With the spring weather finally coming to the northeast, I can see things are beginning to sprout and grow around here, from the green buds on the trees and bushes to the yellow blooms of the daffodils and forsythia. Many people are turning their attention to gardening and landscaping, and the retailers and nurseries are ready to take your money today, with one retailer even calling it “spring black Friday” (shouldn't that be “spring green Friday”?). While I tend to have a brown thumb when it comes to growing plants, I have a green thumb when it comes to saving money. Lots of people enjoy gardening, but they can save money at the same time by growing their food and saving on groceries.
If you don't have a large-sized property, you might be thinking gardening isn't for you. But all it takes is a small bit of land, or you can make a patio/balcony garden in a box, or even a window box or just a few pots on your doorstep. If you're new to gardening, a smaller space might be better as you learn what works for you. Also take note of how much sun you get in your location so that you pick compatible plants to grow.
Be smart about growing choices
The obvious choice for plants in your garden are the veggies (and herbs!) your family eats most. Growing a garden for food helps you save on groceries and nothing tastes better than produce you've grown yourself. Avoid planting fancy veggies that you don't normally eat on the hope that you'll like them or your crop may end up going to waste.
Many people plant a plot full of tomatoes without giving thought to how many they're going to end up eating. After the gazpacho and the bruschetta and the spaghetti sauce, what are you going to do with them all? So either plan ahead with a neighbor or family member to swap produce (such as trading half of their cucumbers for half of your tomatoes), plant things you can preserve, freeze or can, or balance your garden out with plants that are good companions to each other and give you a variety.
Also pay attention to the produce that gives you the most savings, such as herbs, tomatoes, leaf lettuces, cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, garlic, string beans, and bell peppers. Potatoes and onions are generally just cheaper to buy at the supermarket.
Be smart about purchasing supplies
You can plant seeds, start seedlings yourself, buy plants or seedlings at the store, or even regrow vegetables you've purchased at the grocery store. Seeds can be found for cheap, especially from online sites, or if you swap/share with your neighbors. You can even get them for “free” from old produce that has dried or from your spice rack (dill seed, mustard seed, celery seed, etc.). Or try you local Cooperative Extension or even Craigslist to look for free or barter seeds and supplies. If you're starting your own seedlings, try this frugal tip to start your seedlings in old toilet paper tubes. If you're not sure whether to start with seeds, seedlings or plants, check out this discussion of the pros and cons, but you'll probably save the most starting with seeds.
When it comes to soil mixes and fertilizers, your best option may be composting otherwise you'll be stuck looking for sales. But when you're in the market for simple basics like gardening gloves, a hand trowel, a watering can, a bucket, hand shears, or even gardening containers, don't be embarrassed to check out your local dollar store.
Be smart about your harvest
If any of your plants have a short growing season, you may be better off staggering your planting so that you're not harvesting 20 salads' worth of leaf lettuce at the same time.
Otherwise, if you know you're due for a bumper crop, be sure to look up new recipes featuring your produce, and most definitely learn how to can, pickle, preserve, or freeze part of your harvest for later. With a little effort, you can enjoy your produce long after the growing season is done.
Gardening on its own is a wonderful hobby that gets you outside when the weather is at its peak. If you choose wisely, you can make your hobby pay off in food for your table and a taste you just can't mass produce.
Do you enjoy gardening? What's your favorite thing to plant?
Image courtesy of amenic181 on freedigitalphotos.net (with changes)