictures were taken from a porch or balcony. Hang some planters from the side or if you can find one, lay claim to an old swingset frame. Set it over your other plants then hang baskets from it. Its legs make great supports for peas and the like.


The Saved Quarter June 10, 2010 at 10:18 am

What is vertical planting?


Rebecca June 10, 2010 at 6:40 pm

basically growing anything you can in a vertical direction. Think UP rather than OUT. You can find hybrids of peas, beans, squash, cucumbers etc that will all grow nicely on any type of trellis or makeshift support. Even just some branches and twine to hold them together. I do this even in my largish garden to maximize my yields.


Annie Jones June 10, 2010 at 10:13 am

We gardened last year for the first time (other than the occasional tomato plant or two). We harvested about 120 pounds of food.

This year, we expanded our garden (raised beds) by around 100%. However, I’m not weighing the produce this year to see how much we get; I’m just going to eat it. 🙂

There are gardening photos on my blog if anyone is interested in them.


Kate June 10, 2010 at 10:21 am

Wow, I can’t believe how much rain you’ve gotten this year — we’re in a dry spell in New York. Thanks for pointing out that seeds can be purchased with food stamps – talk about value! Even if you don’t have a lot of time or space, you can purchase radish and lettuce packs for just a few dollars, and both are prolific, don’t mind a bit of shade and very easy to grow!
If you live in an apartment, its still possible to grow windowsill herbs, to at least spice up the rice and beans bought on the cheap!
In addition, I’d imagine that you’d be able to purchase sprouting seeds with food stamps (think alfalfa sprouts, among others). They sprout without sunlight, are ready in less than a week and have TONS of vitamins and minerals!
I admire you for taking on this food stamp challenge – not only is it important given our current economic situation, but its good for everyone to consider gardening as a sustainable alternative, not only for financial reasons, but because its healthier and helps to reduce waste too! Best of luck and I’ll be sure to check back to see how it turns out!


Tammy June 10, 2010 at 10:42 am

I think my lettuce is about done as we are having a heat wave. It seems that most of the planting that is going to get done in my area has already been done, so seedlings are on sale. I saw today that a local nursery has veggie packs (4 pack?) for $1. I may part with $1-$2 and buy seedlings to fill in those soon-to-be empty lettuce squares. So my advice – buy seedlings late in the year – especially those NOT frost-hardy. I’m not much of a gardener and don’t have a huge area, so a friend and I have been splitting and trading those “packs” so that we each get some variety and don’t waste the unwanted plants.


Shannon June 10, 2010 at 11:31 am

We add a little to our garden every year. The one crop I am totally surprised about is how easy it is to grow lettuce in containers! I have several shallow containers on the rail of my deck, I planted in March (Ohio) and have been harvesting since April. I have had 5-6 harvests off the same plants, and haven’t bought lettuce since April! I know the lettuce will be spent soon, and later in the summer I will replant all the lettuce containers and probably harvest well into November. Now we just need tomatoes…


Beth D. June 10, 2010 at 12:14 pm

In Michigan this year it has either been pouring rain or 90 degrees! I finally got my garden planted on May 30th and am hoping to get at least something from it. So far, it hasn’t been exactly cheap, but we do it mainly to eat less pesticides and for the taste. I would like to get to a point where the garden pays for itself, but so far it hasn’t.


karen June 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm

No gardening here. Too many deer, turkeys, raccoons, etc.
I do have a Topsy Turvy that I got for 75% off last year, but I’m not sure it’s even worth it. We have lots of trees and shade.


Molly On Money June 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm

I live in the desert and WISH we had a bit of your rain. With the last frost and no rain my vegetable garden is getting a late start- but at least it’s a start!
I’m trying a different method of gardening this year that I got form an old book called the ‘Square Foot Gardening’ by Mel Bartholomew.
Also, here is one of my newest most favorite sites: http://www.windowfarms.org/
It’s where the gardening is done entirely from your window!


Mamadrums June 10, 2010 at 3:06 pm

We’ve done container gardening for years but this year we’re using raised beds. My biggest reason to garden is to get my three kids to eat their veggies. I can’t believe how much they’ll eat if they pick it straight from the plant!


BohoBelle June 10, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I’m in the process of designing a new garden, and it will be 100% edible; lots of perennials, fruit and nut trees and of course space for veggies. I’ll also include a small edible lawn and edible flowers.

Katy, with all that rain have you thought about aquaponics? Or a pond with watercress, water chestnuts etc?

I think if you only garden small growing berries and herbs are a great idea, they cost the most at the supermarket.

Good luck


Susan June 10, 2010 at 3:33 pm

This Oregon Horticulturist is using water-wings to navigate my driveway!
Blueberries love acid soil. Olde timers used to use mulches of sawdust, back when there were a lot more sawmills. It’s a good idea to use bark or other highly acid mulch and that should help with your production.


Jane June 10, 2010 at 8:49 pm

There was a story on NPR about living on food stamps — thought you would be interested:


The Saved Quarter June 11, 2010 at 11:52 am

Fascinating article. Thanks!


Kate June 10, 2010 at 9:57 pm

I usually plant tomatoes on Mother’s day – but not this year. It’s been so wet in Seattle that I haven’t been motivated. I’m still waiting for some sunshine. I think tomatoes need this (me too!).


Lorna June 10, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Boy, here in No. Idaho we’ve been deluged too! But, my garden seems to be hanging in there….all kinds of lettuce, greens, snap peas, etc are up and growing. My news is…I just found out that our local Farmer’s Market where I love to shop takes food stamps!!! I haven’t done it yet…will find out how it works on Saturday when I go again. This is a real boon for me since I am allergic to most pesticides and have to buy organic veggies and fruits which take a lot of our food stamps. I’m enjoying your blog! Lorna


terilyn June 11, 2010 at 4:55 am

I have a black thumb. I try so hard to garden. And I always loose money. I could buy the stuff cheaper than what I pay for growing it. This year, I got 3 strawberies from my plants. Those cost me about $10, but they are going to come back next year, so I have hope. My dill did great as did the basal and stevia. All together those were maybe $6, so that was at least a break even thing. My cabbage plants cost about a dollar, and I will have several cabbages from them. Good investment.The jury is still out on the tomato plants. My zuchinni plants died. (Has that ever happened to anyone in history except me?) My cucumber plants have small brown holes all over the leaves, and I don’t know what’s wrong with them. I have one pepper plant with several little hot peppers on it, but the others are bare. I have lots of potatoes planted, so we shall see how that harvest goes for me.

Last year I spend about $250 on berry bushes, garden plants and a plum tree. But the goats escaped their fence and ate them, even the tomato plants full of little green tomatoes. The bushes and the plum tree died, plus they killed some older peach trees too by eating off the bark. My mulberry trees are still healthy, but how many mulberries can you use?

All my years of trying to garden end up loosing money or barely breaking even. Did I mention that I have a black thumb?


Elizabeth L. June 11, 2010 at 5:40 am

Here in Alabama we are facing a hot, dry summer. We haven’t a good rain shower in a few weeks and don’t see any on the horizon. I’ve taken to watering my tomatoes almost everyday since it’s been so dry.

I don’t have a lot of space to garden (to much shade) but I’ve had good luck with my tomatoes in containers as well as some herbs. I’m not brave enough to try anything else in a container yet. But I’m hearing good things about lettuce, so maybe I’ll plant some next year!


Sara June 11, 2010 at 7:13 am

I live in NC in a little townhouse with no yard but a small porch. Every spring and summer I turn that porch into a jungle of container gardens! There is barely enough room room to walk out to the trash can 🙂 I am really lucky to get more than 8 hours direct sun on my plants in the summer and the hose is right there so it is very easy to water my plants. I have 6 types of tomatoes and 6 types of sweet peppers as well as lots of herbs and lettuce and swiss chard.

My suggestion for those imtimatdated by gardening would be to try container gardening even if you have a yard – it is much, much easier. Start small and have fun, get a book – I used a book called “The Bountiful Container” like crazy whe nI started out – I had no idea what I was doing 4 years ago and had never grown anything so it was invaluable. Also, radishes (eat the young greens like lettuce), lettuce, greens (I like swiss chard) and herbs (I am partial to mint, basil, and scallions (both mint and scallions will come back every year generally) are very easy to grow in containers and give you a great bang for your buck – I plant lettuce very close together from seed and get enough out of one medium sized container (Ok for them to shallow as lettuce roots aren’t super deep) for at least 5 or 6 huge salads.

My next gardening challenge is I am moving to Corvallis, Oregon in mid September and have no idea how gardening in that region is different!


The Saved Quarter June 11, 2010 at 11:49 am

Thank you for the recommendation of eating young radish leaves like lettuce! That idea hadn’t crossed my mind and it will be nice for salad variety!


Beth June 11, 2010 at 7:18 am

I know those burlap bags! I’ve hung one in the closet to hold folding umbrellas. I’m sure it’ll drain well, but will it hold enough water in to be a planter? Will you line it at all?

I went for a T-T planter, since we have no outdoor space to call our own and I didn’t think to make my own container. The tomato plant seems to be doing well. I counted at least two clusters of buds this morning, which is encouraging.


WilliamB June 11, 2010 at 9:55 am

I try but I’m not very good at it. I’ve done a few plants here and there in the past without consistent success; this is my second year of really trying. Last year was not a success and this year is not encouraging so far.

My purchased tomato plants are growing awfully big – is it normal for them to be 5-6 feet tall in Zone 7? Should I trim them? They’re far too tall for my fence and are falling all over the (probably diseased) hedge.

My potatoes seem awfully top-heavy as well. I carefully did not compost that part of the 3’x7′ veggie patch but the bushes are still 3.5 feet tall. This happened last year, despite my building up the soil around the stems, and my potatoes were of very varied size, from smaller than golf ball to adult fist-sized. I also got less than 2 qts from 3-4 plants. Is this normal?

Baby bok choi isn’t working either, the scallions and onions are just as scanty and skinny as they were last year. I think the English peas will do OK again, which is great because I love them. I have success with radishes but they’re so easy that hardly counts.



Sara June 15, 2010 at 6:03 am

I can’t speak to potatoes, but I am in Zone 7 and have tomato plants in 15 gallon pots, and they are huge, growing 1-2 feet over the tops of their cages. I’m not sure what your set up is, but perhaps you could use twine or duct tape to add some sturdy stakes to the top of your fence and tie the tomatoes to them? For mine, I will probably just pinch of the main/top growing tip of any vines that are too tall – this will stop those vines from getting taller and encourage new vines to grow from lower on the stems.


Anne June 11, 2010 at 10:12 am

Here in Seattle we broke a record because we haven’t reached 75 degrees yet this year. Damp and chilly for sure. Slugs have decimated my squash and cucumber seedlings and are working on the beans. But I’ve harvested a ton of swiss chard, spinach, and lettuce. I don’t think gardening (at least how I’ve done it so far) saves money compared to non-organic grocery store produce, but it’s a savings compared to organic produce usually. I just love it as a productive hobby and am always learning new things.


Mamadrums June 11, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Wow. I thought Portland had it bad!


sandy June 12, 2010 at 10:34 am

I’ve been expanding the garden in the front yard since the back yard is too shady. The carrots, beets and peppers are doing great, but my tomatoes look like they’re getting a disease. Lately I’ve been experimenting with getting a second crop from each cabbage plant. I cut the head high enough up on the stem so that some of the big leaves are left to capture sunlight and produce food for the plant. When new small cabbages start growing along the stalk, I remove all but the largest, strongest one. The mature leaves, stem, and roots have enough energy to produce a whole new cabbage head pretty fast.


Erin June 12, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Katy – I’m trying to think about what food plants enjoy water. Have you considered cranberries? 😉 I am currently fighting slugs for my strawberries, but with the help of the old beer in a dish trick, I’m winning.

To all gardeners and would-be gardeners: please remember to use the resources available through your county agricultural extension office and master gardener volunteer program. They often run classes that are free or cheap, and will answer questions and provide consultations for free as well. Many are shifting focus to help even more with food production, given the current economy. And remember – step number one to a successful garden is to have your soil tested so you know what you’re working with.

Happy gardening and eating!


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