Hands down, one of the best ways to save money is to grow as much of your own food as you can.
*Updated January 2017
Grow your own food – and save money
Starting a small vegetable garden is easy! And if you have kids, they will love to help and it’s such a great learning experience for them as well. I led a program for kids where we planted and harvested vegetables to donate to local families in need. The program ran successfully for over 9 years, and the kids loved it!
If you don’t have a yard, there are other ways you can grow your own vegetables. Certain varieties do very well in containers that you can keep on a balcony or small patio. Or check to see if your town has a community garden program. Many large cities have these programs as well. One of the best programs I have seen is one done in NYC through Bette Midler’s non profit organization, New York Restoration Project.
Just think – in growing your own vegetables, you will have:
- guaranteed freshness
- zero waste
- readily available ingredients for your meals, with no running to the store
- lots of exercise
- fulfillment, because there is nothing more satisfying than eating a meal from the food you grew yourself
Starting from seeds
The least expensive way to start a vegetable garden is with seeds. There are so many different varieties to choose from! A great way to familiarize yourself with what is available, is to order (free) seed catalogs. Go over them, and read about the varieties they offer.
Most catalogs also contain a Zone Map – which shows the areas of the country broken down into climates. This information is crucial, as you need to know when your area will no longer have a killing frost.
Here are links to sites that list seed companies and how to get their most recent seed catalog:
You will also be able to find seeds at your local garden center, hardware store, discount store or big box store. Just keep in mind that there probably won’t be anyone who can help you determine which variety to buy, so study the catalogs first!
Another great resource is your state’s Cooperative Extension System. Each state has at least one office too. That’s where I gained my Master Gardener certification – a 13 week program (one day a week for at least 8 hours/day) and a full 8-hour day of both written and practical exams. Totally worth it, too.
Right now, my garden is only three 4 ‘x 8′ raised beds and one 4′ x 4’ raised bed. It was much larger, but the neighbour’s oak tree has gotten so big, that it shades the entire back half of the former garden area. I started moving everything forward by about 20+ feet, and still have more to do this summer.
Large yields from a small space
To give you an idea of the bounty you can expect, this is a small sampling of what I harvest in a typical summer (plus what I used before freezing & canning):
- 18 plum tomato plants = 28+ quarts of spaghetti sauce
- 5 gallon-size freezer bags of cut and blanched green beans from 2 rows/packets of seeds
- 12 freezer bags of shredded zucchini at 2 cups/bag (what my zucchini bread, brownie and muffin recipes call for) from THREE plants/seeds!!!
- 24 half pints of hot dog relish and bread and butter pickles from THREE cucumber plants/3 seeds!!!
- lots and lots of leaf lettuce (from 1/2 packet of seeds)
- radishes (one packet of seeds)
- Swiss chard and beet greens (one packet of seeds each)
- 19 POUNDS of acorn squash from 9 plants (NINE seeds)
Amazing, isn’t it? I mean, nineteen pounds of squash from a few little seeds! Which also is a reminder to be careful not to over-plant. (Note to self.) Those teeny tiny seeds look so innocent as you put them in the soil in the Spring.
You might also want to think about planting herbs too. For most of them though, you will be better off buying small plants rather than starting from seed. The exceptions are dill, cilantro, parsley and basil. Those grow very well from seed.
My herb garden is right at the foot of the back steps to the house. That makes it convenient when I am cooking and have to run out to snip some ingredients. In that garden, I grow chives, oregano, sage, parsley, lemon basil (the purple and green basil plants are in the vegetable garden with the tomato plants), chocolate peppermint, lemongrass and rosemary (to name a few).
This is just a taste of the benefits you will get from growing your own vegetables and herbs! I’ll be posting a LOT more about gardening soon. There’s fruit to talk about too! And flowers – did you know that some of them are edible?
Do you have a vegetable garden? If not, will you be starting one?
Would you be interested in taking an online course on organic gardening for beginners?