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Money Saving Gardening Tips From a Frugal Mama

fresh produce

Happy Tuesday everyone! Mrs. Frugal Rules will be speaking to you today about some of her favorite gardening tips. At the end of the post make sure to fill out the Rafflecopter widget for your chance to win a $500 Giveaway! Speaking of giveaways, don’t forget about Frugal Rules $100 Giveaway!

As I look out my kitchen window, I can finally see the grass that has been shrouded in a thick blanket of snow for months. I live in the Midwest where the seasons are obvious and the cold winter months make you long for spring. I grew up in sunny Southern California where my mom tended a rose garden and other temperate-climate plants year round. Now that I have a family of my own, I have discovered that I inherited my mother’s green thumb but not her gardening knowledge. I was too busy to pay attention as a girl so when the gardening bug bit me, I had to reach out to family members for their gardening tips. What I found along the way were gardening tips that made creating, maintaining and harvesting my own vegetable garden a very frugal endeavor.

A Productive Garden Starts with Good Soil

Healthy, productive vegetable gardening doesn’t require as large of an investment of money as it does time. I started our backyard garden growing tomatoes, beans, corn, peas, carrots, onions, potatoes and peppers for less than $200. The cost outlay was a bit higher the first year because I needed to get my soil tested, amend it, create raised garden beds and fill them with a combination of top soil and composted manure. In the few years since I started a backyard garden I’ve learned that an abundant harvest doesn’t require expensive seeds, just nutrient-rich soil.

I Gained one of my Best Gardening Tips From my Local Farmers’ Market

We have three or four farmers’ markets in our city. My favorite is the oldest one in town because it’s held in our historic downtown district. There’s something romantic and refreshing about strolling down cobblestone streets, smelling food from local vendors and seeing all of the vibrant, fresh food and plants from local farmers. On the outskirts of the market, a local farmer sets up rows upon rows of small vegetable plants and herbs that he starts in his greenhouse during the winter.

Throughout the spring and summer he sells peppers, rosemary, tomatoes, peas, beans, watermelon, sweet potatoes and more. His small plants are reasonably priced and produce abundantly. He’s always full of helpful gardening tips and is the person who told me to grow what I can from seeds at WalMart or Home Depot and then buy what I can’t at a farmers’ market. His strategy has worked well for me. I’ve peppered in a few heirloom seeds from Seed Savers along the way but generally have found that seeds from my local WalMart produce just as well if not better than heirloom seeds, and they cost a lot less (and I don’t have to pay for shipping!). Another reason I like to buy my seeds in person is that I have yet to see any online coupons for seeds.

Growing an Organic Garden Costs Less Than Buying Organic Produce

I prefer organic produce but I feel like I can rarely afford it. I don’t use any pesticides on my garden mostly because I don’t want to spend the money on it but it has a fringe benefit of making everything I harvest organic. Yes, I lose some peas and beans in the process but overall, the bugs leave my garden alone (I’ve found out here at least they don’t care for much of what I grow which are spicy peppers and tomato plants). If you eat from your garden throughout the year, participate in a local gardening co-op where you share produce with friends and neighbors and can, you’ll be able to enjoy homegrown organic produce for a lot less than what you’d pay for it at your local Whole Foods store.

Gardening is an enjoyable hobby and has become one of my favorite ways to relieve stress and connect with with my kids. I try to involve them as much as possible in the planting, tending and harvesting of our garden. Along the way, they’re learning to eat healthy and have a respect for things that grow. I feel as though I haven’t scratched the surface of what could be discussed regarding gardening but I hope these gardening tips have been helpful.

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If you have specific questions about starting a garden, ask them in the comments. Otherwise, share one of your favorite gardening tips!

 

Photo courtesy of: Nicole Schmoll

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and would love to help out if you have the need. If you're wanting to learn how to monetize your blog, check out my blog coaching services to see how I can help you take your site to the next level.

62 Comments

  • Thanks for sharing the tips! My wife and I plan on putting in a garden in the backyard this Spring. While there will be the initial costs in getting it set up, we are hoping that it pays off long-term since we won’t have to buy as many veggies from the store. We also are excited about having organic food for less!

    • John says:

      Once you get comfortable with gardening, add canning to your toolbelt and you’ll be able to enjoy your produce throughout the year. That’s my goal this year!

  • Growing up, my Dad had a big garden out back where he grew all sorts of vegetables. As kids we loved it…for some reason, they tasted so much better than what you would buy at the supermarket. Reading this post makes me itch for Spring just a little more!

    • Nicole says:

      I feel that way about my Mom’s roses. While I appreciate every bouquet Mr. Frugal Rules gives me, somehow my memory of those roses I grew up with around the house seem sweeter and more vibrant.

  • Michelle says:

    Great post! We really want to start a garden and we plan on doing one for this year. I just kill all plants so I’m nervous!

  • Thanks for the great tips! Good to know where the best sources of local advice come from.

    • Nicole says:

      Yes, never overlook your local farmers market. They are invaluable! As is your local county extension office. They provide a wealth of free information about things that grow!

  • Thad says:

    That first requirement, good soil, never met the Texas hill country (where top soil is about 4 inches at best and not that good). Great point about it being cheaper to raise organic produce than buy it. Best part there? You actually get out in the sunshine (which is healthy in and of itself).

    • Nicole says:

      It’s funny Thad, we were working on a project recently for John Deere on our business side of things and were doing some research on the company. It was interesting to learn that their equipment started with a device used to cultivate the clay like Midwestern soil which up to that point had been too tough for mass farming to occur on. Just interesting because I think of this area as such a fertile spot. In regards to your soil down there in North Texas, maybe just filling an above ground bed with soil imported from elsewhere will help :-)

  • Scott says:

    Great tips! I would add that it is important to map out your garden, especially the first year. I planted way too much in my first garden and ended up with quite the jungle. Subsequent years I had fewer plants with better yields.

    • Nicole says:

      Agreed, Scott. And reading the backs of the seed packets helps, too. I remember the first year I ignored their advice to thin out the plants when they reached a few inches high and ended up with quite the bean jungle myself :)

  • I do enjoy gardening, especially when we actually have a good yield. Most of the time our dogs ruin the garden and my wife and I get frustrated, but we usually come back and start it up again the next year.

    • Nicole says:

      When we still had our miniature daschunds (now they have retired to Southern California with my parents) they wreaked havoc on our garden!

  • pauline says:

    Thanks for the tips! I have been asking around but very few people grow stuff around here, which is weird considering Guatemala is such an agricultural country. People who do grow stuff do it so naturally they are unable to explain what they do… The hot weather followed by heavy rains doesn’t help but I think I can grow watermelons and things like this. So far no luck with vegetables, but I am trying again this week!

    • Nicole says:

      So interesting Pauline. Do most of your fresh fruits and vegetables there just grow wild? How are people getting all that amazing fruit that ends up in my local grocery store? :)

  • AverageJoe says:

    Okay, it must be gardening day in the blog world, or the universe is telling me it’s time to stop procrastinating and start the damned garden! I love the point that creating organic food yourself is far cheaper than buying it. That is the tipping point for me. Time to get my hands dirty….

    • Nicole says:

      Ha ha! Let us know how it goes and start simple. In the beginning taking off too big of a bite can be so discouraging that you give up on gardening forever. Start with like two or three plants and see how it goes.

  • I need to do this. The bulk of our grocery shopping is in the produce section, and I know that we could grow most of the stuff that we buy regularly. Not bananas or avocados, but tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and peppers at least!

  • Alan says:

    Hi John,

    I tried a garden a few years ago the summer after we moved in. It appeared the previous owners had a garden along the fence line which seemed like a good spot since the fence was a split rail and it received quite a bit of sunlight. Unfortunately in the spring our neighbors put up a solid privacy fence. Prior to planting I did not re-evaluate the sun patterns. Lets just say the garden did not produce that well. We got some tomatoes, cabbage and peppers but nothing else really took off. Since then I have been talking about a raised garden in the middle of the yard which would receive plenty of sun but I just do not have the time due to school. I have always liked to garden but never had the place to do one and now I do, I don’t have the time.

    • Nicole says:

      I can totally relate Alan. Have you considered growing some shade-loving herbs in that same spot? You might also try tomatoes as they are so hardy they can withstand just about anything. :)

  • I definitely want to start an organic garden. This year will hopefully be the year!

    • Nicole says:

      Start small Holly; try a container and plant a bell pepper plant in it. Lettuce is incredibly easy to grow as well. A friend of mine’s mother says you could almost just scatter the seed on some soil and you’d reap a harvest. There’s nothing quite like making a fresh salad right from your backyard for dinner!

  • I am either a terrible gardner (likely) or the gardening Gods are just out to get me as I have never really had much success, but someone told me peppers are much easier than tomatoes, so I think I will try those this year.

    • Nicole says:

      I feel the same way when it comes to weeds. I always have weeds. Tons and tons of weeds. And none of my friends who garden seem to have this problem. I have decided God is trying to teach me patience :) Try the peppers and let us know how it goes.

  • Thanks for the great tips, Nicole! This is the first year we’ll have a big garden, so I need all the education I can get. We have the lofty goal of growing enough produce to last us through the spring, via canning, freezing and utilizing the root cellar. Your tips will help alot!

    • Nicole says:

      Wow, Laurie! That’s awesome. That’s kind of my goal too. Well actually this year I want to can salsa and pizza sauce since we eat it all year round. I know we’d use it. I just have to find some good recipes.

  • It’s great how you mentioned this becoming a family project where the kids can be involved. My parents had a garden each year when we were growing up and my sister and I took turns watering it. We also attached rubber snakes to long pieces of string that we strung all the way to the back porch. We would pull the string and make it look like the snakes were moving through the garden, all in an attempt to keep the birds away.

    • Nicole says:

      I’m curious to know if that worked Brian. I’ve heard others say they did that as well and have thought about doing it in our backyard. I could see our kids having a blast setting those up.

  • I am envious of your garden. Living in LA, our backyard is small. We took out the grass and converted our backyard into a full patio, so it’s really become an extension of our home, which I love, but no land for a garden. I’m not the world’s greatest green thumb, so that might have been an issue too. :) There is nothing like fresh fruit and vegetables from a garden. The fact you can grow your own organic vegetables at the fraction of the price of Whole Foods and go from garden to table in minutes – is fantastic!

    • Nicole says:

      Shannon – I grew up in San Diego and my parents still live there. You have GREAT weather for growing things like almonds, avocados and anything citrus. My parents don’t have a stitch of grass in their backyard but do everything in containers. If you like nuts, try planing an almond tree in a container and setting it on your patio. In a few years, you’ll never have to buy almonds again!

      • Thanks for the tips, Nicole. I do like almonds; they are so good for you! Are they easy to grow? I’m not much of a gardener so…. Okay, I confess – all my houseplants are fake! Open to trying but would rather not kill it in the first week. :)

        • Nicole says:

          Let me ask my Mom and report back. I believe it’s been pretty simple. I know she told me it does take two or three years for the tree to start producing fruit.

  • Catherine says:

    I’m so excited to get started on my garden! My father in law just bought me a 5′ green house too. I’m giddy with excitement to get my seeds planted haha.

  • Love this post. I’m looking at getting into hyroponics after things settle down here at home. I can only imagine the savings and how rewarding it is to eat food you’ve gardened yourself!

    • Nicole says:

      It is rewarding and there’s just something so cathartic, for me at least, in getting outside and working with the land. It’s so refreshing and such a change from what I normally do everyday typing endlessly on my computer :)

  • Growing your own garden is the best and I sure miss fresh veggies from the garden. My father always had a huge veggie garden when we were kids. His giant steak tomatoes were as sweet as strawberries.
    He grew grapes, green beans, cucumbers and raspberries.
    It sure is a lot of work but he loved it.
    In the part of Canada that I live in now gardens do not get a chance to grow as we have such a short summer, which sucks, but not much we can do.

  • I’m seriously thinking of either a raised bed garden or small greenhouse. As a novice, either is a bit intimidating and would required a lot of research. But could be a lot of fun I think. I recently adopted a vegan diet, so that got me even more interested in growing our own vegetables.

    • Nicole says:

      Oh Kurt, if you are a vegan, you would LOVE gardening. I bet you’d save money too. Start simple with a 4 by 8 foot raised bed and grow your most favorite vegetables in there. Go to your farmers market for advice. Just take one step at a time and before you know it, you’ll be a pro!

  • Good For you! Sounds like you have plenty of room in your back yard to get a decent sized garden going. I agree organic food is so overpriced in our shopping markets here as well. Organic garlic, two bulbs they want $3.99 for which is outrageous when our relatives grow thousands of them each year for cheap. I agree with the good soil as we use dollar store seeds that give us lovely crops but I have some good soil and make sure it’s nutrient rich.

    • Nicole says:

      We do have a nice sized yard; a fact I HATE in the winter when we have so much sidewalk to remove snow from but something I love in the summer and spring when it’s time to plant and harvest food from our garden. Next up, some chickens so we can have our own fresh eggs :)

  • Great tips! We are currently building a house and I look forward to having a garden some day!

  • If there’s one thing Lancashire in the UK is blessed with, it’s cobblestone streets. Really enjoyed this post, I feel I can progress from just growing cress now!

    • Nicole says:

      Given how perishable it sounds like cress is, it’s a good thing that you’ve been growing it yourself! As for cobblestone streets, I’m sure they must get annoying when you live on them but I think they’re beautiful. Maybe it’s the southern californian in me longing for something with a history that’s longer than 30 years :-)

  • Justin@TheFrugalPath says:

    Thanks for the tips. I want to start a garden this year, but it may have to wait until next year. I learned a lot about vegetable gardening from my grandparents. They were children of The Great Depression and so grew a lot of their food and canned a bunch too.

    • Nicole says:

      What perfect people to learn gardening and canning from! I think a lot of people from that generation know how to live more self-sufficiently than we do. Good luck on the garden and remember to start small with like one plant. Sometimes tasting success can be all the motivation you need to get rolling with gardening.

  • Cole crops (broccoli, lettuce, kale) tend to do better planted in the fall than the spring. That way, they get warm weather as seedlings to encourage growth, and cool weather needed to produce the best tasting edible parts of the plant. In fact, I’ve been told that kale tastes best (I hate kale personally, so I haven’t put this to the test myself), if the living plant has been subjected to a light frost or even snow.

  • Jim says:

    Great post Nicole, gardening season is almost upon us and I too am looking forward to tending to some wonderful fruits and vegetables. Just a thought about the pesticides, there are organic remedies to keep those pesky insects off of your garden. I believe you could find some on pinterest if that interested you. Just a thought? Great Post!

  • I like the idea of planting vegetables as the way to save money on our groceries budget. When we were small, we plant tomatoes, eggplant, beans, lady finger, bitter melon and more around our house.

    • Sometimes going back to our roots is one of the most satisfying experiences we can have in life. See if you can find some of those strains of plants and vegetables you grew and enjoyed as a child with your family and introduce them back into your life today!

  • Wow, seedsavers.org is awesome, thanks for turning us on to that site! My fiance is big on planting fruits and vegetables in the backyard but we’re always limited by what we can find at home depot – which isn’t always great. We’re definitely going to try a few seeds from seedsavers.org!

    • If they still sell it I recommend the heart-shaped red popcorn. I didn’t ever pop it because the plants were just so beautiful! I think you’ll enjoy seedsavers. I LOVE their beans and lettuce! :)

  • Kay Lynn says:

    I’m interested in trying a small container garden on our patio this year. I guess I need to get going soon!

  • 101 Centavos says:

    Are those habanero peppers in the top left hand of the photo? We’ve become converts to having a few hot pepper plants in the garden. Yes, you can easily find jalapeno and serrano peppers in the grocery store, but having them readily available 50 feet away for when the hot salsa hankering starts up, is mighty convenient. We’ve got a few hot pepper seeds started in the “nursery” for this year.

    • Yes, those are habaneros! Thanks for noticing. We grew habaneros, thai chili peppers, anchos, jalapenos, serranos and infuego chilis last year. They all did fabulous (maybe it’s because it was so HOT here last summer). I get all my pepper plants (hot and bell) from my local farmer’s market and they always do great. I always have more than I can use so I pick them all, wash and dry them and freeze them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Then, I put them in a ziplock bag and stick them in the freezer. All year long I can use them in chilis and salsas. It’s great. Thanks for stopping by!

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