The Shoestring Budget Garden

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gardening on a budget, frugal gardeningI’m a suburban gal. I’ve never lived on a farm, I’ve never raised chickens, and I’ve never lived anywhere where a rooster woke me up daily. One day, I dream of having a little homestead, but in the last few years, my soul and my senses have been awakened and soothed by the simple act of putting my hands into the soil in my own backyard and taking a stab at gardening, and I’ve done it all by gardening on a budget!

I’m definitely still a beginner, but I have truly discovered a joy that I never thought I would find from putting seeds into soil, watering with care, and seeing what happens.

I believe everyone who is the slightest bit preparedness-minded should have a garden. I know, I know. There are a zillion reasons why it’s not easy to garden, location, time commitment, lack of land, and “I don’t know how” being chief among them.

I still firmly believe you should try your hand at growing something. It’s an amazing experience that will boost your self-sufficiency confidence level immensely with very little work. Whether you grow one tomato plant in a small container on the balcony or plant an acre with 32 different types of vegetables and flowers, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Like almost everything else, all it takes is a little bit of preparation and knowledge.  There’s no need to invest a ton of money in this project.

Here’s the bare minimum to gather…

  • Seeds
  • Container(s) or small patch of land
  • Potting Soil
  • A few inexpensive gardening tools – hand trowel/spade, pruners, larger shovel, rake/pitchfork (don’t buy the $2 Made-In-China cheapies, but I wouldn’t go higher than $7 or $8 each tool)
  • Stakes and twine
  • A few large black plastic trash bags
  • A bucket or hose… and water
  • Gloves, hat, and kneeling pad (check the dollar stores)
  • Sunscreen (here I don’t skimp, because I am very fair-skinned and burn easily)

Really! That’s it! I promise!

Can you expand on this? Of course. Can you buy outrageously expensive gadgets and tools and go crazy? Yes! And if I win the lottery, I might do it! But to get started, you don’t need all that. Garage/yard/tag sales are a great source for good, sturdy old-fashioned wood handled tools that are well made and will last a long time.

It all starts with the seeds

I prefer buying heirloom seeds, so I know that my garden food is not GMO or hybrid and so that I can save seeds for next year’s planting. I order them on the internet and there are many wonderful companies that are happy to sell them to you for minimal cost. Seed Savers Exchange is one such organization that I’ve had good success with. My first garden, however, grew beautiful and delicious tomatoes with the cheapie seeds that cost me 10 cents a packet! So, if cost is a factor, and you aren’t concerned about GMO plants or having hybrid plants , then you can go that route, too.

Right on the seed package are the not-so-magical instructions to figure out when and how to plant. I was truly scared the first time I planted seeds. Would I do it right? Would it work? I had a tape measure and was measuring the space between rows and worrying and fussing.

I’m an engineer by trade. My mom laughed and told me to relax. Nature is extremely forgiving. Follow the directions in general, but use your own common sense. And please don’t measure. Estimates are good enough. The seeds know what to do.

For example, I live in gardening zone 6a. The seed packets will tell me when to plant, whether to sow right into the ground, or to start indoors. However, this year we had a brutally cold winter and just had some snow flurries and temperatures in the 30s after Mother’s Day! So, I’ve delayed all my outdoor planting this year until Memorial Day. The usual rule of thumb in my area is Mother’s Day, but this year I would have lost seedlings if I blindly followed the rule. Trust yourself!

In past years, I’ve bought expensive little mini greenhouses and dutifully bought the seed starting pellets and then transplanted all those little cells outdoors. Not any longer. In my shoestring budget garden, I started the seeds indoors using cut-in-half cardboard toilet paper tubes filled with seed starter potting soil. I used a marker to write what each seedling was right on the tube. I used cake pans and cookie sheets to keep all the little tubes organized and to move them and rotate them to maximize the sun. Come Memorial Day, all the little seedlings will be moved outdoors, and I can simply tear the cardboard tubes off without damaging the tender little roots.

Gardening on a budget by prepping your garden space

Preparing the patch of land or containers is critically important and often overlooked. You want your soil to be loose/aerated and non-compacted. You want it to be weed-free. You want it to have lots of good nutrients in it. I used a shovel to dig it all up, turn over and aerate my soil. I hand-weeded my space then added some good rich topsoil and potting soil with fertilizer added.

I then took several black plastic trash bags and covered my garden space (weighted down with rocks and bricks) and let the sun shine on the space for a couple of weeks. This overheats the weed seeds and they die. Fewer weeds will grow in my garden all summer by prepping it like this.

Depending on your area, you may wish to add fencing or plant marigolds around the edges of your garden to try to shoo off pests. Try to talk to neighbors or other gardeners in your area to see what kinds of challenges you may face.

Just try your own shoestring budget garden!

If you’ve been thinking you’d like to try it but are intimidated, I encourage you to just go for it! Start small, prep smart, and just try it. The first time you pluck something ripe and delicious that you grew all by yourself, you’ll stand there feeling absurdly proud of yourself. Isn’t that the definition of self-sufficiency? I did it all by myself! Good luck and have fun! Start digging dirt!

5 thoughts on “The Shoestring Budget Garden”

  1. Great article! I’ve also found seeds by visiting the organic section and saving seeds from the produce I’ve eaten. One year I had some amazing melons from seeds I saved from grocery store.

    Also, I think I own SEVERAL garden tools, but never seem to find them when I want them! I’ve been guilty of just finding a large spoon from the kitchen to dig in my container gardens!

    Glad to see someone else living the farm life in the suburbs. I was recently in Chicago. Loved the drive up there from Texas!

  2. Thank you, Helen Ruth. What a great idea, saving seeds from the organic produce at the grocery store. I’ll have to try that one, thank you.

  3. josephine stubaus

    i started my broc. tom. cukes in toilet paper halves ….started my zuc.and beans in the carriers from dd ,bk, mc donalds told the kids hold them for me put some black cloth in them to hold the dirt ….great idea

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