There are lots of reasons to plant a vegetable garden. It’s a great way to get outside and get some exercise; it gives you the opportunity to be creative and think scientifically at the same time; it can be a great stress reliever, and of course the delicious end product is pretty good too!
But can gardening save money?
Turns out the answer is yes, if you want it to. The key is to approach your garden with the mindset of “how little money do I have to put in for maximum reward”? All you really need are some seeds, starts, and a few basic tools, which you can get right here at the Co-op!
Deciding what to grow
If you’re gardening to save money, being practical and thoughtful about what you want to grow is paramount. Here are some factors to consider:
What do you and your family actually eat on a regular basis? This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s really easy to look through a seed catalog and be lulled into the notion that this year if you just grow enough of that beautiful eggplant variety, you can convince your family to eat it. Maybe, but chances are if your family (like mine) are not eggplant lovers, they won’t suddenly change their minds and eat mass quantities of it in September when the harvest comes. It’s extremely important to think practically—what do you buy on a regular basis that your family likes to eat?
It may also be useful to think outside the produce department when selecting plants to grow. For example, I drink a lot of tea in the winter, so I’ve recently started planting a tea garden with chamomile, lemon balm, lemongrass, and a few other herbs that I can easily dry and use throughout the cold months.
What’s your shade situation? Shade is perhaps the greatest challenge for urban gardeners, especially in cities like ours that have lots of beautiful, big trees. It’s tempting to think that maybe this year your tomatoes will not mind a few hours of shade every day… sorry, they will mind, and you will not get maximum yield from them. Most garden plants need full sun in order to thrive, but luckily there are a few that will produce in partial shade. These include most common culinary herbs (except for basil), kale, chard, lettuce, spinach, beets, and broccoli.
How much space do you have? If you have a huge backyard with plenty of space, great! If not, you can still save money by concentrating on high value crops that do well in small spaces. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant for example, are all relatively expensive to buy even when they are in season, but they grow well in containers on a porch or balcony. Salad mix, arugula, and other greens can be seeded densely in a small space and then cut for salad and allowed to regrow for future harvests. There are lots of creative ways to use small garden spaces—a simple Google search for “gardening in small spaces” yields a plethora of ideas about how to get maximum yield in tight spaces.
How much time do you have? Time is a limiting factor that is often overlooked by new gardeners. On a lovely spring day it’s really easy to get inspired and decide to plant a huge garden; but when hot, mosquito-laden July and August roll around, we’re not alwaysso keen to spend hours outside, and there are lots of other summer activities that take us away from our gardens. Be realistic about the time you are willing to spend on your garden throughout the entire growing season, and plant accordingly. Otherwise, the time and money you put into starting your garden will not pay off in a good harvest.
Money Saving Tips
This is by no means an exhaustive list; just think creatively and you’ll be amazed by how much bounty you can get from your garden for very little monetary input.
- Install a rain barrel. If you live in the city and pay for your water, this is one investment that can really pay off, plus it’s a great water conservation measure.
- Seek out creative solutions for repurposed containers and supplies. You’d be amazed what people have repurposed into plant containers: old teapots, barrels, desk drawers, boots.. as long as you can put dirt in it, and it has some kind of drainage, the sky’s the limit. An old milk jug can be cut up into strips and used as markers for your plants. Old bed headboards and broken swing-sets can be turned into effective trellises. Garage sales and Craigslist are great places to look for inspiration.
- Home composting can reduce or even eliminate the need to purchase fertilizer. Kitchen scraps, autumn leaves, and grass clippings all make excellent compost. I find that by composting these things throughout the year, I generally have enough good quality compost to charge my garden’s fertility. If you don’t have a supply of homemade compost at the ready, we sell a great locally made compostfrom Purple Cow Organics. A few bags go a long way!