It is not uncommon to find myself chatting with a non-gardener and hear them claim that they would love to give it a try but they just think that, “the whole thing is too expensive.” I then gently explain that gardening can be expensive but it certainly doesn’t have to be. That is a choice. There are many ways to minimize the cost of a kitchen garden and subsequently make a sizable dent in your grocery bill. Described below are five ways to reduce your monetary investment when gardening on a budget.
Cover Crops & Compost. If you find yourself purchasing new bags of soil each season to fill containers and/or replenish your tilled plot, in addition to buying soil amendments, then you’re painfully aware of how costly this process can be. The best way to naturally and inexpensively maintain healthy soil is to make your own compost and enlist the help of cover crops. Cover crops prevent soil erosion in the off season and can be tilled back in to add usable nutrients to the soil. Compost not only minimizes landfill-bound waste from your home but it is FREE fertilizer. Yes, you read that right. FREE. Compost is made of nutrient rich organic matter (aka – kitchen scraps) that breaks down over time, with the help of beneficial microscopic organisms. When added to your soil it provides essential nutrients and microbes to bolster the overall health of your existing soil.
Save Seeds & Start Your Own Plants. That single bell pepper plant that you paid $2 for at the local farmers’ market last spring grew up to produce big healthy peppers and each of them was filled with dozens of seeds. Save them!! Not only will you have free seeds to plant the following season but you can swap some of them with fellow gardeners to obtain a wide variety of other seeds. The average 6-pack of plants at a local nursery or market costs $3-$5 and more mature plants can cost as much as $15 each, but seeds saved from the previous season are FREE. Even if you decide to purchase a packet of seeds you’ll get 15-250 seeds (depending on the vegetable, fruit or herb) for less than $5. Seed Mail Seed Company offers a wide variety of seeds for just $0.99 per pack. It is a significant savings to start your own plants from seed, even with the cost of soil. Also, don’t forget that many herbs, fruits and vegetables can be propagated from pre-existing plants. No purchases necessary.
Re-purpose & Upcycle Containers. I know what you’re thinking; starting your own seeds means buying a little greenhouse or seed starting kit. Wrong. Anything that can hold soil is suitable for starting seeds. Anything. Eat eggs? Reuse those empty egg cartons to start seeds. Plastic containers, milk cartons, toilet paper and paper towel tubes, Dixie cups, aluminum pans — literally anything. Bigger picture – have old, used lumber sitting around? Don’t just toss it, make it into a new raised bed or grow box. Has a tree fallen down in your yard after a big storm? Use the wood. These are all materials that can be found around your home and many can even be saved and used again and again, year after year. For FREE. You do not need to spend money on containers, just be creative.
Buy Responsibly. Not all commercially available containers are created equally and many of them are VERY expensive. If you do choose to buy containers look for low-cost, reusable options like grow bags and keep an eye out for bargains. Similarly, many seed providers offer promotions at various points throughout the year. Take advantage of off-season opportunities to buy seeds at a lower price. If you don’t need enough items to meet the minimum purchase requirements, consider ordering with a friend or family member.
It Takes a Village. Okay, maybe not the whole village but a friend or two doesn’t hurt. If you grow some varieties and your friend grows a few others then you can swap. Swap veggies, swap seeds, swap ideas, all of it. This is a great way to save on space, tools, seeds, and other resources. Sharing is caring! Not to mention all of the social media platforms that enable the exchange of ideas and goods both locally and worldwide. Be resourceful and capitalize on the opportunities available to you within the gardening community. This can be huge when attempting to cut costs.
If you have any other creative ways that allow you to limit gardening expenses please share in the comments below. Bottom line – you don’t have to break the bank to grow yourself some delicious vegetables and there are many online resources to help with seed sourcing and creative upcycling so don’t let the investment discourage you from getting started. Cheers, friends!