Gardening can have many benefits, but one of my favorites is the fresh produce. I’ve found that planning can actually save money in the long run, especially if you consider the benefits you gain from the exercise, sunshine, and spending time with your family.
Setting It Up
- Find a good spot. I tried containers a few times but never had success, so I always grow stuff in the ground.
- Build boxes (if using) for cheap. We used the boards from an old set of steps. They don’t have to be great-looking because they will be filled with dirt. We’ve also used old pallets, though I wouldn’t do that again. It was hard to work around the slats, and they didn’t hold up.
- Don’t pay for dirt. If there are plants in your area, you can grow a garden with the natural dirt. Get a soil test so you know exactly how to amend it, and make sure to till everything in before you plant.
- Test your seeds from last year by putting them in wet paper towels in baggies for a few days. If they sprout, you’re good to go!
Gardening for Your Climate
- Stay with the growing season. If you try to extend it, you will pay more for cold frames, wall-o-water contraptions, etc. that will make your garden not as profitable.
- Grow things suited to your area. Since I’m in the coldest part of Utah, I’ve never attempted any tropical plants. The seeds available at the garden center are a pretty good indication of what will grow where you live.
- Start from seed when possible. I grow everything from seed except for tomatoes and peppers, and I go to the nursery to get the small plants that come in packs of 4. I bought a larger tomato plant once to see if it made a difference, but the extra $2.50 for wasn’t worth it at all! The smaller plants quickly caught up and did better than the larger one.
Watering and Fertilizing
- Save your kitchen scraps! Composting takes some time and effort, but it also grows healthy plants and is good for the environment. Less fertilizer bought means more money saved for you.
- If you know a local farmer, ask for some manure. Most are happy to have you haul it away.
- Water only as much as you have to. Plants need 1 inch per week, so plan accordingly. Watering less often means hardier plants. I bought a rain gauge for $1 so I can monitor any rainfall we get in the summer. You might not need to water as often as you think.
For Next Year
- Store your seeds in the refrigerator, not outside with all the gardening tools where it’s way too hot. (Whoops.) Most seeds last from 2-5 years if stored properly.
- Keep adding to your compost pile, especially when you clean up your yard in the fall or spring.
- Plan to rotate your crops so you don’t deplete the soil of the same nutrients year after year.
On my most ambitious year, I tried about 20 different things. and all but 2 grew and produced veggies. I ended up with about 300 pounds of food from a space of about 350 square feet.
- seeds (which will last several years): $20
- tomato cages: $15
- nails to build boxes: $5
- fertilizer: $10
- plants: $15-$20
Approximate value of the food I grew (in-season, conventional Walmart prices): $350 – $400
Considering how little I spent on startup/yearly costs, my garden was definitely worth it. That doesn’t take into account all the time I got to spend outside, the wonderful Vitamin D, and the best tan I’ve ever had. I was also able to can about 60 quarts of food. 🙂
I highly recommend gardening, even if it’s a tiny section of your backyard or porch. The benefits far outweigh the small amount of sweat and money you have to put into it.