Lettuce Patch Gardens

  (Colorado Springs, Colorado)
Gardening, eating and cooking from scratch at 6,000'
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How Real Gardeners Can Save Money

I’ve just finished reading an article in this month’s Organic Gardening, "Less is More: A beginning gardener's ingenuity turns $75 into 6 months of fresh vegetables" about a gardener who grew tons of vegetables last season for less than $75. I thought to myself as I saw the headline “is this too good to be true?”

Well, unless you live in an agricultural area, just bought an old farm, and have lots of friends with mature gardens and plants to share, you’re probably not going to re-create the author’s experience.

While there are some good basic ideas in the article for ways to save money on gardening, most of the methods the author used will not be available to most people.

She got a lot of seedlings or seeds for free in various ways:

  • got some transplants with her CSA subscription, which I might add, is not free for most people,
  • got some free asparagus crowns as barter for helping plant 20,000 crowns,
  • got some free seed at a local seed bank,
  • got some free potatoes for a university trial.

I would also add that the author had just bought a large farm property, which is not free. She also appeared to have all the necessary tools handy, as the article did not mention any tool purchases.

Basic money-saving tactics that the article covered were:

  • dividing mature plants to make new ones,
  • bartering your time to get divisions from other gardeners,
  • seed-swapping,
  • seed saving (not specifically mentioned, but in order to seed swap, you need to be a seed saver.

While there were some basic money-saving ideas in the article, I think there are a lot more ways to save money as a gardener. Here are my tips for saving money:

  • Buy good quality tools that will last. This may not seem like a good money-saving suggestion at first, but when you have a quality tool, it will last for many seasons with proper care. In the long run that saves money.
  • Purchase a small collection of basic gardening tools.  I know that all of the gardening and seed catalogs are irreisstable, but you will be better off starting small and simple. Add more as you gain experience.
  • Stay away from gardening catalogs as much as possible. If you are new to gardening, it's very easy to get sucked into spending a lot of money on tools and gadgets for your garden that you don't really need.
  • Start your own plants from seed.
  • Save your own seeds. To do this, you need to grow only open-pollinated herbs + vegetables.
  • Check gardening and cookbooks out at the library before buying. Be sure your purchase will actually get used, and not just sit on your shelf.
  • Use power tools as little as possible, unless you have a disability that prevents you from using a hand tool. Gardening should be good exercise for you, and using a fork to turn the soil rather than a roto-tiller is much better for you and the earth. And your neighbors will thank you for the peace and quiet.
  • Start small. You can expand your garden as you gain experience.

Ultimately, vegetable gardening should not only be about how to save money growing your own vegetables. There is always an up-front investment in tools and materials, even if you buy things used or inherit some hand-me-down tools. So, don’t expect that you can grow tons of vegetables for less than $75 a season.

If you’re careful, you can minimize your cost and save some money. Even more important than saving money though, is that you will eat some of the best-tasting vegetables you’ve ever had, get exercise and reduce your impact on the environment.

If your only goal in growing your own vegetables is to save money, you will probably not be successful. Gardening requires a lot of work, and if you don't enjoy it, you're likely to end up with a garden plot covered with weeds and not much actual food. So, don't grow vegetables just to save money. Grow them because you enjoy it and you enjoy eating really good food.

Also there are a lot of other intangible benefits to gardening that you really can’t put a price on like:

  • the joy of watching a big healthy plant grow from a tiny, dried out seed, or
  • seeing a lot of earth worms working the soil that you've worked hard to amend, or
  • eating the best tomato you've ever had, and knowing you grew it.

For more gardening articles like this one, please visit the Lettuce Patch Gardens website.

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