Creating your own vegetable garden is a great hobby. You’ll get more time outdoors while growing healthy foods, and you can involve the whole family. Starting a garden from scratch may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are a few tips to get started.
Start From Seeds
Instead of buying seedlings from a garden center, save money by starting your plants from seeds. Typically, seedlings cost anywhere from $3-$10 dollars per plant, compared to a packet of 100 seeds that can start around $2. Starting plants from seeds doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. For affordable containers, use old egg cartons, yogurt cups, or toilet paper tubes to plant the seeds indoors. Once the plants are large enough, transport them into your garden, and watch them grow.
Keep an eye out for local groups who host seed swaps. You can often find great deals on seed packets, or trade for seeds using your leftover packets.
Keep It Simple
Plant only what you’ll eat. It can be tempting to plant every type of vegetable or experiment with different varieties, but you’ll want to be realistic about what and how much vegetables your family will eat. Even though seed packets may be affordable, planting unnecessary items can add up quickly and take up valuable garden space. So, if you’re the only member of your household who likes radishes, it may be best to skip them. Be mindful of how much you plant, too. You’ll want to be able to eat whatever you grow before it goes to waste.
If you do find yourself with more produce than your family can handle, partner up with friends and neighbors to swap your harvest. If you’ve grown an excess of tomatoes, you can trade with someone who grew too many of another crop. This will help cut down on how much you’ll need to plant and eliminate any food waste if you can’t eat everything you grow.
Design It Yourself
Once you have an idea of what plants will work best for you, take time to observe your space and see what areas get the most sun and what areas have more shade throughout the day. This will help determine where you should build your beds and decide how much space you have for your vegetable garden.
Go online or visit your local library for free resources to learn more about building garden beds, what plants grow best in your area, and how to maintain a vegetable garden. You’ll need to learn what type of plants grow well together and what types to avoid planting near each other. Research which plants need to be planted in pairs for cross-pollination and learn more about when and how to harvest different varieties. Whether online or at the library, you can find free resources on nearly any garden topic to help you design the best vegetable garden for you and your family.
Make Your Own Soil
It may seem like a daunting task, but making your own soil is easier than you think, and often less expensive than buying pre-made options. Good garden soil needs a lot of organic material to provide nutrients for the plants and promote proper drainage in your garden beds. Starting a compost bin is a great way to collect nutrient-rich materials for your garden. Vegetable scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds all make great additions to a compost bin. Other organic material, like grass clippings and leaves, can be added to your compost bin, too. Over time, these items break down and can be added to your soil instead of expensive chemicals to promote good soil health.
A common method for making your own soil is to use the lasagna method – also known as sheet gardening. With this method, you’ll alternate laying down brown items – like leaves, cardboard, and newspaper – with green items – like grass clippings and vegetable scraps – to create layers in your garden bed. These items need to stay moist to “cook” the layers and break down into compost. A lasagna garden can be less labor intensive because the materials help suppress weeds and retain moisture. You can make a lasagna garden any time of the year, but the best time to begin is in the fall so that the materials have time to break down for your spring planting season.
Build with Salvaged Materials
You’ll need more than plants for a successful garden, and those costs can add up quickly. Be resourceful and repurpose items you already have. Instead of buying pre-made garden beds, you can use wood pallets and cinderblocks as a border for your garden. If you’re planting vegetables that grow on vines, you’ll need to give them a place to climb. Use scrap wood, bamboo stalks, and twine to create a trellis instead of purchasing pricey vegetable cages. If you don’t have access to salvaged materials, check out local yard sales and online ads for free or low-cost items rather than buying from big-box garden centers.
Consider a Rain Barrel
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average household devotes 30% of their water usage to the outdoors. Using a rain barrel to collect rainwater can reduce your household’s water usage and provide a free resource to water your garden. Rainwater has less chemicals, too, so it can be beneficial for gardens and lawns. You can buy a rain barrel kit or save more money by making one on your own by using a large bucket or clean trash can. Add a spigot and hose, then position the barrel under a downspout to collect water.
Extend the Season
If you find yourself with an abundance of produce from your vegetable garden, research ways to preserve foods. For example, you can make homemade tomato sauce or jams and use canning techniques to store them properly. Many fruits and vegetables can be frozen for future use, too. Not only will you save money by growing your own food instead of buying items from the grocery store, but you’ll be able to enjoy your harvest all year round.
Gardening can be a rewarding activity that doesn’t need to break the bank. If you’re looking for more frugal tips and tools, check out our WalletWorks page.