This post was written by Anne Brock of Flour Sack Mama and Clean Couponing. I’m very excited that she was willing to share this great information. I haven’t started a food garden so this wasn’t a topic I felt I could cover. I hope you enjoy her post!
When looking for frugal ways to feed your family, gardening has traditionally been a no-brainer. Now that not everyone thinks they have time or space for gardening, growing some of your own fresh food has become more of a challenge, perhaps even costing you more than buying it at the grocery store. While I cannot guarantee you that following these tips will save you a certain amount of money, I can offer you some practical ideas for gardening without going broke.
7 Frugal Gardening Tips
1. It’s about the soil. Building healthy soil is the sustainable approach to gardening backed up by years and years of agricultural practice by leading organic growers like those at the Rodale Institute. If you can afford to buy compost that you can reasonably assume has not been contaminated with pesticides, something like a mushroom compost is a wonderful soil amendment.
However, year-around composting of dried leaves and your kitchen’s vegetable scraps can build a wonderfully rich compost, as well. Finding a local farmer who can give you free poultry or rabbit droppings can be another way of getting free nutrients for the soil you are building. If you buy additional fertilizer, use the most natural additives you can, such as fish emulsion or kelp, instead of those derived from fossil fuels. If you are tight on space or have poor soil where you live, a raised bed is the best place to build your new soil. If your home has a restriction on gardening, check with local church or community groups for free or low-cost rental of gardening space.
2. Start small. A common gardening mistake is to try growing more food than you can reasonably manage. Gardening takes time and attention, especially when you want to use organic methods like picking off pests by hand instead of spraying your food with poisonous pesticides. Pick one or two vegetables you like to eat for your first attempt at gardening and focus on those. This minimizes the chance you’ll overspend on your gardening project. You might also want to pick one of the pricier foods to buy organic and try growing that instead to save money. Our family loves bell peppers, so we save considerably over the grocery store price for organic peppers when we keep a few pepper plants in our garden each year.
3. Don’t be an organic purist. I wholeheartedly believe organic food is the way to go. However, beginning gardening with the idea that you’ll meet every possibly USDA Organic standard and then some may be such a lofty idea that you’ll set yourself up to fail. For instance, composting your own vegetable peelings year around is a frugal way to create compost for your garden. But if you’re like a lot of us, you may not purchase 100% USDA Organic produce all of the time. Just because you tossed in a conventional banana peel is not a reason to stop composting and utilizing this frugal resource. Same goes for seeds. Ideally, find all organically grown seeds, and definitely look for open pollinated, non-GMO seeds. However, if your budget is tight and your neighbor offers you free seeds from last year’s vegetable garden, as long as they’re not genetically modified, accept them.
4. Pace yourself. Some foods like lettuce do best if you plant, then stagger by reseeding new lettuce every few weeks. This will allow you to stretch a $2 to $3 packet of seeds into a longer season of fresh lettuce that’s just enough for picking and eating, without any waste.
5. Use your SNAP benefits for gardening. Per federal government guidelines, if you receive federal assistance with food you may also use that benefit to buy plan seeds or plants that will supply food. Again, start small and choose things you will be able to responsibly grow. However, the benefit of buying a couple of tomato plants that could provide you fresh tomatoes all summer long seems like an obvious investment that stretches much farther than if you’d spent the same amount on tomatoes alone.
6. Be vigilant about pests. Since insects are the prime culprits who stand to jeopardize your gardening efforts, the better you are at common sense pest control, the better your harvest. This means possibly using row covers, homemade collars or diatomaceous earth to discourage pests around young plants. It means learning the different between beneficial insects that you want in your garden and those only there to cause trouble. It means trying every possible organic method of pest control in order to avoid the most toxic pesticide methods used in conventional agriculture.
7. Save seeds & swap. As your first gardening season comes near a close, try saving seeds from some of your best produce to use again next year. Or swap seeds with other home gardeners. Remember that open pollinated, heirloom seeds are what you need to continue gardening next year. Not only do you want to avoid GMO seeds, but also avoid hybrid seeds that will not produce true in the next generation. You may also find a local friend with plants like strawberries, garlic or herbs that naturally propagate so much that they’d gladly let you dig up starts for your own garden.
Anne Brock grew up in the Ozarks with two full-time family farming parents. She relearned gardening with organic methods and is now teaching her children how to grow some of their own food. She blogs at Flour Sack Mama and Clean Couponing.
Photo Credit- OakleyOriginals via Flickr