July 3, 2009 -- Have rising food costs and recent scares involving e-coli and salmonella made you consider growing your own food at home?
If so, you're not alone. Some 43 million U.S. households are expected to try their hand at food gardening this year -- including the Obama family -- and 21 percent will be newcomers looking to green their thumbs for the first time, according to the National Gardening Association.
The association says the average 600-square-foot garden costs $70 to plant, and produces about 300 pounds of fresh produce worth $600. That's a $530 return on your investment.
But not everyone has the room, ability or expertise to cultivate a large backyard garden.
"Good Morning America" housing contributor and Wall Street Journal editor Wendy Bounds says there are easy gardening products that are great for small spaces and make gardening as easy as adding water. They might cost more upfront, but they promise to outproduce in-ground gardens in some cases, so you end up eating more of what you plant.
Bounds tried it out herself and wrote about it in the Wall Street Journal, and has tips for how anyone can do the same.
Growing food in containers can make your life much easier, Bounds says, because it eliminates weeding, digging and worrying about animals eating the fruits of your hard labor. Both EarthBox and Garden Patch Grow Box are all-in-one kits that take the guesswork out of gardening.
($55, available at EarthBox)
The EarthBox system contains everything you need to start growing food, from the pot and soil, to fertilizer and a mulch cover to keep out pests and disease. It also has a reservoir in it, so if you forget to water one day or need to go out of town, you won't have to pay the kid next door to come take care of your plants. Bounds' favorite feature is they tell you exactly how many plants can grow comfortably in the box -- two tomato plants or six broccoli plants. The company promises that EarthBox can double your food yields, and they offer a one-year guarantee saying that if it doesn't produce as advertise, they'll refund your money.
Garden Patch Grow Box
($29.95, available at The Garden Patch)
The Grow Box works similar to the EarthBox, and is a bit cheaper, though you still have to buy potting mix.
Bounds has been growing lettuce in an EarthBox and her household of two has eaten homegrown salad about two or three times a week since late May. Based on what she would pay for organic lettuce in the supermarket, she says she's saving about $6 a week. That adds up to $72 in three months, for savings after costs of about $15. Next year, her savings will go up dramatically because she already owns the box.
Perfect Pots for Small Spaces
Bounds has tested two portable products from the Gardener's Supply Company that she says are great for people living in apartments or who only have small porches.
"Smart Pot" Potato Bin
($12.95, available at Gardener's Supply Company)
You can grow your own potatoes with this lightweight, collapsible bin. Simply plant a few potatoes, add dirt and water as they grow and you can get up to 12 pounds of potatoes when they mature. You can even store the smart pot indoors in the winter. If you purchase potatoes at $1 to $1.50 a pound, you'll nearly make your money back in one season.
Herb Planting Bag
($13.95, available at Gardener's Supply Company)
This affordable product resembles a small duffle bag. Herbs like rosemary, mint, chives, and oregano can be used with nearly every meal and spice up everything from roast chicken to pasta to Mexican food. They are also incredibly cost-effective to grow. Fresh store-bought herbs cost $2 to $4 each, and don't have a long shelf life.
Keeping Plants Under Control
($26.95 (set of four), available at Gardener's Supply Co.)
These flexible grids act as supports for climbing plants, Bounds says, and are a simple replacement for metal cages or stakes. Good support helps keep branches from breaking.
($19.95, available at Gardener's Supply Co.)
The Revolution Planter grows tomatoes upside down, so you don't even need a cage. Just make sure you have a strong hook.
Save Money, and the Environment, by Saving Water
Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix
($5.49 for 8 quarts; $8.49 for 16 quarts, available at gardening and home supply stores)
Watering is time-consuming, but crucial to plants' survival. Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix is fortified with moisture-absorbing coconut fibers to protect against over- and under-watering.
Toro "Drip" Starter Kit
($9.99, available at gardening and home supply stores)
This inexpensive three-step drip irrigation system is designed specifically for containers, hanging baskets and people who might think an irrigation system is too costly or complicated. Turn it on and walk away to do other things, while water drips into your plants for 20 minutes. Drip irrigation is more efficient because it gets directly to the roots of the plants.
The Garden of the Future
Farm in a Box
($249 online only at Home Depot)
The brand new Farm in a Box runs off what's called an aquaponic system. There are fish in the bottom and vegetables at the top -- no soil needed. A closed loop water system lets the fish waste fertilize the vegetables for free. You can eat the vegetables, and depending on what type of fish you get, you can eat them, too. Together they create a self-sustaining little ecosystem, which has the added bonus of being a great conversation piece and learning tool about food-growing -- especially if you've got kids. You can even stick it inside by a sunny window.
For more information, visit Earth Solutions' Web site.