When most people plant a garden, visions of cornucopia overflowing with luscious vegetables fill their heads. They imagine feeding nutritious, delicious meals straight from the garden to their eager families. Skip the produce department at the supermarket, Honey, this summer we’re eating homegrown!
Yeah, right. The truth is a home garden rarely yields tasty, inexpensive meals. While the benefits of a home garden are numerous — exercise, earthy relaxation, maybe a few juicy tomatoes — gardening can be darn expensive. Those seeds, fertilizer, top soil and tools can really add up!
But this summer your garden doesn’t have to cost quite as much. Here are six tips for saving a few bucks on your agricultural hobby.
1. Choose the right plants
Get real. Growing sweet corn in your garden simply does not make economic sense! Home gardeners who want to get the most out of their garden need to grow plants that yield a lot of produce for a small amount of space. Salad greens, such as the many varieties of lettuce, are a top choice. Lettuce grows quickly and dependably, it grows back after you clip some leaves, and you probably already buy lettuce now – but the lettuce you grow at home will taste way better.
A fun choice, and one that you can grow indoors year around, is your favorite herb. Herbs, such as basil, cilantro, and mint, can be easily cultivated by an amateur – and imagine how impressed your friends will be when you snip your personal herbs as you make dinner! Another solid choice is pole beans; they are fairly reliable, and they grow up in a trellis, so they take up less space.
Stagger your crops
If you plant all of your lettuce and tomatoes on the same day, they’ll also all ripen on roughly the same day. This is not ideal. Instead, stagger your harvest times by planting some produce one weekend, some the next, and the rest on the third weekend. This way you’ll be picking perfectly ripe crops for nearly a month, rather than watching a bunch of beautiful veggies rot in your fridge.
Skip the commercial fertilizer
Yes, using MiracleGro will make your plants grow rapidly… But making some natural compost from your kitchen waste will be much more satisfying, and won’t cost a penny. Some useful fertilizers from your kitchen include ground up eggshells (this is virtually identical to commercial lime fertilizer), coffee grounds (loaded with nitrogen, magnesium, and potassium), and general organic waste (though you should compost it before you put it on your garden).
Save some seeds
Sometimes you can use the seeds from your mature plants and plant them again next season. This won’t work with all seeds – hybrid plants, for example, generally do not produce useful seeds. If you want to collect seeds for next year, let some of the vegetables grow to maturity (or beyond) on the vine, then select the best seeds from them. Let beans and peas dry on the vine. Store your seeds in a dry, cool place, like in an envelope on a closet shelf.
Garden centers and big box home stores need to unload their plants once the planting season starts to wind down, so they often sell them at a discount. Your selection will be much smaller, but so will your investment. Same goes for seeds, tools, gloves, power equipment, and other garden accoutrements — all of this goes on sale once the growing season is over. Buy it and save it ’til next spring.
Start your garden indoors
It’s too late for this summer, but start making plans for next spring. This is not nearly as complicated as it sounds. Invest in a package of potting soil and a few packets of seeds. That’s really all you need — make the pots out of pop bottles that you cut in half, and use the natural light on your windowsills or a grow light in your basement. Follow the directions on the packet and by spring you’ll have a delightful crop of little plants waiting for your garden.
These tips won’t guarantee a bumper crop on your autumn table, but they will keep a few more bucks in your wallet while helping to reduce your grocery bill.