Twice a week I run to the grocery store to stock up on veggies for my guinea pigs. While I love my piggies I hate having to go to the store that often. It’s just- One. More. Thing. To. Do.
But what can I do? They need fresh veggies and even with my tricks, they only stay good for so long.
Thank goodness for gardening! Gardening gives me a reprieve for at least part of the year. As the mailbox starts filling with seed catalogs in late winter, I start thinking about what I want to plant and I include items that my critters can eat. My planning includes stuff for my birds, my guinea pigs, a little for my dogs and even something for my cats. Luckily, I can plant a lot of what I eat, just more.
Why Plant a Garden For Your Pet
Is it worth the time and the money to grow food for your pets? It might be if these things are important to you.
- A garden saves money. It’s true you can spend a lot of money getting set up to garden, but you can also do it very frugally. Instead of grow lights, use a window. Instead of a warming pad, use the top of your fridge. Only buy the tools you need, but if you plan to continue to garden, learn from my mistake and buy quality tools. They will last longer and it will save you money in the long run. Otherwise, you may be replacing tools each year. The less you spend, the more savings you will see.
- A garden lets you feed your pets organicly. If what goes into your pet’s food is important, you’ll love being able to know what went into growing your pet’s food. If non-GMO foods are important to you, you can purchase organic seed from companies who have made a commitment to use non-GMO seed. If no chemicals in food is important to you, you can grow your garden using organic methods. You control what your produce has been exposed to.
- A garden gives you a variety to feed your pet. When you visit the grocery store produce department, it’s usually the same ole, same ole. Growing your own food means you can change things up a bit by choosing different varieties. Not only will you have something different to try, but you may find some varieties do better than others.
- A garden means you pick what you need when you need it. With a garden just a few steps away in your own backyard, you don’t have to run to the store and deal with the crowds. It also means your food is fresh when you feed it. It didn’t get picked the week before and travel from miles and miles to get to you.
What to Plant in Your Pet’s Garden
You can get serious overwhelm if you just open a seed catalog and try to pick. First things first. Figure out what is safe for your pet to eat.
Not everything that is safe for us to eat is safe for our pets. And not every part of the plant is safe for our pets to eat. Some things need to be eaten in moderation so you won’t want to go crazy planting things that will go to waste.
How do you know what is safe? Check out these websites for ideas on what is safe for your type of pet to eat.
- Guinea Pigs- Guinea Pig food list from World of Cavy
- Rabbits- Suggested Vegetables and Fruits for a Rabbit Diet from the House Rabbit Society
- Parrots- Fruit and Veggies from Eclectus Parrots
- Dogs- Fruits and Veggies for Pets from Trupanion
- Cats- Plant suggestions for cats from HGTV
The great thing about gardening is the variety of plants you can grow. Some plants to consider(depending on your type of pet) are:
- Vegetables- lettuce, carrots, squash, corn
- Herbs- parsley, dill, cilantro, basil
- Fruits- cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries, watermelon
- Flowers- pansies, nasturtiums, calendula, chive flowers
I try to grow something a little unusual for a challenge. Last year I grew loofah. Yes Loofah! Bet you thought it came from the sea like I did, but it is actually a squash. It is edible, but I actually grew it for the loofah part we all know and love which I could use for making toys for my birds and share with my piggies and chinchilla. This year I’m going to add some different edible flowers(who knew so many flowers could eaten?).
Once you know what is safe for your pet and have an idea of what you’d like to grow, you may want to check out these guides from Cornell University and Mother Earth News to see if there is anything about how to grow the plants that might take them off your list, such as a longer growing season than you have or more primping than you are willing to do.
What Type Of Garden To Plant For Your Pet
Gardening can be as simple or as involved as you want it. You can go all out and buy lights, a heating mat and misting system to start seeds or you can plant them in paper cups in a window ( My favorite? Peat pellets and recycled plastic deli containers). Or you can buy started plants, stick them and the ground and be off and running.
Container Garden or a Garden Bed
- Container Gardening- Container gardening is perfect for someone that wants to keep things small or that doesn’t have the space to put a garden in the ground. You can grow many vegetables- greens, tomatoes, some fruits- dwarf fruit trees, berry bushes and edible flowers. Cat grass is a perfect container plant that can be grown indoors for your cats. Container Garden do need to be watered very frequently (often daily) as they don’t hold water.
- Garden Bed- Plant right in the ground or in a raised bed. It gives you more room to grow a variety of foods. It does require more work due to preparing the bed and weeding.
- Indoor Growing System- If you don’t have room outdoors, you can grow some produce right on your counter with an indoor growing system (on my wish list to use in the winter).
Getting Started on Your Pet’s Garden
Once you have everything figured out, it’s time to get started. The first to decide is if you want to start plants from seed or buy plants that are already started. Or maybe do a mix of each.
- Seeds- Seeds take a little more work and time to get a crop, but you have a huge variety of seeds to chose from. You need some equipment to start your seeds. You can start them early to get a jump on the season by starting them indoors in late winter. You can also plant them throughout the growing season for some crops like lettuce so you have produce over a period of time. Some plants can only be started from seed as they don’t transplant well.
- Plants- Plants give you an instant garden. Just buy and plop in the ground. You are limited to the varieties offered by your local stores.
It would take several posts to instruct you on starting your plants, preparing your garden, putting your plants in, etc. I like Mother Earth News for gardening how-tos. If you like books, Square Foot Gardening is a favorite of mine.
Enjoying the Harvest from Your Pet’s Garden
The best part of gardening? Eating! Or for pet parents, watching our pets eating!
My dogs love being able to snack on cherry tomatoes when they are ready, but my other critters depend on me to pick the food when it’s ready.
Some food like lettuce, you can pick over time, but what do you do when your produce is ready and it’s too much to eat before it goes bad? There are different ways you can store a number of fruits and vegetables from freezing to using a cold frame. For information on how to store different crops visit Mother Earth News or get in touch with your local Cooperative Extension office (a great source for all things gardening in your area). You just want to be sure to pick a storage method that will keep the food safe for your pet to eat.
There is such a feeling of pride that you get from gardening and knowing that you are growing healthy food not just for your family but also for your pets.
Do you garden for your pets?