When I first started my vegetable garden I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know how much I would obsess over it every year and I certainly didn’t know how expensive it would be! Sure – seeds don’t cost much…..until you build a HUGE garden – perhaps a little bigger than you can handle…..not that I’ve ever done that or anything! In an effort to make my life easier and due to my tendency to kill seeds planted indoors I switched to buying small plants for my vegetable garden in addition to planting seeds.
My garden is about 44ft long by 15 ft wide and I just can’t afford to start that large of an area with vegetable plants that are typically $3 each. In fact I wasn’t even sure that I could afford that many plants at just $2 each on sale! So I started hunting around for the best deal. Over the past 5 years of vegetable gardening (and canning/freezing!) these are some of the ways I’ve saved money on my garden.
- Call you local FFA program. – High school students may have a gardening program near you! We have a local elementary school and a high school that both sell plants they grow as fundraisers! Every year I make a trip to their greenhouse and make a massive stock up at about $.75 per plant!
- Check your local greenhouse. – Instead of just going to the closest retail or hardware store for plants look for your closest greenhouse. Sometimes their prices are much more expensive but sometimes they are considerably cheaper. Make sure to ask if they have an annual sale you shouldn’t miss.
- Check Craigslist.- Yes even Craigslist has a “farm & Garden” section! Many times people are selling off their extra seedlings or looking to barter their plants for something else.
- Check for clearance.- This is a great way to save money if you have a green thumb. If you have the time to revive less-than-cared-for plants you can really get a steal sometimes!
- Call around for freebies. – Some greenhouses literally just give away or throw away their extra plants late in the planting season. If you’re starting your garden late it definitely can’t hurt to stop in your local greenhouse and see if they have any plants they are discarding. If you’re using them for a classroom garden chances are they’ll just donate them for free anyway!
- Grow your own. – You can always start your own seedlings! This definitely takes a little more preparation and dedication if you have the time. If you live in a colder climate like I do you will need to start some seeds indoors. Purchasing a good grow light and good soil is an absolute must. If you plan on having a very large garden you’ll also need a considerable amount of space indoors to start your seeds. It may be helpful to purchase a small greenhouse with a removable cover like I have in the photo at the top of the post that you can move outdoors when it starts to warm up. You can purchase organic and heirloom seeds on Amazon or from Seed Savers – I LOVE the variety available.
- Buy seeds by the teaspoon! – Sounds crazy right?! One of our local garden & landscape centers actually sell fresh veggie seeds by the teaspoon. So instead of buying a whole packet of seeds I won’t use I buy just a teaspoon of the ones I need for $.25-$.50 depending on the seed!
The most labor intensive part – prepping the ground! There are several ways we have done it over the years but because of the size of my garden we have finally settled on using black landscaping paper in between the plants – it has save me SO much time! BUY your landscaping paper at the END of each season – you’ll easily find it half off – sometimes more! No more jungle of weeds to rip out every day and I’m not eating costs too bad! If you have a smaller garden a simple hand claw tiller will work fine but if you have a large garden you might want to consider renting or purchasing a tiller.
My BIGGEST gardening mistake!?
Having a local farmer spread his cow manure in my garden! I thought I’d save a ton of money by just letting the local cows help my garden…..until the next year when everything those cows ate, then disposed in my garden, began growing! AWFUL HOARDS of weeds and grass! Learn from my mistake and know where your fertilizer is coming from – hahaha!
For my Iowa friends –
Check out the Central Campus Greenhouse & Nursery in Des Moines, an FFA garden & greenhouse run by high school kids that are dual enrolled in college (often listed on Craigslist during the season). Also make sure to check out Holub Garden & Greenhouse in Ames – they run GREAT sales!
For $53 one year I bought:
- 1 blueberry bush ($10)
- 5 strawberry plants ($3)
- 6 pumpkin plants (Jack o Lanterns & Hijinks) ($4.50)
- 4 watermelon plants (Crimson Sweet) ($3)
- 6 cauliflower plants (Snow Crown) ($4.50)
- 6 broccoli plants (Packman & Coronado Crown) ($4.50)
- 3 green belle pepper plants ($2.25)
- 8 tomato plants (Heirloom, Roma, Better Boy, Beefsteak) ($6)
- 4 muskmelon plants ($3)
- 2 parsley plants
- 3 oregano plants