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Grow your own food: five simple steps

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Lee Reich/AP/File

(Read caption) This undated file photo shows Ligularia bordering a vegetable garden in New Paltz, N.Y. With a little space and a lot of planning, anyone can grow a simple garden of herbs and vegetables, Colley says.

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Five years ago, I couldn’t keep a bamboo plant alive – the roots actually molded. But today, I have an indoor herb garden and a few fruits and vegetables growing in a potted garden on my back porch.

Even in my modest space, the amount of herbs and vegetables I’ve grown has saved me some money. It doesn’t take much time, and it’s rewarding to watch the peppers and tomatoes bloom. And if a woman who couldn’t keep a bamboo plant alive can grow her own food, anyone can.

When you’re getting started, gardening – even in a small space – seems overwhelming. But it isn’t difficult once you get going. Here is the easiest and cheapest way to get started…

1. Plan(t) ahead

The first time I tried to garden, I just bought whatever plants looked good, stuck them in pots, and hoped for the best. Half the plants died – and the other half produced too much for me to handle.

Don’t make the same mistake. Before you start planting, map out these points:

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2. Decide what to grow

If you want the most bang for your buck, follow this checklist:

3. Buy supplies and tools

Before you buy anything, see what you can borrow or get for free. For example, I had a friend who tried gardening and realized she had no time for it. She had several small tools and was happy to give them to me just to get them out of her garage. For more expensive equipment, talk to your neighbors about sharing the costs (and the tools).

Once you start shopping, you’ll find the best prices if you give yourself time to comparison shop. Start looking for gardening equipment early and check out these places for the best deals:

4. Plant

Before you start planting, save yourself a few headaches (and wasted money) by reading up on agriculture in your area. Different climates affect how plants grow and when they start producing. By knowing how to work with your climate and soil, you’ll have the best chance of producing tasty food for cheap. Check out these resources:

5. Harvest

A friend recently sent me a picture with the subject line, “Help!” Piled on her kitchen table were about 40 cucumbers she didn’t know what to do with. Having too many fruits and vegetables doesn’t sound like a problem, but if you don’t use them up quickly, they’ll rot – and you’ll have wasted your time and money along with the food.

Plan what you’ll do with your harvest ahead of time. There are plenty of ways to use up produce – canning, freezing, and drying are popular. You can also give them out as gifts – last year, I gave out tomato gift bags. This is also a good time to search out new recipes with whatever you have too much of.

If you plan to can, check out these sites for simple how-to guides:

For freezing, check out:

And if you need to expand your recipe book, these are some of my favorite foodie blogs:

Let’s face it, we all have some free time we could pry away from the TV. And what better way to burn some calories than by gardening – and growing more calories.

Angela Colley is a writer for Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities as well as around the Web. This column first appeared in Money Talks News.