Gardening has a long underlying history of helping individuals and families save money by growing their own food. Like any activity, gardening can be expensive depending on your plans and the materials you choose to use. However, there are plenty of ways that you can reduce the overall cost of gardening, allowing you to grow your own food while staying within even a strict budget.
Salvaged and Recycled Materials
You don’t need to go out and buy the most expensive treated wood for raised beds and other infrastructure. In fact, treated wood may not be the best choice for vegetable beds due to varying brand’s chemical additives. Instead, look for reclaimed wood in old barns, old fences, or hanging out in your garage. Even old logs and sticks can be used if you have trees on your property. Try to stay as natural as possible, avoiding items like railroad ties and tires.
Salvaged pieces of wood and other materials can also be used for tomato and pole bean trellises. Even a few free found sticks in the woods can be tied together as a teepee for climbing crops to inhabit.
Late Summer Clearance Sales
One of the best-kept gardening secrets is the late summer clearance sale. As most companies want to clear out old gardening products and seeds to make way for the next round of seasonal items, stores often put gardening tools, fertilizers, and seeds on deep discounts as it gets later in the summer. It’s not uncommon to find seeds for 75% off, along with pots, raised bed kits, compost, and other items that can be used for your next year’s garden. Most big box stores are great places to look for these deals, but don’t count out drug stores and even grocery stores, depending on your area.
Many online seed stores also do clearance events to varying degrees to sell off the remainder of that year’s seed stock. Remember, seeds can last for years if stored properly. While some experts may recommend putting them in the freezer, I’ve had seeds I’ve stored in a plastic pencil box last more than five years, though you may see a slight drop in germination rates with older seed. This tip further helps you save money by spreading out a seed purchase over multiple years.
While you may have to invest initially in seeds, many vegetable varieties have seeds that can be easily saved and grown again the next year. This small task essentially creates a free garden over time. Another benefit to saving your own seeds is that each time you save the seed, the plant becomes increasingly more adapted to your individual climate and soil type, often creating a stronger, healthier plant.
Be aware that certain seeds may not grow true to the original, such as squash seeds planted closely together with other squash or pumpkin seeds, or hybrid plants purchased from stores that may grow as one of the parent seeds used to create it. However, crosses are what make gardening fun, and you may even discover a new variety you really love that you can save seeds from and grow out as your own.
Some of the easiest vegetables to save seeds from include lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and peppers. In some cases, there may be additional processing steps necessary, like fermenting or soaking the seed before drying and storing, so make sure you read up on each variety before packing them for the winter.
Plan Long Term
Garden infrastructure projects can take up the bulk of any gardener’s budget. However, planning long term you can slowly build up your garden to spread the cost out over multiple seasons. For example, in my first year of gardening on my own, my entire garden was wiped out by deer overnight. The next season I found some old orange construction fencing which I wrapped around a few cheap t-posts and ran twine across the top of the t-posts to discourage deer from jumping over it. A few deer got in, but the devastation was not nearly as bad. I then saved up money and upgraded the fence to plastic deer fencing the next year, and then eventually real fencing a section at a time over the next few seasons.
Remember, your garden soil is also a long-term project. It takes time and lots of added organic matter for beneficial organisms to make a home in your garden soil and match the “black gold” soil you see on garden shows and in magazines.
Find a Community
Gardening has a built-in community of those who love to teach and share with others. I blame this on zucchini, as once you grow one zucchini plant, you either learn to share with others or plan to be buried in them all season long.
Whether it’s a gardener sharing seeds they’ve saved for free with another gardener or giving away tools and other materials, you’d be surprised how much money you can save by joining a community. Seed sharing communities have expanded to online services like Facebook, Google Hangouts and other platforms. This allows you to ask questions, swap seeds, and learn from many master gardeners around the world.
As you get more established, pass on the garden bug by sharing your collected seeds with other new gardeners in your community and then you’ll feel the true joy that gardening can bring.