Growing your own food can be a fantastic way to save money, but getting started isn’t cheap. From buying seeds and compost, through to gardening tools and pest treatments, there are a lot of potential expenses.
Fortunately, over the last five years of growing a lot of my own produce I’ve learned a thing or two about doing things on the cheap.
If you fancy growing some of your own food this year, but you’re keen to do things on a budget, then this article is for you…
1 – Shop Around For Seeds
A packet of seeds might not seem very expensive, but when you’re trying to grow as much of your own food as possible you better believe all those little packets soon add up.
Typically most suppliers focus their attention on “premium” brands of seeds. They’re certainly more expensive, but are they actually much better? Search hard enough – especially in garden centers and DIY stores – and you’ll often find a “budget” range which I have found to be just as good.
2 – Do Your Research
There’s no point in growing vegetables that just won’t thrive for you. No matter how beautiful the picture on the front of the seed packet looks, do your research so you know not only what plants will thrive in your garden, but also what varieties.
To give you an example, I find it impossible to grow carrots where I live, because they like a sandy, stone-free soil. This is the complete opposite of what I have to offer. Also consider things like sunlight; is your garden lovely and sunny, or should you focus on crops that will tolerate some shade?
3 – Look for Multi-buys
When the gardening season really starts many suppliers start offering multi-buys on products such as compost or growing trays. Keep a look out for these and try to avoid the temptation to buy them at full price!
4 – Make Gardening Friends
When it comes to saving money in the garden, your very best resource is other gardeners. We’re a friendly lot, and often have old tools, unwanted seeds and more that we’re perfectly happy to give away to someone with a passion for vegetables!
So ask around your friends and family, or see whether there is a local horticultural group that you can join. As well as all the potential free stuff you can land, its also handy to have someone knowledgeable to ask all your vegetable-growing questions!
5 – Re-purpose & Re-use
A lot of what we throw away can come in surprisingly handy in the garden. For example old plastic food tubs can be easily re-purposed as seed trays, while clear plastic bottles can make fantastic little cloches.
So look through your garbage, well in advance, and start putting aside all those things you were going to throw away that just might come in handy.
6 – Freecycle
Freecycling is a movement where people give away unwanted belongings rather than throwing them in the bin. What’s more, you’d be surprised what gardening equipment you can find if you’re only willing to collect it. Its not unusual for me to see anything from paving slabs to pallets, water butts to green houses all free for the taking.
7 – Visit Thrift Stores & Garage Sales
Here’s an odd thing. Good quality gardening tools are expensive. But many “old” tools are just as good, yet sit unloved in people’s sheds for years on end.
If you need a new garden fork or a trowel, visiting a local second-hand shop can be a great way to land a fantastic bit of kit for a tiny fraction of the new equivalent.
8 – Learn to Store Your Produce
Saving money in your garden isn’t just about gathering free or discounted equipment; it’s also about minimizing waste and taking care of what you have.
One potential “problem” that vegetable gardeners experience is that lots of your produce will suddenly become available at the same time. For example I get a couple of weeks of strawberries each year, where I have so many I don’t know what to do with them all, then they’re over till the next year. The same thing happens with my butternut squashes.
It’s tempting under such circumstances to just give it all away, but an even better idea to reduce food waste is to learn how to store or preserve your own produce. It’s a lot easier than you might think, and it makes your crop go a whole lot further. Personally, I expect to still be eating my summer produce long after Christmas if its stored well.
9 – Collect Seeds
One of my absolute favorite things about growing your own vegetables is that every year it gets cheaper. The reason is simple; you can collect your own seeds.
While I generally try out a few new crops each year, 90% of what I grow comes from seeds I collected the year before. This makes my costs after the first year or two almost zero!
The trick, really, is having the patience to save those seeds, especially as most of them become available in the fall, when most people are giving up on their garden till the spring.
Don’t be that person. For foods like melons and squashes, aim to keep some of the seeds you scoop out when serving. For crops like broccoli or chard try to leave a few plants in the ground, even when they’re past their best, so you can collect seeds later in the year.
Dried thoroughly, placed into labelled envelopes and stored in an airtight tin your seeds should stay fresh for years to come.
10 – Attend a Seed Swap
As a final tip, there are an increasing number of seed swapping events that take place around the country. Once you’ve started to gather your own seeds these can be fantastic opportunities to swap some of your excess for new varieties you haven’t tried. In this way there’ll be something new to try each year, but without the cost of having to buy seeds yourself.
As you can see, growing your own vegetables doesn’t have to be expensive. With just a little effort you can easily slash the cost of producing your own food, which makes it feel all the tastier when you’re tucking into those juicy tomatoes in a few months time, or enjoying home-grown sprouts with your Christmas dinner!
Guest post written by Richard, a British blogger, who after years of debt, finally embraced frugality as a way to achieve debt freedom. His blog can be found Frugality Magazine.