Last Updated on July 3, 2022 by Carolyn
Can you Save Money Growing a Budget Garden?
Table of Contents
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. Full disclosure here.
As we wave winter goodbye and welcome Spring many of us turn our thoughts to gardening. I don’t know about you but at this time of year, I crave fresh berries and yearn for greens freshly picked from the garden. But have you ever stopped to calculate just how much that cup of strawberries cost you to grow or how much per pound you paid for those plump red tomatoes you so proudly grew? Are you really saving money by growing your own food?
The answer is yes you can save money by growing your own fruit and vegetables, but without proper care and planning, it can cost you a lot more than buying grocery store produce. This post will highlight things you should know to grow a budget garden.
Planning the Budget Garden
It’s easy to fall victim to the tempting rows of vegetable plants lining the shelves of your local Walmart or Home Depot, and imagining yourself harvesting the bounty. If it only were that easy. Let’s take a look at what it takes to grow a successful garden that will also save you money.
The first thing you need to determine is your gardening zone. Here’s a link to the USDA Plant Hardiness map. Just type your address and it’ll let you know your zone.
With this information in hand, you can make a list of fruits and vegetables that you regularly purchase and see if they are suitable for your climate zone. Learn about cold-season and warm-season crops. Planting cold season crops can really extend your growing window and boost your garden bounty. Also if you have space to store some of your harvest consider growing fruit or vegetables that store well or that can be frozen.
Containers or Garden Plot?
You need to decide where will you be growing these plants: Will you work up a garden plot or simply plant a few containers? This will dictate how much you can grow. You can be very successful gardening in containers but you’ll have to be quite selective about what you plant. If you have a garden plot you’ll have many more options. Try to grow plants vertically whenever possible to save on space. Most of us grow peas and beans vertically but some varieties of squash, cucumbers and indeterminate tomatoes do well grown vertically.
Seed or Plant Starts?
Will you grow from seed or purchase plants? It’s a lot cheaper to grow your vegetables from seed but it takes more effort and commitment. I prefer to grow my plants from seed as then I can pick the varieties best suited for my short growing season. It’s also easier to do staggered planting with seed so that you can have plants maturing throughout the growing season.
Buying plants does cut out a lot of the work and also doesn’t require dedicating space in your home for seed starting.
Sourcing Seeds and Plants
When flipping through the pages of the seed magazines full of promises of bountiful crops and enticing photos, it’s easy to get carried away and prepare a large order but there are far cheaper ways to acquire seed.
Find out if there is a seed library local to your area. A seed library is a library from which you can check out seeds instead of books. Most of the seed is donated to the library by fellow gardeners. You can also search on Facebook and see if there is a gardening group in your area. Often these groups have seed swaps where you can get seeds at bargain prices or for free. The best thing about sourcing seed in this manner is that the seed is usually from plant varieties that do well in your locality.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for via these sources search to see if there is a local organic seed supplier in your area. They too are likely to have seed that does well in your area. I like to order seeds from Botanical Interests a Colorado-based seed supplier.
Another thing to keep in mind is just because you can grow it doesn’t mean you should. It seems each year there is something I plant that I really don’t enjoy eating and wouldn’t buy, so why in the world am I growing it? It’s also very easy to bite off more than you can chew when planning a garden but it makes much more sense to start small and to increase the garden size and scope as you develop your green thumb.
Too Late to Start Seeds?
As you do your research you may find it’s too late to start certain vegetables that you might have wanted to grow or you might decide that you’d prefer to start with plants as seed starting is more work than you want to take on. All is not lost. This is when you can again turn to garden groups and see if anyone has extra plants to sell or perhaps scan Craigslist or Kijiji for plant swaps or sales. I like to shop at local nurseries just after the peak planting weekends and snatch up plants severely discounted as the stores make way for new inventory. Last year I purchased several 4 packs of vegetables for less than a dollar each.
What to Grow?
Best Bang for you Buck
When you only have limited space to grow it makes sense to consider how much the produce sells for at the store. You’ll find that fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley are several dollars per bunch. It makes good financial sense to grow these plants in your budget garden.
On the other hand, some produce is dirt cheap when in season. Potatoes and corn are two examples. At just $2.00 or $3.00 for a 5# bag, potatoes aren’t a good choice to grow if space is at a premium. Corn requires a lot of space to grow and when fresh cobs can be purchased 4 for a $1.00, the garden space can probably be better used for something else.
Fruits & vegetables with good return on the dollar:
- Cut and come again greens
- Squash (but it is a space hog)
- Mushrooms (not in the garden, takes special care)
The following fruits and vegetables aren’t so financially rewarding. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grow them but if you’re gardening for your pocketbook there are better choices:
- Blueberries (unless you naturally have very acidic soil )
I also try to plant dual-purpose plants when possible. What is a dual-purpose plant? It’s a plant that is ornamental but also edible. Some examples are nasturtiums, calendula, chives, scarlet runner beans and sunflowers. This is just the tip of the iceberg, there are many many plants that are dual purpose. Herbs are often dual-purpose this being pretty and also edible or medicinal.
It’s also a good idea to talk with your neighbors about what they are growing. If one of your neighbors is growing a lot of tomatoes perhaps you can focus on legumes and then you can trade produce. There’s no point in each of you having an over abundance of the same thing.
Growing perennial plants is rewarding and easy on the budget since with care, these plants return year after year. Common perennial garden plants are rhubarb, asparagus, horseradish, some herbs, and many kinds of berries, and of course fruit trees. These plants usually take a year or two to get established but once they do you can reap their bounty year after year.
Another consideration when planning your home garden is companion planting. Just like people, plants have plants that they like to be with, and others that that they prefer to not be with. Some plants like Marigolds repel insects and will help protect your garden from their predation.
Tools of the Trade
Most seeds like warm soil to germinate and then once germinated require good light. A couple of purchases have been game-changers for my seed starting success. They are a heat mat such as this which costs only $18.99.
And an LED grow light fixture like this one available from Amazon for just $39.99.
What I like about using the light and mat is that is lets me start seeds anywhere in the house, I don’t have to worry about natural light and heat.
Seeds should be started in good clean soil. You can buy mixes like this All Natural Coco Coir and Perlite Peat Mix or save some pennies by mixing your own in the following proportions:
I reuse the little plastic pots that I have accumulated over the years for seed starting. You can also make yourself a simple seed starting tray out of scraps of wood.
When preparing your garden bed it’s essential to have good soil. Compost is a good way to amend your garden soil. You can compost all of your food scraps and yard waste but will probably find that you need more than what you can produce from your own kitchen. Many communities have free compost pickup and if yours doesn’t, browse craigslist or kijiji again. Look for farmers giving away aged manure, you’ll probably find you can get as much as you want just for the time it takes to load it and take it away. Be sure manure is aged otherwise it could burn your seedlings.
When it comes to harvesting from your budget garden be sure to store your vegetables correctly. Refer to this post for tips on storing your fruits and vegetables. If you’ve grown more than you can eat yourself don’t let the produce go to waste, share with your neighbors and/or the local food bank.
If you’re very frugal after harvest you can tally up the costs you have incurred for your budget garden and then decide what changes to make for next year’s garden. Keeping a garden journal is a very good method of keeping track of your budget garden successes and failures.
Share your Budget Garden Ideas
Please feel free to share your own gardening tips, ideas, and thoughts for growing a budget garden in the comments below.