6 Tips for Gardening on the Cheap

Tabasco pepper, prolific pepper plant

Have you heard someone say that they don’t garden because it costs more to grow than to purchase? Perhaps you know someone who launched into gardening this year, in order to produce food. Now they’re discouraged and expressing the same sense of resignation. It doesn’t have to be this way, though economical gardening doesn’t just happen It is a goal to be pursued over time. As a rule the new gardener will spend more, but remember, it often costs more to start out in any new endeavor than to pursue once one has gained some “fluency” in it. A person may enjoy gardening so much that they want to purchase equipment or materials that will drive up the cost. That’s okay, but at the moment Right now I’d like to make some suggestions for how to “do it cheaply.”

Grow a limited number of crops.

More than likely, if you’re growing a lot of different crops, you’re spending a lot on seed and, or transplants as well as other materials. The cost adds up. It’s important when growing economically that one not over extend. Even experienced gardeners tend to overestimate what they can do and underestimate the work involved. This translates into waste. As a new gardener limiting what you grow will also allow you to better master what you do grow, setting you up for long term success. But if you’re going to limit what you grow, be sure to plant things you like!

Related article: How to build a Cheap & Easy Emergency Vegetable Garden

Focus on crops which are especially useful or rewarding.

If you LOVE tomatoes, that could be a high priority crop. By growing your own you’d open up a world of flavor and variety unavailable from the grocery store. If you love hot peppers, peppers would be a great crop. Just one Tabasco pepper plant can produce more peppers than the average person needs, and they’re beautiful! That’s what’s in this article’s feature photo. Some people are really into herbs. A world of useful herbs can be grown in a small area, yielding valuable flavors for the home and kitchen as well as providing a wonderful sensory experience. Beans are high on my list. I could eat green beans every day and not get tired of them. Beans are easy to grow too! There is a huge psychological advantage to growing that which is rewarding. Some things I grow just make me feel good and they help motivate me to get out and work in the garden because they are so successful.

The Jerusalem Artichoke is what I call a “Feel Good Crop.”

Sun chokes, or Jerusalem artichokes, in bloom
Jerusalem artichokes are nearly trouble free and yield a huge crop of edible roots.
pumpkin harvest, old timey cornfield pumpkins, homesteading food production
Some varieties of squash/pumpkin are “feel good crops,” producing easily and abundantly. Their flesh can be very useful in the kitchen. This particular variety is especially suited for hot, buggy conditions and runs rampantly over weeds.

When possible, grow from seed.

There are times that transplants are okay but if you’re gardening on the cheap more often you’ll want to grow from seed. It’s almost always more economical to grow from seed. This is especially true with some garden staples such as beans, corn, squash and lettuce. To read more on the advantage of growing from seed see When Transplants are Not the Best. If one plants an entire garden, using store purchased transplants their costs will be considerably higher than if they had grown from seed. Generally speaking, larger seeded, warm weather crops are easy to start from seed. Other small seeded crops, such as lettuce are pretty easy as long as they are planted under the proper conditions. So for gardening on the cheap try growing from seed.

Learn to Save Your Own Seed.

Seed costs and large quantity of seeds cost quite a bit. One can quickly learn the basics of  to save seeding but then spend a life time learning details and refining technique. Among the easiest crops to save seeds are beans, peas, southern peas (cowpeas), beets, lettuce, parsnips and carrots. Seed saving can really help with gardening economically. With only a little effort I usually produce most of my own seed, and enough to share with friends. Seed saving can save you money but it’s certainly not something one can pick up “instantly.” Seed saving has to be a fairly long term pursuit, but it is a skill which will save money and broaden your gardening horizons for years to come. The Seed Savers Exchange has good information on how to save seed. Also feel free to drop in on Green Country Seed Savers to ask questions and meet other seed savers.

Tomato Rocky, heirloom tomatoes, heirloom gardening
Tomato Rocky, an heirloom tomato my family has kept going since 1973.

Avoid Purchase of Soil, Amendments, insecticides, Gadgets and Excess Tools.

There are so many ways to spend money on the garden but we’re talking about growing economically. So, let’s think this through. If you have a patch of ground that receives sunlight (6 hours a day minimum), you can probably plant there. Don’t assume that you must purchase and lug in bags of soil or additives. Go to your County Extension Agent and ask for a soil test. This is generally inexpensive. If you don’t want to do this, then pay attention to the weeds. If the soil grows good weeds, it’ll probably grow good crops.

pole beans in raised bed
I’ve had this raised bed for four years, only adding leaves and some homemade compost from time to time.

If you have access to some land,don’t think that you have to construct a raised bed or container garden. While these are nice, they cost. If you have a container for growing things, then why not re-use it? I’ve kept one going for four years, just adding fallen leaves on top, each year. Still, the cheapest way to garden is usually to plant right in the soil.

Limit your tools.

If you’re really gardening “on the cheap,” you’ll probably have only bare bones tools. You’ll probably avoid motorized tools like rototillers. I’d recommend at least one long handled tool and one hand tool. What does the job for you will depend on soil, conditions and your own personal preferences. We have heavy soil with rocks in it, topped with Bermuda and Johnson grass. If I could only use one tool it would be a 2 1/2 lb mattock.

Of course there are other tools for doing special tasks better. Yet, if I could have only one tool, here, with my conditions, the mattock would be it. Of course I prefer to use a number of other tools. The idea I want to get across is that one can garden more economically by avoiding the purchase of a lot of tools. In extreme need I could get by with just one.

hand hoes, homi, Japanese hand hoe, Korean hand hoe
Korean homi (left)
Japanese hand hoe (right)
Both are excellent hand tools for weeding and planting.


mattock, simple garden tool, economical garden tool
The mattock has a pick on one side of the head and a blade for digging on the other. With it I can weed or plant. I got this one for $6 on sale.

Finally, one last suggestion…

Plan on long term improvement.

Enjoy gardening now and look forward to learning more, growing more and adding more tools to your tool shed.

Do you know a way to garden more economically, one which wasn’t mentioned here? We’d love to hear about it in the comment section below!


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