Start a Garden for Dirt Cheap: 8 Tips to Plant the Seeds of Savings

Even if you’ve saved up for a spacious vegetable garden, it can seem overwhelming when you consider all the materials needed to get started.

But there are lots of budget-conscious ways to start a bountiful garden, and even if you don’t even have much space, there are ideas to help you make the most of what you have.

One reason people want to have a vegetable garden is to save money on food, but if you’re not careful, growing your own can become more expensive than buying it at the store.

The first year is your starting point. If you’re gardening frugally, it just means you have to get creative. After that, there’s no where to go but up.

Start or save seeds indoors

Starting seeds indoors is an easy way to save on costs - you can even save seeds from your grocery purchases.

First, create a dedicated, sunny space for plants to grow. Use good quality seeds and a good seed starting mix—not potting soil. Try planting in plastic six-packs with holes at the bottom for good drainage. You can also use yogurt containers or water bottles, and just poke holes in the bottom. 

Buy second-hand tools and supplies

Social media marketplaces, yard sales and thrift stores have things like basic garden tools, as well as pots and other containers for pennies on the dollar. You can also consider repurposing some things you might already have, like old pallets that can be used to make raised beds, or food grade plastic containers that can become pots.

Propagate from other plants

It’s easy to propagate new plants from existing plants. One way is “rooting” clippings. Simply cut the stem of a branch, preferably one with about four to six leaves on the stem. Where two leaves come together, there’s a bump, or node, on the stem. Remove the leaves from the lowest node you’re cutting. Now you’ve got a stem with a leafless node on the bottom and two or four leaves on the top. Root this stem in water or moist dirt. 

Give your kitchen scraps a second look

Lettuce, potatoes, onions, cabbage and celery can be regrown easily. For lettuce, just chop off the bottom three inches of a head of lettuce and keep it. Fill the bottom of a few shallow bowls with 2-3 inches of water, just enough to cover the roots. Set this in the window. Change the water every few days, and within two weeks, you should see new growth from the inner, bottom portion of the lettuce. Keep watering, and it will keep growing. 

Try container gardening

If you’re very low on space, and you don’t have many tools, then planting seeds in used containers will really increase your savings. You can grow almost any vegetable or flower this way. It’s not just space-saving. It’s also easy to move containers to other locations, and it’s much easier to control pests or diseases that may be present in soil. Container gardens require less water, and it’s always appealing to see plants growing from the window or the curb. 

Make your own compost

You can do this for free in your own backyard. It only costs you time. Collect grass clippings, leaves, pine needles, and mix it with leftover kitchen scraps like fruit and vegetable peelings and cores, egg shells, and coffee grounds. Never add meat or dairy scraps, fats, oil, or chemically treated wood to your compost pile. Keep a container in your kitchen to accumulate your composting materials as you prepare your meals. Keep your compost pile watered, so it has the consistency of a damp sponge. Provide it with oxygen by turning the pile over once a week, with a garden fork or other tool. When your pile is dry, brown and crumbly, you can use generous handfuls of it to feed your garden. 

Plant high-yield vegetables

You’ll definitely see a drop in your grocery bill if you plant vegetables that produce like crazy. Cucumbers, pole beans, radishes, squash, zucchini, okra, peas, asparagus and tomatoes are easy to grow and can give you a lot of produce per plant, allowing for a lengthy and bountiful harvest. 

Final thoughts

Growing vegetables doesn’t have to break the bank. Save cash while making your outdoor space look beautiful as it’s providing food for your freezer. And another free tip: The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture provides free and informal education and other resources for home gardeners. 

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