FIRST VEGETABLE GARDEN
THE OZ VICTORY GARDEN
GARDENING TO SAVE MONEY
INCREASE YOUR BOTANY SAVVY
TILLING VS CULTIVATING
THE PERILS OF PEAT
THE DIRT ON SOIL
TINES, TINES, TINES
WHY AND HOW TO TILL
RENT OR BUY
BUYING A LAWN MOWER?
MY NEW TILLER
Gardening To Save Money
In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that my primary motivation to garden is not to save money. I am passionate about gardening because I enjoy so many aspects of the activity. I enjoy the miracle of seeing a tiny tomato seed grow into a 6 or 8-foot tall plant yielding a hundred tomatoes. I enjoy the day to day activity of caring for my little part of the earth. I love fresh vegetables, and I get a kick out of taking photos of my flowers. I’ve spent hours nurturing a few eggplants that really don’t have a significant monetary value … but, I love those lavender flowers and there’s nothing quite like grilling a freshly harvested, organically grown, eggplant.
Nevertheless, if your motive to start or expand your gardening is to save money, I believe that you can. And, here are some suggestions from my experience.
The Basics – Growing More of Your Own Food
I’m assuming that you’re not a farmer, and that your garden is relatively small … let’s say 20 ft. by 20 ft. If that’s the case, here’s what I suggest:
1. Grow highly productive vegetables that you enjoy eating and that you can harvest over a relatively long period of time or vegetables that you enjoy eating and are easy to preserve. This may seem obvious, but I suggest that you avoid growing things that take up a lot of space, only to yield produce that is only worth a few dollars.
2. Whenever possible, “go vertical” to get the most production from the space that you have.
3. Try not to waste anything. Eat it, share it, or compost it.
Here’s a list of my favorite money-saving vegetables:
They’re delicious, good for you, and can be harvested over a long period of time. You can easily grow a single 20 foot row of pole beans on a homemade twine trellis that will provide dozens of servings as well as some extra beans to freeze for winter consumption. And, you don’t need to invest in any expensive or fancy equipment to freeze them. Simply wash them, boil them for a few minutes, immediately cool them down in an ice and water bath, and freeze them in plastic bags. They’ll last for months, and will retain most of the flavor that they had when they were picked.
Growing pole beans on a trellis also has the advantage of making them easier to pick than bush beans, there’s little bending or stooping required.
Spinach, Swiss chard, and mesclun mixes are my favorites. These greens are easy to grow and can be harvested from 30 to 55 days, depending on the type and variety. By staggering the timing of several plantings, you can harvest fresh, nutritious greens from late spring through the fall where I live (southern New Jersey), or year ‘round if you live in the south. Compared to buying fresh spinach, for example, you can save a couple of dollars per day, per serving. This could add up to real money for a family of four, and you’ll be eating very fresh, very wholesome produce!
The number one garden vegetable. I suggest growing indeterminate varieties, that is, varieties that will grow as tall as you let them. To really increase production, stake them or grow them in cages. You can buy tomato plants or start your own plants indoors, by putting seeds in small cups or egg cartons approximately 6 weeks before transplant time. Tomatoes are rich in Vitamin C, delightful in salads and on sandwiches, and can be used to make soup, sauces, and salsa. Try growing at least one cherry tomato variety; you’ll be able to enjoy a healthy snack daily from mid summer to the first frost date.
Another high yielding, nutritious vegetable that you can grow vertically. Sugar Snap or Sugar Ann peas are wonderful, because you can eat the entire pod. So, not only are they delicious, they’re also productive.
This may be the easiest vegetable to grow. They’re not vertical, but they can be very productive. Avoid the temptation to grow too many. For a small garden, I suggest planting only 1 or 2 groupings. I usually plant 3 seeds per group. Summer squash is usually ready to pick in about 50 days. You can also stagger the timing of your squash plantings to extend the harvest.
Not highly nutritious, but easy to grow and good in salads. Leaf lettuce is extremely easy to grow and will yield plenty of produce over a long period of time. Multiple plantings will extend your harvest. If you eat lettuce daily, or almost daily, throughout the year, you can save a ton of money by growing your own.
For Folks with More Space and More Time
If you have lots of space and some available time to preserve your bounty, then I recommend adding the following to the list of vegetables described above:
It’s relatively easy to grow, and I don’t think that there’s anything that beats the taste of fresh sweet corn. My recommendation, based on input from a trusted gardening friend, is Gotta Have It from Gurney’s. The seed is a little more expensive than most sweet corn seed, but both the taste and the holding characteristics make it worth the cost. Gotta Have It doesn’t convert to starch for two weeks after picking. It’s really special. I don’t think that small space gardeners should grow corn to save money; but, if you have the space, you can really enjoy some wonderful corn with very little effort.
Here’s another vegetable that doesn’t belong in small gardens. It simply takes too long, and too much space, for the yield provided. But, if you have space, by all means try some winter squash. It’s nutritious, delicious, easy to grow, and very easy to store.
Spuds are easy to grow, too, but not worth the space commitment for small gardens. If you have lots of room, however, you can enjoy a nice harvest of easy-to-grow and easy-to-store potatoes. And, you can experiment with some very tasty varieties that you might not find at the typical supermarket.
Another good crop if you have some extra space. They’re easy to grow, full of nutrients, and easy to harvest and store.
Another good vegetable if you have the space. They require almost no care, after you’ve thinned the seedlings. They do require soil with good tilth, and won’t grow well in heavy clay soil. Like other root crops, they’re easy to store.
Beyond the Basics - Other Money-Saving Gardening Ideas
Having your own compost is the best long-term investment for your garden. You can create your own fertilizer and soil conditioner at almost no cost whatsoever. This beats buying commercial fertilizer, and will pay huge dividends in higher yields and healthier plants. There is simply no better way to build great garden soil than by adding compost to it. You’ll also be contributing less to our country’s landfills and less to potential chemical pollution of the environment. For additional information, see Composting 101 on this site.
Start Your Own Seeds Inside
It’s really easier than you might think. You can grow your own tomato plants from seed with nothing more than an old egg carton, a little bit of soil (or a bag of planting mix), and perhaps some saved yogurt cups. I like to transplant my little seedlings into yogurt cups when they’re about 2” tall, because the yogurt cups will hold more soil and enable them to develop a good, strong root system. Simply drill a few holes (or use an ice pick) in the bottom of the cups for drainage. Since virtually all yogurt cups are tapered, removing the seedlings is easy; just turn them upside down and tap the bottom of the cup with your planting trowel. Tomato plants can be stared on a sunny windowsill. Start the seeds 6 to 8 weeks before your transplanting date (the “last frost date” for your area).
Plant an Apple Tree
This won’t save you any money in the first year, but later on you’ll enjoy having fresh crispy apples. And, you’ll also find that applesauce is easy to make and freeze. Standard size apple trees can also add to the beauty of your landscape; they’re good shade providers and can lower your air conditioning cost as well as make your patio or deck more pleasant.
I covered most of the short-term and direct savings opportunities above. Here are a few interesting “indirect” savings opportunities:
Gifts from the Garden
A small basket of tomatoes or a vase of freshly cut flowers makes a wonderful hostess gift. We always have a few extra baskets and several vases on hand just for this purpose. Baskets and vases are good yard sale items (often selling for less than a buck each), so if have the room to store a few of them, consider building a little inventory so that you can always create a unique hostess gift right from your garden. It’s much more creative and thoughtful, not to mention less expensive, than the classic bottle of wine.
Better Food for Better Health
It’s not a stretch to consider that when you eat better, you’ll be healthier. So, a real benefit of growing some of your own food is that you’ll be eating better. Obviously, organically grown tomatoes are going to be better than most store-bought tomatoes; but, you may also find that you enjoy your home-grown vegetable snacks better than a lot of the processed, high-carbohydrate alternatives. Cherry tomatoes, for example, are better for us than potato chips! So, if by growing some of your own food, you live a healthier lifestyle, you may save a lot of money in the long run, too.
Exercise for Better Health
I seem like I’m on a crusade here, the fact is that gardening is good exercise. No, it’s not usually aerobic exercise, and it won’t be an Olympic event any time soon, but it does involve a fair amount of stretching, and can also work the large muscles at planting and harvesting time. So, get outside, and enjoy it. And, a healthier you is a money-saving you.
Spiritual Effects of Gardening
Almost every gardener I know has said that gardening relieves stress. I can’t prove that, and there are times when I’m battling with Japanese beetles or a severe dry spell that gardening might create stress. But, generally speaking, gardening is a stress-relieving activity. At least it should be. So, if you can enjoy it, and appreciate the wonders of the natural world a little more, you’ll be healthier in the long run. And, as I said above, a healthier you is a money-saving you.
Responsible Lawn Care
If you’re interested in gardening to save money, why not consider how you might save money on lawn care, as well. You can have a great looking lawn without using a lot of potentially toxic chemicals and lots of water. The key is to have really good soil in which your turf can thrive. Two keys to a more natural lawn are:
Consider organic fertilizers – they’re slow release, generally require less watering, and will be better for the environment in general.
Mow high, and either leave the clippings on the lawn to feed the grass (they won’t create thatch), or use the clippings to mulch, and eventually feed, your vegetable garden. I like to mix grass clippings with shredded brown leaves for my garden mulch. The mix of grass clippings and leaves creates great mulch; leaves alone tend to blow away, and grass clippings alone can quick matt down and repel water.
If you have a smaller lawn (a half acre to one acre), the various lawn attachments for the Mantis tiller can work wonders. I use the Border Edger, Lawn Dethatcher, and Aerator to keep my lawn looking great all spring, summer, and fall. Check out these clever attachments at http://www.powertogrowityourself.com/
Of course, a tiller and some attachments will cost you some money up front; but, if you’re using a lawn care service, or spending a lot on chemical fertilizers, weed killers, water. Not to mention a lot of time. This small investment can pay huge dividends very quickly. With a tiller, a few attachments, a little organic lawn food, and some time you can have a professional looking, and environmentally responsible, lawn at half the cost of a lawn care service.
http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=7447270 - ABC had a "Good Morning America" report on how people are Gardening more to save money these days. Theres alot of good economical information on vegetable gardening even if you don't know how to garden they show you how easy it is.
If you have any comments, I’d really like to hear from you.
The Garden Of Oz
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ReviewsRead Reviews (4)
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4.8 out of 5
September 27, 2011
Awesome site thank you there is nothing like your own vegetables-sunshine-working the earth-and having me time.It is a huge stress reliever and time for thought what more could you ask for. :)
By: Angela B rown
GARDENING IS REALLY REWARDING.I LOVE TO WATCH THE PLANTS GROW AND PRODUCE FRUITS.June 16, 2010
By: Steve Young
I especially enjoyed your comments about gardening being a "spiritual" endeavor. While I don't use it as a stress reducer (I really don't have much stress in my life to begin with and I have other ways of dealing with the occasional stress) I find that it puts me totally in the moment and gives me a sense of connectedness with the earth. A very "grounding" practice. I love gardening and I am very grateful to you for producing such a wonderful gardening site. Thank you!
Food prices are definately somewhat expencive these days. I'm glad theres articles like these to show that you can just do some simple vegetable gardening for a fraction of the price.