Save Money Gardening: 6 Tips for Growing Your Own Food

save money gardening

Last summer while buying garden supplies, my little boy noticed how much money I was spending. “Mommy,” he whispered, “Do you have that much money?” “Yes, I have enough,” I replied.

Once we were on our way, I explained to him that weather and gardening skills permitting, the 30 broccoli plants I purchased would each produce a $2 head of broccoli. That would give me $60 worth of food and I wasn’t even spending that much. Plus I was buying cabbage, collard greens, lettuce plants, a few bags of cow manure, and several bales of straw.

How to Save Money Gardening

If you can master the art of gardening, you can save a tremendous amount of money growing your own food. But gardening supplies can be expensive. So I’d like to share with you a few ways that I save money in the garden.

1. Starting Seeds

Seeds cost a lot less than plants. So starting your seeds in winter can save you money. You can buy handy seed starting pots and trays at the big box store or garden center; but I just use paper egg cartons. They come free with your eggs. But if you have your own backyard flock, you can get free egg cartons from your friends. When my seedlings get too large for the egg cartons, I transplant them into paper cups. A box of paper cups cost a lot less than seed cups made of peat.

When I want to plant them in the ground, I gently tear the bottom off the cup and plant. The cup will decompose. Some years, I’ve made my own seed starting cups with newspapers by wrapping wet strips of paper around a small object and setting it to dry.

2. Plant What You Eat

Seed catalogs can be so tempting in January, that many gardeners find themselves ordering seeds for exotic foods they’ve never tried before. Stick with the basics. If your family thrives on meat, potatoes, and green beans, by all means plant potatoes and green beans. If your kids wouldn’t touch okra, don’t plant it just because you thought you’d give them a try. If you’re really curious, buy one plant at the garden center or get a few seeds from your friends.

3. Mulch

Before starting to plant, I lay out the rows in my garden. I measure a four foot row, then a four foot walking aisle, and alternate all the way down the length. In the walking rows I lay down thick layers of newspaper and cover them with straw. Then, after putting in the plants, I mulch around them. Mulch keeps down the weeds and holds moisture in the soil. If you don’t produce your own, straw can be expensive. But, assuming you don’t spray your lawn, you can substitute grass clippings.

When full, empty your mower bag next to the garden and spread the clippings at the base of the plants when you’re done. If you don’t have a bagging mower, ask a neighboring farmer if you can rake his barn floor. He may even have broken bales or ones that have set around for a year or two and cannot sell to give you.

4. Water

Even though mulching holds the moisture in the soil, you still do not want to waste water—especially if you live in town and have to pay for it. You can save that money by installing a couple of rain barrels. Placed under the downspout on your house, one rainfall can fill a barrel. If you have a well, using rain barrels not only helps conserve the water in that well, it saves the electricity used from the well pump.

5. Manure

Last season I paid $2.75 for a bag of composted cow manure. I was forced to buy that because we were without a truck to haul it from a farm. This year we have a truck and plenty of farmer friends that will let me have all the manure I want for free. If you want to make sure there is nothing harmful in your friend’s manure (like weed seeds or bacteria) collect it in plenty of time to compost it before applying to the garden. We also compost everything from the floor of our chicken house, and that we rake up from the goat and rabbit.

6. Floating Row Cover

Covering your brassicas prevents the cabbage worm moths from laying eggs on your plants. It also provides shade from the sun, protects from frost, and retains moisture after the rain. But to purchase floating row cover from the garden supplier is quite costly. Not only that, it is a delicate fabric that tears easily and is seldom re-usable. I have found that sheer curtains do the same thing. I tried it one year when I retired some old ones from the living room windows and it worked great. In fact, that year we had a terrific hail storm that destroyed the plants covered in Reemay covers, but not those covered in the curtains. When I needed to replace my own sheer curtains, I found similar fabric on Walmart’s $1 per yard table. We have also gotten stained curtains from a local thrift store for nothing.

In our neck of the woods the weather has been positively amazing. Anyone with a penchant for gardening, hiking, biking, or otherwise being out-of-doors, has been. Some folks have even braved putting the garden in a full 8 weeks before our frost date. If that describes you, try a few of these tips and you can also save yourself some money in the process.

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  1. Daniel

    Great article. We grow our own tomatoes and not only are they tastier and healthier, they are much cheaper then store tomatoes!

    • Carol J. Alexander

      I absolutely love the smell of working in my tomato patch. And to take a bite out of a tomato–fresh picked from the garden–is the ultimate gardening experience.

  2. J Marie

    Thanks for the tips! We love growing out own tomatoes and herbs from seed. I bought a small greenhouse with 6 shelves on black Friday for only $16! I can’t wait to try it out. Happy gardening.

    • Carol J. Alexander

      What an incredible deal, J Marie. I’d love to know how it works out for you.

  3. Kathleen K

    Great article–we’ve been gardening 15+ years and I think everyone should try at least a little. For those just getting started, a couple raised beds can be a great introduction. We made ours from cedar pickets rather than dimensional lumber to save money. You could also use bricks, stones, salvaged lumber–but do not use pressure treated. Start small the first year and expand as your experience grows!

    • Carol J. Alexander

      Most people don’t write about the learning curve to gardening, Kathleen, but I know firsthand that it exists. But persevere I do!

  4. California guy

    Thank you for the insight and great tips. We are always looking for a good way to save money. It is nice to spend some time outside, do gardening, and get a little exercise too. This sounds like a win/win.

  5. Carol J. Alexander

    Have kids that don’t like to eat their vegies? Get them in the garden. Like you say, you just can’t resist munching and picking at the same time.

  6. Marianne

    Our garden was pretty successful last year and we only threw it together last minute because we had a newborn. This year we’ve already started our seeds and have lots of little seedlings growing like crazy! I can’t believe I have never thought of using egg cartons for seedlings before! It seems so obvious now that you say it…

    • Carol J. Alexander

      Just make sure they’re the paper cartons, Marianne, and not the styrofoam.

  7. jeff

    did a garden now i can’t stop ,to eat any fresher you would have to be a giving extra to church.I always say when i m picking i bypassed the grocery store LOL.

  8. Sue

    We have a garden each year and love it. We plant what we eat and enjoy it thoroughly.