Many people today want to start a vegetable garden. One good reason to grow some of your own vegetables is to save money — buying produce at the market costs eight times more than growing your own. There are many other good reasons why you may want to grow some of your own produce in a vegetable garden.
You will definitely enjoy better tasting food. Many people find that their cooking habits change; they prepare simpler and less expensive recipes that are also healthier. Some families make tending the vegetable garden a group activity to help teach children about homegrown food.
Gardening requires routine work, including digging, planting, weeding and watering. You may not want to grow vegetables if you don’t have a sunny location. The upfront costs can be high, especially if you plan to install raised beds or need to buy fencing and gardening tools. Finally, not all gardeners are successful. Some report losing some or all of their crops, particularly in the first two years.
However, many people are taking the leap and find that planting a vegetable garden is a very satisfying activity that can save them money. We’ve compiled this list of vegetable garden tips and ideas to help you keep the initial cost as low as possible.
Getting started: Gardening on the cheap
- Start with a plan. Decide which vegetables you will grow. Make sure you can provide the optimal growing conditions including sun, water and space.
- Plant easy-to-grow salad greens. Many first time vegetable gardeners start with salad greens and herbs. Plant just four feet of lettuce per person in your household. Be sure to start a new row and plant new seeds every two to three weeks for a continuous crop. For herbs, grow parsley, rosemary and thyme or oregano, which are easy-to-grow and versatile.
- Grow your family’s favorite vegetables. Start with vegetables that you are already buying and eating. These give you the highest return over store-bought prices: beets, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, garlic, green beans, greens (including kale, spinach, Swiss chard and lettuces), onions, peas, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin and winter squash, tomatoes, and zucchini or other summer squashes.
- Practice container gardening. Especially if you live in the city, container gardening is easy and scalable. Containers can be repurposed from almost anything, including a plastic bag of soil that you use as a planter, as well as milk jugs, two-liter soda bottles, five-gallon plastic buckets and metal bins, as well as ceramic and terra cotta flower pots that you can buy for almost nothing at garage sales and thrift stores.
- Start small. Begin with one container. In the garden, create a plot as little as 10 feet by 10 feet (100 square feet) or simply add a few vegetables to your existing landscape.
- Plant seeds rather than buying more expensive plant starts or seedlings. If you start your own seedlings, ask for empty two- and four-inch plastic pots from a local nursery, or use egg cartons. Check the local farmers market for plants and seeds, which are often less expensive than those purchased at a large nursery.
- If you need fencing, use inexpensive chicken wire to keep out critters such as deer, raccoons, rabbits or even household pets and young children.
- Add a rain barrel. Capture rain water for use in your garden to save money on your water bill.
- Water wisely. The best times to water are early in the morning or later in the evening, never in the middle of the day when evaporation is higher and less water makes its way to your plants.
- Make your own compost from yard and food waste. You may need to purchase good soil to start your garden, but you should never need to buy compost or fertilizer.
- Download free gardening publications from your nearest cooperative extension office, get free vegetable garden plans from Better Homes and Gardens, and learn how to grow your favorite vegetables at the National Gardening Association.