Want to grow some of your own food this year? Here is how to start a garden on a budget, with everything you need to know to get a lot of bang for your buck!
You might have heard that having a vegetable garden is expensive, but you know what? I think that’s a myth.
Starting a garden doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars and it’s not more cost-effective to just buy your food from the store. You can absolutely stretch your grocery budget with a garden.
Sure, you certainly can end up spending thousands of dollars on gardening if you aren’t careful. But you don’t have to. You can start a vegetable garden for next to nothing if you follow these tips.
How to Start a Garden on a Budget
Make Your Own Compost
One of the best ways you can save money while gardening is by making your own compost. You will want to do this as soon as you decide to start a garden since it does take a little bit of time.
You can get even more compost by inviting your local family, friends, and neighbors to drop off their non-meat and dairy kitchen scraps at your house. Your compost might not be ready when you are ready to start planting, but at least you will be able to supplement your soil later in the year with the compost you’re starting now.
Get Free 5-Gallon Buckets
Did you know that there are tons of places all-around your town where you can get 5-gallon buckets completely free? It’s true! Wendys, the bakery in Walmart, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Safeway are just a few. These places get 3-5-gallon buckets filled with food all the time and unless someone takes them they just end up in the landfill.
So, you might be wondering what you’re supposed to do with all those buckets. Grow in them, of course! If you don’t have good soil, and let’s be honest, most people don’t. Growing in containers is a great option that will save you money. You won’t have to buy a ton of tools to turn your yard into something you can use.
But, containers that are specifically designed for growing in can be quite expensive, especially if you’re buying them brand new. This is where the 5-gallon buckets come in. You can grow just about anything in them, including things you wouldn’t expect to be able to grow in a container like potatoes, watermelon, and pumpkins. One of my favorites to grow in containers is potatoes – you’d be surprised how many potatoes you can grow in a container.
Get Free Pallets
If you want a little bit of a bigger growing space than a 5 gallon bucket then you might want to consider using pallets to build yourself a raised bed. These are a great option for growing strawberries!
Now, I will say that these pallet raised beds aren’t the best. You might only get one year out of them before they have to be replaced. But, you can’t argue with free when you’re trying to save money either.
How do you find these free pallets? Drive around town and see if you find any empty ones lying around at the side of buildings. Local animal feed stores are a good bet, as are locally-owned mom-and-pop grocery stores. Do ask before you take though.
Get Free Seeds, From Your Food
For some foods, you don’t have to spend any money on seeds at all, just buy them in the grocery store and they come with a ton of seeds already. These seeds are ready to be planted and you can get an amazing harvest out of them.
My favorite, and possibly the easiest is peppers. Open up a pepper, any type of pepper really, and you are going to have enough seeds to keep your family eating peppers for YEARS. Other foods you can do this with include tomatoes, citrus fruit (though I don’t recommend it), and strawberries – although for strawberries, it’s a lot easier to start with plugs, as I discussed in Growing Strawberries in the South.
I don’t recommend citrus fruit because their trees can take a decade or more to reach maturity.
Something else I don’t recommend is the “hack” of growing food from kitchen scraps. Yes, it works well for some things like green onions, and yes, you can get a bit of lettuce. But other things like carrots and onions…you will spend months growing just the top part. Great if you want free seeds eventually, not so great if food is your goal.
Where to Buy Cheap Seeds
If you’re on the hunt for cheap seeds there are a few different places you can find them both online and offline.
The Dollar Store
Dollar store seeds aren’t bad. In fact, I would say that almost everyone uses dollar store seeds at some point in gardening – I certainly have! And this is only one way to save money at Dollar General. I know people who have been gardening for decades who swear by Dollar Store seeds.
Oh Aldi, is there anything you don’t have? They don’t always stock seeds but when they do they’re cheap and they grow VERY well. So don’t be afraid to stock up on seeds in Aldi if you see them. They may not be there next time you go.
This is a fantastic website that sells seeds for incredibly cheap. What makes these stand out though is that some of them are heirloom, unusual colors, and they have different seeds that you won’t find cheaper anywhere else. MIGardener’s goal isn’t to raise money with their seeds but instead to make gardening more accessible to everyone. You can find everything from rice to bright red carrots on the site. It is a small operation though, so you might find that they’ve run out of seeds. They sell seeds for $1 or $2 at most and they are incredibly high quality.
Starting Seeds Cheaply
Starting seeds is another area where you can end up spending a lot of money when you don’t really need to spend much at all. I do recommend getting a seed starting soil mix. They are absolutely worth the money you spend on them. One bag will be more than enough.
But, what you shouldn’t spend money on is seed starting trays. They’re nice to have, but they aren’t necessary at all. If you have old yogurt containers or sour cream containers those will work perfectly.
Keep moisture in with Ziploc bags over the top of the containers. Doing this you’ve saved yourself at least $10 if not more!
Tools You Can Wait to Get
This is going to be a bit of a controversial opinion, and not everyone will agree. But, if you are just getting started with a vegetable garden…you don’t need any tools! You’ve got hands, let them do the digging. If you need a bit more extensive work done to prepare your growing spot don’t spend hundreds on a broad fork, a shovel will do just fine. Borrow a shovel if you need one.
Every area is different – some soils might need amendments, which is why we started by talking about compost, but in most areas, you will be able to grow at least some foods with very little input. All you need is a way to dig up some dirt, and some seeds!
For more information, check out our gardening articles to learn what you should plant, and when in your area.