My husband has been so kind and is back sharing some of his frugal thoughts for Frugal Guy Friday! This week he shares some money saving tips on food by gardening.
Food costs have been on the rise for years, higher than relative inflation on other goods. It is important for every frugally-minded person to try to find ways to circumvent this problem in order to make their money last. A simple, and enjoyable, way of making your food money stretch is to begin gardening vegetables on a part of land which is currently going unused. With some hard work and patience anyone can grow a successful garden to supplement their income.
Gardening is a very inexpensive way to make your money stretch. There are several ways you can begin and then expand your garden. The first step is to find a spot on your property which is well it, at least 6 hours of sun a day. This can area be in your yard if (you are so lucky to have one) or on a porch or balcony if you live in an apartment complex. If you have the land, then you need to till your area and mix in compost and sand if necessary for proper drainage. If you live in an apartment complex then you will need to purchase containers large enough to sustain the plants (5 gallon buckets are standard) and soil as well as compost and sand. The preparation of your garden area is by far the easiest part – and remember: if you have to invest in containers for your garden that this is a form of capital which can be used year after year to grow your garden and will far outpace your investment.
The simplest way to get started with planting is to go to a garden center or big box store in the spring and by plants that are established. Plant them in your selected area and make sure you pack the soil enough to not allow too much air to attack get to the roots, but not enough to not allow water and the right amount of air through. Plants will grow more quickly in this scenario and you will likely have a longer harvest period, which means more food.
The most cost-effective way is to simply buy a packet of seeds for whatever crops you wish to grow. Starting early in the season you can sprout the seeds in small pots and soil and then transplant them later. This obviously requires more work and diligence on your part but will result in an exponentially higher amount of plants and thus more possible harvest when the time comes.
Maintenance of the plants is dependent upon what you plant. Tomatoes and cucumbers are easily maintained and grow high amounts for vegetables for you to harvest throughout the summer but can easily get out of control if you are not diligent about pruning them. These two types typically require trellising as well, which can further enhance your initial investment, but it is necessary to keep your vegetables from rotting from ground contact. Other easy plants to grow are eggplant, zucchini, and beans (bush beans are preferable for a smaller area and can produce several harvest from a single plant).
Maintaining the garden from pests and disease is probably the most frustrating. It is certainly easier to go to the grocery store and buy tomatoes and be done with it knowing that if they rot it’s because they were not eaten by you fast enough. It does take work on your part to keep your garden healthy. Some gardeners use some form of natural or chemical pesticide to kill the nasty bugs that can devastate your crops, but pruning and picking bugs off is also very effective at keeping them healthy.
The best part of your investment in a garden is that you can find many ways to cut costs on how build it. Raised garden beds are a great way to build up a highly productive garden in your first year, especially if your soil is poor where you live. Finding compost on Craigslist for cheap or free is possible, it only takes a bit of searching. Along that same line you can find building materials for your raised beds, trellises, and containers for cheap or free, especially if you are willing to get creative (for example: This year I was able to build a 9 ft high trellis using a laundry drying rack and some electrical conduit that we obtained for free from Craigslist. We also came across old lumber, in the from of old fence boards and pallets to construct our raised beds: all free of cost).
If you have a green-mindset there is no better way of reducing your carbon footprint. Every day we are bombarded with phrases like “Local tastes best” and this is your way to involve yourself in that process. If you go the route of finding recycled materials to build your beds, containers, and trellises, you can be further reassured that you are keeping items that would go into the landfill from sitting without use. If you are even more adventurous, and you have the space, you can compost grass clippings, your dead plants, and food scraps to prepare your soil for the next year of gardening, further reducing the amount you contribute to the landfill.
Gardening is a lot of work, but it is great work. It is wonderful to see the fruits of your labor in action when so many of us never really get to see the end result of what we do in our day jobs. Happy will you be when your first cucumber is of the right size to be picked and you eagerly run in to slice it up and eat the freshest, and believe me, best tasting cucumber you have ever eaten. This, furthermore, is all accomplished with you knowing that you spent maybe a little more on an entire plant of cucumbers (or whatever your crop is) than you would have on a single vegetable at the grocery store. Be brave, and give it a try. Good luck and good gardening.