Based on what I have seen, people often use money as an excuse for not growing their own food, ranking it above space and time. Everyone has a budget to stick to, and while gardening for vegetables hopefully fits into your budget, it likely has some limitations.
Although it may be expensive to get started, there are ways to garden with vegetables on a budget. You can avoid buying a lot of expensive supplies by only getting what you need.
START FROM SEEDS INSTEAD OF BUYING SEEDLINGS/TRANSPLANTS
A pack of 6 seedlings or transplants from a nursery will likely cost you $5. If you plan to grow most of your food, you could easily spend $100 on plants.
A packet of seeds costs $2-3 and will grow 10 to 100 times as many plants.
To seed your own transplants, you will need a few supplies, which can be obtained cheaply.
SAVE ON BUYING SEEDS
The gardener is tempted by the different kinds of seeds available in seed catalogs. They want to try growing different varieties of vegetables and flowers.
So how can you save on your seed purchases?
- buy a seed blend – this usually then gives you a few varieties. The only downside is you won’t know which seed is which variety.
- share seeds with friends/family/colleagues. Each person buys one packet and then each of you can get a small number of seeds from each variety.
- focus on buying seeds of vegetables that you and your family like to eat. But don’t let that stop you from buying and planting seeds of vegetables that are not your favorites or that you have never eaten. With the right recipe or sauce, you can make almost any vegetable taste great!
- keep your seeds in a cool, dry place (I keep mine in the fridge in a box) and they will last several years. You don’t need to buy new seeds every year. Some seeds though are better to buy fresh every year.
- go to a local Seedy Saturday or seed swap. Most larger cities have these once a year, often in late winter where you can bring your own seeds and then swap for other seeds.
- save your own seeds by harvesting seeds from your plants and keep them to reseed the following year.
- get extra seedlings from gardeners like me that always seem to overseed. We end up having way too many “baby” plants and no room to transplant all of them. Rarely will you find a gardener that has the nerve to just throw the extra seedlings away. Join local Facebook groups on gardening – there are usually some people every spring that are giving away extra plants or sell them for just a few pennies per plant.
- make your own seed tape and sheets – don’t buy them pre-made.
REUSE CONTAINERS FOR SEEDING
There’s no need to buy special flats, pots, or – especially – peat or Jiffy pots to start your vegetable and flower seeds.
Instead, use these household recyclables for a free alternative:
- clamshell containers such as you might get takeout salads or other convenience foods. It helps to choose ones that are square or rectangular instead of round or other funny shapes (I have some octagonal ones for instance) as the former takes up less room. The advantage of a clamshell is that you can close the transparent top and it serves to keep the soil warmer (especially if you use a heat mat) and keeps it from drying out.
- yogurt containers work well, the one-serving size for starting seeds and the larger size for repotting seedlings allow them to grow larger before they get transplanted outdoors.
- styrofoam meat trays can be used as trays to put my pots and containers on to keep water from dripping on the ground.
- newspapers can be made into pots by rolling them up and crimping the bottoms and then placing them in a plastic container.
- egg cartons can be used with each egg compartment holding one seed but there is some concern about salmonella and I found the egg compartments were a bit too small – I might try this again.
Make sure to wash the containers thoroughly with hot soapy water. If you’re using them as pots, make sure to put drainage holes in the bottom.
CREATE A CHEAP GROW LIGHT SETUP
If you’re growing your own seeds indoors, you need to have some kind of grow lighting to help the seedlings grow strong.
I’ve seen grow light setups that cost hundreds of dollars.
But you can save some money with a DIY setup that works just as well. What you’ll need:
- A cheap shelving unit that you may already have or pick one up at a garage sale for a few bucks.
- A few cheap lights. These could be desk lamps, small fluorescent fixtures, or simple bulb holders. Add some LED bulbs that will last almost forever. They don’t need to be special grow light bulbs.
- A timer to control how long the lights stay on. Doesn’t need to be fancy; one of the analog ones you set by turning a dial work just as well as a digital one.
USE BUCKETS FOR GROWING
If you want a 5 gallon bucket, you can go to a bakery or restaurant and ask for one. They are food grade and just need to be cleaned. They have handles and the lid can be used as a shallow tray.
If you want the outside of your house to look nicer, you could always paint it.
USE FREE GROW BAGS
How many people have too many of those recycled plastic woven shopping bags that they may have received for free when buying $100 worth of groceries?
The smaller sizes of these could be used for growing a head or two of lettuce or some herbs.
BUILD A STRAWBERRY CRATE TOWER
The cost of terracotta strawberry planters or urns can be expensive.
You can build a strawberry crate tower from less expensive “milk” crates that can be found in department stores or home improvement stores. Even better if you can find them on special. All you need is a roll of landscape fabric and a drilled PVC pipe (I have a plumbing job left over).
USE FREE OR CHEAP RAISED BED MATERIALS
I’m not a big fan of using pallet wood, but if you can’t afford anything else (pallets are usually free), you can build a raised bed or planter out of one.
You may be able to get some cheap lumber from the lumber yard to build your beds with.
Some gardeners will use logs to border their raised beds.
USE FREE MATERIAL FOR STAKING UP PLANTS
You can use long prunings from fruit trees to stake up peas or beans.
You can use old curtain rods or towel bars to tie up tomatoes.
If you have an overhead structure, tie a string to it and let your vining plants climb up the string.
USE HOUSEHOLD ITEMS FOR PLANT TIES
You can make your own plant ties from strips of an old T-shirt or even an old pair of pantyhose. You do not need to buy expensive plant ties from the nursery or garden center. They may look cute (we have some that are flexible frogs) but are pricy if you need a lot of them. You can make your own plant ties from strips of an old T-shirt or even an old pair of pantyhose.
You can use the twist ties from bags of food to keep plants from flopping over.
You can use string or yards, or fine wire like what you’d find in an old broken telephone or network cable.
Some people even use old pantyhose that are cut in strips – the advantage is that they are stretchy so will stretch as the plant grows.
MAKE YOUR OWN COMPOST…
Bagged compost is very expensive!
It doesn’t have to be as hard as it seems to make your own compost. You just need a small 3×3 area, some chicken wire or deer fencing, and a few stakes.
To make a compost bin, first pound some stakes into the ground. Then, wrap chicken wire or netting around the stakes and secure it with string. Finally, fill the bin with spent plant material, leaves, and manure.
This saves you money in two ways: You don’t have to buy bagged compost, and you don’t have to pay to dispose of the waste.
…AND COMPOST TEA
You can make your own compost tea by filling a meshed bag with compost and tying it off. Soak the bag in a bucket of water for a few days.
To make this fertilizer, mix 10 parts water to 1 part of the mixture.
GET FREE MANURE
Manure is a by-product of raising livestock. You might be able to get free manure from someone who doesn’t have a garden or has too much manure to use.
You should compost fresh manure before using it on your plants, as it could otherwise damage them.
Only spread manure from plants that were fed without herbicides.
SWITCH TO NO-TILL GARDENING
The new way to garden is to forgo tilling the soil.
Instead of tilling or double-digging each year, amendments and deep mulch are used to protect the soil from compacting and erosion. As a result, the soil is friable and doesn’t require deep tilling. The beds can be made ready to plant by just forking them in spring.
GROW VEGETABLES THAT SAVE YOU THE MOST MONEY
The more expensive the vegetables are that you buy, the more money you will save by growing them yourself.
You can save money by growing your own salad leaves and lettuce. A bag of salad leaf seeds costs less than $1 and produces the same result as 24 bags of salad leaves from the supermarket.
A selection bag of seeds allows you to mix up your salad intake rather than just growing the same type of salad all the time.
PLANT VEGETABLES IN SUCCESSION
If you want to have a regular supply of fresh veggies, the best thing to do is sow your seeds in succession. This way, you can plant a few seeds each week and have a constant supply of fresh salad leaves. Root vegetables also do not store well, so this method of planting is ideal for beetroot, carrots, and peas. This way, you can enjoy a freshly picked crop of these vegetables throughout the harvest season.
Many vegetables can be stored in a cold, dark place, but they are always better when picked fresh. This is especially true for peas, which are best when eaten straight from the pod. Peas also grow well in pots.
SWAP SEEDS AND YOUR HARVEST
If you’re just getting started with growing your own food, you probably won’t need to plant very many seeds. In their first year, the author’s family made the mistake of planting too many tomato seeds, which resulted in having way more tomatoes than they could eat or give away. To avoid this, it’s helpful to get to know other people who are into gardening, so you can trade seeds with them. This also allows you to grow a greater variety of fruits and vegetables.
If you want your seeds to last, keep them in a cool and dry space. They should last about one to two years this way.
MAKE YOUR OWN LEAF MULCH
Why not use them to your advantage and create a leaf pile for your kids to jump in? Do you have trees in your yard? Instead of raking up all the leaves and putting them out for the city to pick up, why not use them to your advantage? Create a leaf pile for your kids to jump in.
The following spring, use a spade to chop up the leaves and dig them into the soil. If you get rid of leaves that fall in your garden, you are getting rid of a resource that could be helpful to your plants. It is best to wait a year before chopping up the leaves and incorporating them into the soil.
The leaves will break down more quickly than wood chips, and will help build healthy soil.
DON’T BUY BENEFICIAL INSECTS, ATTRACT THEM INSTEAD
Instead of buying beneficial insects, you need to make your garden attractive to them and they will come and make their home amongst your vegetables and keep those nasty pests at bay.
To attract bees, all you have to do is plant certain flowers and provide other attractants, fresh water, and, for mason bees, a place to lay their eggs.
Make sure you don’t use any synthetic chemicals, like pesticides or herbicides, so you don’t accidentally kill the beneficial insects that are helping you.