Today I am beyond excited to welcome my real-life friend Katey from Having Fun at Home. Katey and I went to grad school together, and I can honestly say that she is one of the most creative and thoughtful people that I have ever met. I know that you are going to learn a ton about gardening from her!
For the last eight years I have planted a garden, very excited about all the money I hoped to save by growing my food instead of buying it. I’m a little embarrassed to admit though that at the beginning, not only did I not save money but I actually paid quite a bit for the privilege of gardening!
Definitely, gardening is about more than the money. The time outdoors and experiences with my kids are worth a lot, but it’s nice when the garden contributes to our family in financial ways as well. I’m still learning as I go, but I can now happily say that our garden is a help to our budget instead of a drain.
Here are three things I have learned that have changed my approach and made a big difference.
3 Things I Did to Start Saving Money with Gardening
1. Invest in soil quality, but minimize other spending.
Good soil quality is absolutely essential for a productive garden, but if you live in a place with particularly poor soil like where I do in Central Texas, this is doubly important. Having your soil tested is easy and cheap. We did it a little while back, and the results were quite helpful for letting us know what we needed to add.
Here are some inexpensive ways to improve your soil:
- Make your own compost
- Ask nearby farmers if they have any free manure you can use for fertilizer (or do what we do and get a flock of backyard chickens and have your own source)
- Plant legumes like green beans and peas which actually improve the soil by adding nitrogen through their root systems
Here are a few ways to minimize other kinds of spending in your garden:
- Plant seeds instead of purchasing live plants whenever possible.
- Locate sources of free mulch. Our city has a free mulch program for those who are willing to haul it away. Also, my father often has good luck asking people who are cutting down trees if they are willing for him to take their wood chips. If all else fails, I gather the bags of yard clipping that people put on their curbs and use the leaves and grass for mulch.
- Plant seeds that are open- pollinated instead of hybrids and save the seeds to plant the following year.
2. Be strategic about what you grow.
Many beginning gardeners decide what to plant based on the kinds of foods their family likes to eat. Unless you are an experienced gardener or live in a particularly fertile place, however, this is probably not the most cost effective approach.
Instead, talk to people and find out what things grow best in your area. Plant those things, and start collecting recipes and ideas for how to use your bumper crop.
One of the things I never would have thought to grow is rainbow chard. I had never eaten it before, but my neighbor said it is one of the best plants for surviving the crazy Texas summers so I gave it a try. I’m so glad I did; now one of our family’s favorite vegetable recipes involves chard, and we always have more than enough.
Something else I have started paying attention to in choosing my plants is the time it takes from germination to harvest. Shorter maturation times mean less watering and less risk of the plant dying before it pays me back for all my hard work! For this reason, I almost exclusively grow cherry tomatoes instead of beefsteak and personal sized watermelons instead of the big ones.
3. Make the Most of Your Harvest
Be ready with a plan for how you will preserve a harvest that is too big to eat right away. Freezing is one of the easiest ways to preserve, but canning and dehydrating are also helpful, depending on the crop.
I like to try to combine the hassle of preserving with making a freezer meal. So for example, if I have a lot of extra green beans, I might make up a triple batch of stewed green beans, bacon and tomatoes and freeze them individually for rainy days.
Also, it’s good to know that some plants have multiple edible parts. For example, many plants like turnips and beets have greens that can be sauteed and are quite nutritious. And did you know that broccoli greens are the latest trendy superfood? The small leaves are quite good in salads!
I hope that these tips will be a help to you as they have been for me. I think the biggest thing to remember is that gardening IS so worthwhile and like so many things, takes practice to perfect.
Starting out small and simple is a great way to get that practice without putting a strain on your budget in those early years.
Katey is a former teacher, now home school mom to four adventurous (and often muddy) children . She loves reading, discovering new ethnic foods, and hates to do the laundry. You can read about all the activity ideas she tries out with her kids (to put off doing the laundry) at HavingFunAtHome.com.
(Linked to Thrifty Thursday.)