My family is trying hard to stay on budget this year – it’s our one and only new years resolution. As part of that resolution, we’re restarting our vegetable garden this summer. Growing your own vegetables can save you a lot of money in the groceries category – but only if you plan well and are resourceful! Here are ideas on how to start a budget vegetable garden this summer.
Step 1 in Budget Vegetable gardens: Use what you have
Several years ago we started a 4 foot by 4 foot square garden. It was pretty successful in supplying fresh lettuce and other salad fixings. Unfortunately the stray cats in our area started using it as a litter box when the season was over, and so I let it sit unused, thinking that I would dig it out and start over again the next summer. In the time it’s been sitting however, the wood has broken down and it’s no longer usable.
My husband made the first box out of untreated wood we had in the basement. This summer, I had my eye on this to restart our vegetable garden:
My youngest son hasn’t really played in our sandbox for awhile now, so I wanted to repurpose it for our summer garden. I asked him if he would be okay with that and he was – as long as we kept the sand in another container for him to play with in case he had the urge.
You may be able to prep the ground directly in a sunny patch by your house, or you may have a few unused or neglected pots around that you can use for a small vegetable garden. Look around carefully and use what you have for a space to start your garden.
Step 2: Prep the soil
Our soil is all clay, so we’ve had to use a raised bed for our garden. We used Mel’s Mix in our square foot garden the first year with great results. We planned on using that again for our vegetable garden this year. Mel’s Mix is made up of 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 peat moss.
We’re fortunate to have access to free compost at our city recycling center. We can go here weekly for compost and wood mulch. Check with your local resources if you don’t have your own compost to use in your budget vegetable garden. I would try searching for “free compost + insert your location”.
We dumped a large amount of the compost into the emptied sandbox, and bought a big bag of vermiculite and peat moss at our local gardening center.
I hand mixed the Mel’s Mix directly in the sandbox and tried to get 1/3 of each into the sandbox.
My husband used nails to mark off 1 foot segments and I tied string that we had to mark off our 1 foot squares for planting. To learn more about how many seeds to plant of each vegetable, you can learn more in Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening:
Step 3: Use old Seeds, borrow Seeds, or have a seed exchange
I happen to have a lot of seed packets from previous years. I’m not an expert on how to keep these seeds, but I’ve been keeping them in my refrigerator. I’m willing to take the risk and plant them directly in the soil and see if they grow. If they don’t grow, I’ll use them to start more lettuce so our supply will be constant through the summer.
If I didn’t have seeds, I would ask on my local neighborhood listserv whether anyone had starters they wanted to share or extra packets of vegetable seeds. I’ve found my neighbors to be a generous group, and a great resource for saving money and keeping things from the landfill.
My garden plan so far is shown below. I’ve kept some squares open because I plan on buying (or acquiring from neighbors!) a few tomato and pepper starter plants.
Steps for a Budget Vegetable Garden:
- Look around and see what you already own to start your garden. You might not have an old sandbox to use, but I bet you have something! This could be pots, or untreated wood that is lying around unused for a raised bed, or simply a patch of your side yard that just needs to be prepped and mixed with some rich compost.
- Use your own compost if you have some, or search for free compost in your area.
- Use your neighbors, friends, and family for seeds, starter plants, and extra tomato cages.
Have you started a garden? Are you planning to? I’d love to hear any of your budget friendly ideas for gardening!
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