She’d dreamed about it all winter long. This summer, the grocery bills would be vanquished. Thrift would rule, and her garden would make it happen.
The very first warm day of spring, she raced to the garden section of Lowe’s, eager to get her garden underway.
She zealously picked out a variety of seeds, peat pots, gardening gloves, some strawberry and tomato plants, and all the other odds and ends she thought she’d need. As she left the garden section, she piled a bag of fertilizer, a bag of compost, and another of potting soil into a second cart and awkwardly steered her way through the store.
By the time she reached the cash register, her zeal was quickly becoming displaced with a “what-am-I-getting-myself-into” feeling.
By the end of spring, it had become evident that this garden would need to be quite productive to pay for itself after all she’d already spent on it.
The man who’d come to plow and till her garden had charged $100, and the cost of repairing the old tiller she’d bought at a yard sale had been nearly that much. The tomatoes had died promptly the night she’d set them out. The strawberries had come out of the bag looking like dead weeds, and they’d never shown any sign of life since she’d planted them. Her onion sets had been swept away in a heavy rain, and the bags of compost and fertilizer hadn’t covered as much of her ambitious-sized garden as she thought they would.
By the middle of summer, her garden had yet to pay for itself.
Her grocery bills were lower, but that was mostly because she was too embarrassed to buy vegetables when she had spent so much on her garden – even though the garden wasn’t supplying her like she’d thought it would.
She’d finally bought a couple more tomato plants, but for some reason they still weren’t producing. Her green beans tasted terrible, and she still didn’t know how to use her expensive new pressure canner.
When the autumn weeds announced to her that her grand experiment was over for the year, she sighed and refused to contemplate just how much that garden had cost her.
Never again, she thought. I’ll keep the tiller, but I’ll probably just sell it in the Spring.
Little did she know she’d been bitten by the gardening bug. When the dark, cold days of January hit, she stared out the window at her bare garden spot and dreamed. This year it would be different.
Gardening That Saves More Than It Costs
For anyone new to the world of gardening, it can seem a pricey proposition.
The truth is, there’s really nothing more economical.
If you’ve been of the opinion that it takes money to make money when it comes to gardening, read on. Here are ten tips to make your garden a bona fide, money saving operation.
If you are a new gardener, one of the best ways you can save money gardening is to simply think smaller. Sure, you want to put out a acre’s worth of fresh vegetables like they did in the old days. The truth is, you’d be surprised just how much food you can grow in a small space, particularly if that space has been enriched.
By focusing your efforts in a small, concentrated space rather than taking up the entire backyard, you accomplish several things.
• Your soil preparation no longer requires you to rent a tractor
• You can add a greater concentration of soil amendments and compost
• Your mulch will stretch further
• You won’t need as many plants
• Because you can stay on the weeds better, the few plants you have will grow bigger and be more productive
And those are just a few of the benefits. As you attempt to make your garden more profitable, consider carefully how cutting back your garden could serve to increase your productivity.
Save Money On Your Garden Plot
Another way cutting the size of your garden back is that it makes it possible to turn your garden soil by hand.
Now, no one’s saying it’ll be easy, but if you are serious about seeing how low you can keep your costs, grab a shovel, mark the area you’ve chosen for your garden, and get to turning the soil. Just dig under the grass roots and flip them upside down in the space you’ve chosen for your garden. It may take several days to get the whole job done, and it’ll be a great workout.
It will still require tilling, but turning the soil yourself is one way you can have a garden much more cheaply than hiring someone to plow it up for you. Remember, the sun needs time to kill the grass out before spring hits, so make sure you get started before the end of winter. At least a month should be sufficient to getting the upturned roots completely lifeless, and doing it in the fall is even better.
If you can’t dig…
Digging up the soil by hand isn’t the only way of preparing your garden. Another way to prepare your garden is to kill out the grass by covering it with a tarp for several weeks in the spring. Once the ground underneath is completely devoid of life, remove the tarp, just loosen the soil in the places you want your rows to go, and plant your seeds and plants. Everywhere else, lay a thick layer of grass clippings, leaf mold, or straw to keep weeds down between the rows. Doing so will also enrich your soil.
If you have access to free fill dirt, you can make raised beds as another alternative to paying for a tractor to turn your soil. Of course, raised beds can get pricey if you don’t have free fill dirt available.
Enrich the Soil – For Free
Who says you need to shell out an arm and a leg for fertilizer and bags of compost? There’s no easier way to save money in the garden than making your own compost. All it requires is a dedicated spot where you pile all your degradable kitchen scraps that won’t attract pesky wildlife; things like banana peels, onion skin, egg shells, coffee grounds, potato peels, and even young weeds you’ve pulled can go onto the pile. Compost is the glorious result of all that refuse decomposing into fertile black gold for your garden. You’ll find many “recipes” for compost and how to combine “green” materials with “brown” ones, but what really matters is this: if you have it, toss it onto the pile. It’ll make it better, even if all you have is coffee grounds and eggshells.
Take every opportunity to avail yourself of free organic matter that can be used in your garden. Bags of oak leaves in the fall are a great example of free soil fertilizer and mulch. Bags of grass clippings also are great for your compost pile, as well as all the cuttings from your shrub pruning. Spent flowers and even old garden plants likewise shouldn’t be wasted. You can grind almost any organic material with chipper shredder. Just make sure to avoid using meat scraps and anything that could introduce dangerous bacteria into your compost.
Save Seeds and Save Money
Another great way to save money is by saving your seeds. Obviously you’ll need to buy seeds the first year, but after that, go ahead and save them for the next year.
One important thing to keep in mind is to avoid buying hybrid seeds. These plants will not have seeds that carry the same traits to their offspring. A better choice is to purchase heirloom seeds, which offer seeds that remain true to the next generation.
When you save seeds, look for those that are completely mature from fruit or plants that are stellar. Once they are completely dry, place them in a bag and store them in a cool, dry place. If you have a little packet of silica gel, drop it in the bag to keep the seeds completely dry. You can also stick them in a closed Mason jar in the refrigerator with a dry paper towel.
Learn to Propagate
Many plants are easily propagated. Take the time to learn which, and you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy more plants than you know what to do with.
Any bulbs that have grown in the same spot for a few years can be separated and replanted. Clumps of flowers like chrysanthemums and daylilies can likewise be divided. Tomato plants are SO easy to propagate; simply break off a side stem and stick it in the ground, watering it well. It will grow into a new plant. Mint works the same way. Strawberry plants send out runners that can be dug up and replanted elsewhere.
These are just a few of the exciting examples of plant propagation. Do your own research and experiment; you’ll begin to see why gardening is such an intriguing, addictive hobby!
Recycle Washer Water
If you’re plumbing savvy, you can divert your used washing machine or dishwasher water to the garden. It will be a bit involved, but if you know what you’re doing, you could save a bundle, and the phosphorus in the detergent will be great for the soil.
Although many detergents are going phosphate-free to protect the fish in streams and rivers from the algae that phosphorus introduces into the water, these “improved” detergents often leave grease and grime on the items they’re supposed to clean. By using phosphate detergents and diverting the water to your garden, you can enjoy the benefits of clean clothes and dishes along with a much more fertile garden.
Use Yard Sales
Scour the yard sales for any gardening items you can use, like hoes, shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows, and planters. You never know what treasure someone will sell for a fraction of the cost.
Start or Join a Gardening Club
Another easy way to save money gardening is to make friends of other gardeners. Not only can you get great advice, you might even be able to trade some of your easily propagated plants for some of theirs.
Stay on Those Weeds
Although it goes without saying, you’ll want to make weed control a high priority, particularly in the early months. By using elbow grease and actually pulling weeds, or by using free mulch like grass clipping and leaf mold, you can avoid expensive pesticides that could accidentally harm your plants.
Grow the Right Plants
A simple way to save money is to stick with plants you know you’ll use. If you hate eggplant, don’t waste money and space on it. If you don’t know how to can or you don’t have a pressure canner, don’t waste two rows on green beans. Determine how best to use the space you have, and make sure you know how to preserve the foods you enjoy for the winter.
Learn Food Preservation
Speaking of food preservation, you really need to explore it if you expect to save money gardening. You need to know what foods lend themselves best to which prservation method. Explore drying, freezing, canning – both pressure and water bath, and pickling. Food preservation is a lifelong skill, so don’t feel discouraged if you feel a bit overwhelmed at first. Just jump right in where you are, and you’ll be on your way to saving big from your garden.
Gardening is one of the most enjoyable ways of saving that exists, so don’t waste it feeling stressed. Remember to give thanks for every warm spring day amd soaking April shower, every cool breeze in the heat of summer, every glut-filled day of harvest, and even the doldrums of winter that make you ready to get back at it, and your gardening experience will truly be a highlight of your year.