A question often asked in mom and budgeting groups or groups angling toward the frugal life is if vegetable gardening actually helps with cutting costs. Most people laugh and say when they got their garden going they lost a lot of money because they BOUGHT a ton of stuff.
First of all, no. If you are consciously doing a garden to save money, stop spending money. Unless you strategize what you are doing you will not make a dent in your debt nor grow your savings.
Gardening For Cheap
The thing is when I started to first garden I had no money. I didn’t have a cent to spare on gardening. I got seeds by picking out tomato seeds from my salad tomatoes or pepper seeds from some sort of pepper meal.
I even picked a seed off a tomato wrapper after I ate at Burger King once. It wasn’t the most tasty tomato as it was a huge ox-heart variety, but it oddly grew well and gave me a good harvest. All I did was put it in dirt and throw rotten leftover food scraps that were spent into the deep planting hole.
I started an outdoor compost bucket that I filled with banana peels, coffee grounds, paper trash, newspaper, tea, and other various things good for soil building.
The planting dirt I acquired for my first container garden came from leftover dirt from funeral plants that had died and my relatives were happy to get it out of their house.
I also got spare pots and buckets much the same way. Utilize your trash and always look for free sources for things first because there are things to be collected everywhere.
You can carve out your first garden space by acquiring free cardboard, papers, shredded papers, etc and just throwing them over the grass you want to kill off.
The grass will die and the paper layers will start to decompose. What I did my first year was cardboard kill some grass then plant directly into the dirt.
Then I took the cardboard to a compost heap to further break down and left my shredded paper in the planting bed alone as it helped mulch a bit and kept moisture to the spot.
My plants didn’t do great for my standards as it was a first-year planting and my soil wasn’t beefed up with compost yet. I still got quite a lot of produce and considering it was all easy to do with freely acquired materials, and just took a time cost of throwing down cardboard, it was a worthwhile thing to do.
Honestly, raised beds are pretty and they are nice. The thing is they are often quite expensive to install. Those overly pretty gardens people do are a lot of money to make look good and you do not need all that.
My solution for raised beds was to buy some cedar boards from Home depot. I’d get 3 boards per box, 2 for the sides and one cut in half for the end sides. I then attached them using cheap nails. Did it work?
Yes, for like one year. The boards get ugly fast and start to fall apart within a span of 2 years. Still isn’t bad for the low cost of them and they can be removed easily.
One thing you will find as you garden is not all vegetables, fruits, or herbs will be easy to grow and some will cost you a lot and you will get little or no return.
Some crops are also so cheap from the store that it isn’t efficient to home grow them. Though I can understand a person who wants to do their own home potatoes or try to grow as much from home as they can so they want to do everything.
You will also want to avoid things like corn unless you are just really excited over the taste of fresh corn. Corn is so cheap in the store it is usually just a waste to grow.
If you are wanting to garden purely for money savings you will probably be best served by farming select plants. Plants you will select based on ease of growing, return on the crop, and minimal pest or disease concerns.
Garden To Save Money Plants
I gardened for many years and I had extreme harvests and extreme failures. My peppers would mammoth everything while my broccoli was being eternally destroyed by some weird insect that ate it.
Over the years some plants have stood out as worthwhile things to garden. I also garden organically so my gardening is slightly more difficult in that aspect as well.
Herbs are sort of a funny thing as they are some of the easiest plants to grow and some of the most expensive things to buy from the store for cooking use. They don’t often get picked off by pests and they often do well in the poorest soils, some even prefer poor soil.
Out of all my herbs my oregano and basil were my cornerstone. They were good for adding to my Italian sauces, they dried or froze well, and they were pretty easy to clone.
One plant of each would usually serve all my needs for that growing season. They easily paid for themselves before summer was done. I had an indoor grow space and had a few years there where my herbs would get carried on to next year.
Lettuce is one of those cool crops that will keep pumping out leaves a long as the weather is just right. You could plant up a salad garden and have it where it is cut and come again for a while. You want to buy the fancy leaf lettuces or you can opt for Romaine lettuce if you want a high-yield type.
A small bed of lettuce can supply a family’s salad needs for the week and in no time they will be ready to be harvested again. I usually made sure to have a couple arugula in the mix as well just for the peppery kick in the salad.
I really like tomatoes and usually grow a couple of varieties a year. Many cherry tomatoes or slicing tomatoes are great to plant then you will be rewarded with a long harvest season with little care requirements. You might need to water them and stake them, but otherwise, they don’t need a lot. Pretty good deal considering a tiny batch of them from the store is about $4 a pop.
You might choose to go for a more heirloom variety like a Brandywine though I’ve always been partial to Roma tomatoes. Roma tomatoes are extremely productive and hardy where they are almost always my most abundant producer unless I have a hybrid out there.
Roma tomatoes are also good for all types of sauce, slicing, or paste. Roma is said to be one the best variety to cook in the oven a bit and eat because of the taste profile.
Cherry, paste and slicing tomatoes all have long harvest seasons and little upkeep after planting and caging or staking, other than moderate watering – and lots of harvesting!
Just about every year I’d end up with very high yields from my zucchini and my spaghetti squash. One problem is squash can take up a lot of space so I always opted for container approved varieties even if I was ground planting.
One good squash or zucchini can product a lot at harvest. It should be mentioned that for the most part pumpkins are not worth it. They take up way too much space. I had good results with a container variety, but I would have been better off with another zucchini.
Sort of like the zucchini, cucumbers usually have huge harvests an can be turned into pickles. Some people who like to do Farmer’s Markets sometimes only grow cucumber so they can offer pickles.
Cucumbers are also good for fresh eating.
When someone comes to me asking about gardening advice and asks what plant they should start with, I always say peppers. People all seem to think it is tomatoes that are the ultimate starter gardener plant. I think that peppers make the more viable candidate.
They are drought resistant, have very little in the way of pest or disease, can be cloned, can be started from seed easily, they are basically immortal if you have a garage that can safely overwinter them. Peppers can also grow extremely large if you keep them going for a few years.
Some people prefer jalapenos and some prefer the ancho. Most people grow bells. I used to grow some of the rare super hots and I’d sell the seeds for about $5 a pack or I’d sell the small plants to people. You could technically build a whole business as there are a lot of pepper enthusiasts.
Nice thing about peppers is they can do well in hot or cold climates up to a point. They ripen up about the same time as tomatoes as well so salsa can be made.
Hot peppers are ripe just about the same time as tomatoes which will allow you to make amazing fresh salsa and perfect canned salsa if you have enough plants.
Berries and Berry Trees
Berries are probably the most bang for your buck. Berries in the store are a LOT. A few years ago I spent a couple months trying to plan to convert my whole garden into a berry bush garden. I was even prepping up to get my yard converted into proper raised bed planters for some specially picked berry varieties.
Where I lived I potted up some wild blackberries and they about took over their planting patch. It was nice having those berries and during that time I realized that I had a mulberry tree out back in my forest lot as well.
If you go to the store to get some blackberries you will want to go with the Triple Crown Thornless variety. Good producer and good taste.
Mulberry trees are also a good addition in terms of value. Each leaf can be used for tea and you can look at Etsy where people sell their mulberry leaves to get an idea on their worth. They also give berries which are a good snack or good for pies or jams.
Strawberries are one of those weird things where I’ve had good results and awful results. When I was a young girl my mother installed a strawberry garden because she had a long strip of land off to the side of her house that was ripe for planting. She put in about 50-70 plants and those things gave us berries for many years and grew out there wild.
I tried to replicate this myself and could never figure out the system that worked there, I just know it is possible.
Rhubarb is a bit fussy the first year it is planted. After it gets set in the growing area it can basically be ignored. This plant is also perennial and it was a reliable spring producer.
It was pretty nice having a small patch because where I lived I couldn’t find it in stores and the guy I was with at the time liked rhubarb pie. It is also pretty expensive to buy when it is available.
Rhubarb is very versatile for a variety of food applications from pie to chutney to muffins to cakes. I’d almost add asparagus to the mix though it takes way more space to be useful and longer to establish.
Bonus Super Plant
This plant makes the list not exactly because of a huge cost-saving thing, but because it is so reliable and near impossible to kill. I tried something I saw on a gardening site where I planted the roots of a spent green onion.
That green onion produced all year long and I never watered it, never fertilized it, and harvested from it when needed and otherwise forgot about it. If you have a famously brown thumb, then go plant some green onions and impress people.