Today’s post is part of the Eating Healthy on a Budget Series I’ve been running in January. Please refer to my Eating Healthy on a Budget page for additional posts that cover a variety of topics and perspectives including how to save on produce, eating gluten-free, meal planning, recipes and more.
I don’t feel a series on how to eat healthy on a budget would be complete without considering gardening!
Let me start by sharing a bit about my own recent journey in gardening. We were blessed to buy a nice home about 8 years ago now with a decent sized yard, but most of it was grass – which we didn’t use. So in 2010, we began what has turned out to be a massive undertaking.
Here’s the “before” or in progress shot of us removing the sod….
And how the same space looked during last summer, two years after starting the project:
There is still more work to be done (namely clean up) and I would like to add some beautiful containers, maybe a bench, and a water feature. I also keep
nagging asking my husband about the possibility of adding some small fruit trees in the back, and perhaps more berry bushes. But these things can come as I find the money and the deals. In the meantime, I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to do here!
The garden has become rewarding on so many levels….
- At mealtimes, I can wander out and pick fresh produce for a salad, smoothie, or soup.
- It’s often the place you’ll find me reading in the summer or unwinding.
- I feel proud serving my family food I grew.
- I get to make fun memories with the kids and teach them about eating well “from the ground up.”
- I’ve learned to appreciate where my food comes from and learn a valuable skill.
Of course, we saw our project every bit as much of a landscaping one as a gardening one! Given that, it was not a cheap endeavor by any stretch of the imagination, but we broke it out in stages so we could afford it and pay cash. That being said, today I wanted to share a few ideas I’ve learned about how you could get started gardening for less.
Tip #1: Consider Free Garden Sources.
When it comes to gardening, there are a lot of different things you can snag for free, if you’re resourceful! Here are just a few I came up with….
- Browse Craigslist or Freecycle for free garden materials.
- If you live in the Tacoma/Puget Sound Area, snag TAGRO as free garden fertilizer. (Check with your own area for other options.)
- Learn how to make your own compost.
- Take in a free garden course – check your local library or store such as Home Depot.
- Make use of free garden help from your Farmer’s Market (ours has a booth with master gardeners you can pose your questions to) or by contacting a Master Gardener (for Pierce County). I’ve made use of both of these and have found them to be very helpful!
- Trade seeds for free through the Seed Exchange to cut down on seed costs.
- For those on food stamps, did you know you can use your EBT to buy seeds and plants?
- Don’t grow what you can get for free! For instance, I won’t grow blackberries because they grow in an abundance in my neck of the woods and I can get them for free.
Be creative! The more you get going, the more your eyes will be open to how you can save money on your new hobby.
Pictured above: my friend Erica got these buckets for her container garden for free at Panera Bread! (Thanks for the tip, One Hundred Dollars a Month!)
Pictured above: I love getting free coffee grounds from Starbucks to use as garden fertilizer!
Tip #2: DIY Garden Hacks.
It can be easy to wander through the garden store feeling like you need that $50 pea trellis shaped like the Eiffel Tower. Granted, I get the desire to have your garden “cute,” but consider that you can often use simple materials to add beauty and purpose in your garden.
Here’s one example:
Sometimes simple solutions get the job done just as well as expensive ones!
Tip #3: Find a Garden Buddy
My pal Susan is definitely my garden buddy! We started our garden hobby the same year and have been eagerly exchanging notes ever since! I just placed a seed order that we’ll be splitting to save on costs, and we’ve also shared plant starts, seeds, dirt orders, and tools over the years.
Pictured above: fragrant sage growing in my garden for FREE thanks to a start from Susan’s garden.
You could also use a garden buddy to enjoy more produce! For instance, you could agree to grow potatoes, onions, carrots, and radishes and your buddy could tackle greens, herbs, and corn. Then you can agree to split it up! In this way you may be able to enjoy even more varieties than you could do in your own garden space.
Pictured above: the seed order that just arrived this week that Susan & I will be splitting.
Tip #4: Grow Varieties that Give you the Biggest Bang for your Buck
It’s going to take some time and experimentation to figure out what’s best to grow in your garden. One thing I’ve learned is to grow what matters to you and your family. Don’t feel obligated to grow tomatoes if you don’t really enjoy them and you feel they are more fuss than they’re worth! Certainly don’t grow zucchini or squash if you can’t stand them – you’ll be sorry you did by the time you’ve harvested your 20th 9-lb zucchini.
To get you started, let me share a few examples what I’ve grown that has made sense for me and why:
- Herbs. Herbs are super expensive to buy in the store and have a multitude of uses from soups, salads, stews, bean dishes, smoothies, roasts, and more. Additionally, they can easily be preserved in a number of ways including drying, dehydration, and freezing in ice cubes (my favorite!).
- Come-and-cut-again lettuce. It’s pretty to grow heads of lettuce, but I found it most practical to grow the kind you snip and it keeps growing! That way you can extend the harvest and enjoy fresh garden salad greens for months.
- Onions and garlic. Not only are they easy to grow, they store well. Would you believe we are STILL enjoying these beautiful Copra Onions I harvested back in August? That’s going on nearly 6 months and they are still tasty! Plus that, I don’t have to tell you how versatile and common onions are to the everyday cook.
- Tomatoes. I would say this only after I learned to can last year. Planting produce I know how to preserve is so important. What’s the point of growing something you don’t know how to prepare or put up?
Pictured above: this year, I let my cilantro go to seed. As it did, it bloomed into beautiful purple blossoms, instantly attracting bees. A few weeks after, the seed heads had dried resulting in a beautiful jar of coriander! This can be used for culinary purposes and some will be planted for next year’s cilantro plants. This is a great example of how one could stretch their dollars in a garden.
As a bonus tip, can I encourage you to grow your garden organically? I’ve come to discover that this can be an added money saver! Instead of using harsh chemicals, you can make use of household and everyday items for pest control and fertilizer. For instance, you can make your own compost, try eggshells or beer to address your slug problem, or add flowers into your garden to confuse pests and attract pollinators. Not only could these things be cost savers, you’ll feel good knowing no harmful chemicals were used to grow the food you’ll be serving your family.
I would love to hear from you today! If you garden, what tips do you have for saving money? If you’re on the fence about gardening, what’s holding you back?