Gardening season is so close that I am pretty much driving myself nuts with ideas and plans and generally wanting to get digging in the dirt! Of course, this means I am babbling about it to pretty much anyone who will listen.
The other day a person overheard me waxing poetic about the potatoes we grew last year and the plans to improve the harvest this year. They came over and asked some questions about methods and whatnot then they said, “It is too expensive to get everything you need to start growing food.” It surprises me how many people really believe this is true. So I start to tell her about how you can get away with buying one bag of dirt and some seeds and be off and running. Her response was she lived in a small space and didn’t have the room. She felt trapped. I can completely relate to that feeling and am now helping her realize that she has more space than she thinks AND she doesn’t need hundreds of dollars to start growing her own food, spices, and herbs.
Decide What to Grow
Do you want to grow food or flowers? Herbs and spices or greens? First you have to decide what you want to grow before going forward so you can build your plans to suit what you are planting for the best chance of success. Don’t worry about how much seeds are, or pots to plant them in, or any of that. Let yourself dream a little!
To help illustrate how to use this information so you, too can garden on a budget AND in small spaces, we will use ‘greens’ and herbs as our example.
Check Your Space
Now that you know what you want to grow, check the space you have available to you! Greens can take up a lot of space as they grow out, but not much in the actual dirt. Herbs like basil and oregano can (and likely will) take up the whole container as they grow up and out.
How many windowsills do you have available that get decent sun? What about the front or back porch? Do you have a railing or fence that you can place pots on? Look UP!! Are there any rafters or eaves you could hang pots from? How about a wall you could put a little shelf made from boards and cinder blocks, or 5 gallon buckets turned upside down, or simply place some potted plants along the edge? When you really open your eyes and see, the unused space, you will likely realize that you have more room than you previously thought! Get creative (that’s part of the fun!).
Gather Your Resources
First we will look at what is needed to plant a garden and then we will cover different ways you can get the supplies for free or for pennies on the dollar.
- Plant food/Fertilizer
- Soil Amendments
For people who live in larger cities, the dollar store is a wonderful way to get supplies on the cheap but by doing a little more legwork, you can get the majority of your supplies for free!
- Recycle/Reuse/Upcycle – Drink milk? Cut the top off, punch some drainage holes in the bottom and POOF! You have a pot to plant in. (Be sure you wash it out VERY well to avoid mold). How about mayonnaise? Same thing. We have used lunch meat containers, plastic food storage containers that are no longer good for food, jam/jelly/preserves containers: pretty much any food grade plastic container that we would normally throw away.
- Craigslist – Honestly, this will apply mostly to those in large municipal areas but you would be amazed at how much you can find for free on there. People just want to get rid of the clutter and are willing to give it away if you come pick it up.
- Local Paper – Sometimes you can find freebies or super cheap supplies, even half used bags of soil for free!
- Garage Sales – Always a fun weekend activity and a surefire way to save money on what you need. The best ones to check, even if they don’t say gardening supplies, are moving sales.
- Farmer’s Market – These people usually have an abundance of extra pots, older seeds, maybe even some soil or soil amendment goodies (like perlite) that they may sell for cheap, give away free, or you may even be able to barter some help for the goods.
- Nursery Extras – Nurseries always have loads of extra seed starting trays that are left over from their shipments. You would be surprised at how happy they can be to get rid of it to make room for something they can actually sell.
- Local Farmers – Tying in to the Farmer’s Market idea, local farmers are generally very happy to help a new gardener get started. It is pretty rare to find one who doesn’t have some shed where they have an abundance of extras just laying around.
- Facebook Groups – Check for local gardening, farming, or freebie groups on Facebook. Even just posting your need on your own page can bring in more than you need! There are seed exchanges all over the place and many people are willing to give away last year’s extra seed packs. The germination rate is lower than if they were fresh seeds but even if that happens, you still got them for free!
- Thrift Stores – Even if there isn’t specific gardening supplies, I bet there are some containers that would work well for planting!
No matter which way you go about it, a little leg work and willingness to trade time for money will get you what you need for free or very inexpensively.
Gardening takes some basic knowledge. There’s more to it than just tossing some seeds into the dirt, watering them, and placing them in the sun. That might be good enough for getting them sprouted (rarely) but it won’t ensure success of actually harvesting anything. So, do your research on what you are going to actually grow. It can be too overwhelming to read up on everything you’d like to grow, so focus on what you are planting. You can learn about other plants after you have mastered the first ones you are trying.
Check for things like temperatures, preferred light conditions, fertilizing requirements, and don’t forget length of time from seed to harvest! Even if you are planting in windowsills inside, less sunlight equals lower harvests. You need to make sure you give enough time from seed to harvest during the growing season.
Once you have a set of true leaves, any plants in very small containers will need to be transplanted so they don’t go rootbound and give less than stellar results. This is where the recycle/reuse/upcycle part really comes into play. Even if you got 30 of those small, black plastic containers from a nursery, it won’t do you much good if the seedlings can’t mature because of a lack of space and nutrients. One of the upsides to growing in containers is you can have a permanent patch of certain plants such as chives, basil, and oregano.
Resources – There are plenty of resources available to help you learn more and get started. Here are a couple things we recommend below. Gardening on a budget is not a new concept!
Square Foot Gardening – This wonderful book is truly a treasure trove of knowledge and ideas and is a fantastic investment in your current and future gardens. Designed specifically
Fabric Plant Containers – Though you don’t really need these, fabric plant containers make growing in smaller areas easier because they are more easily molded to fit into the space you have to grow in.