How Many Will Lose Money on Those "Frugal" Gardens This Year?

by Carrie Kirby on 21 April 2009 33 comments

In the past two seasons, there has been a huge uptick in interest in vegetable gardening. There are plenty of good reasons to garden right now -- food prices went up last year and haven't come down, or at least not much; people's incomes are stagnating or shrinking; people are interested in eating locally and nothing is more local than your own back yard; with food poisoning and contamination becoming commonplace, people want to know where their food is coming from; and finally, producing your own food should help quell some of that rampant uncertainty plaguing most of us these days. Even if you lose your income, if you've got a successful garden this summer, you won't starve, or at least not for a few months.

I like to save money, and I like security. And yet, I'm very tentative when it comes to jumping into the gardening craze.

Why? I watch my dad garden every year, and though the payoffs for his labor are many, I have also heard him say year after year that his garden doesn't save him a dime. The way he figures it, he pays for a lot of inputs: renting a machine to break up the earth each spring, seedlings, seed, a compost-rich "soil conditioner" called Father Dom's Duck Doo, vials of concentrated fox piss to ward off rabbits, herbicides, insecticides, fencing and of course water.

Then again, my dad doesn't do much grocery shopping, so I suspect he does not realize the street value of all those delicious tomatoes he pulls out of that garden, not to mention the green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, corn, peppers and kale. And you'll have noticed from my list that he does not garden organically -- surely, I figure, I could save more if I eschew the pesticide and herbicides and compare my harvest to the prices for organic produce.

I was able to find some estimates for how much you can save by growing your own food, but they are all pretty vague:

  • BusinessPundit.com estimates a mere $20 savings from growing a few tomato and pepper plants on his patio.
  •  Get Rich Slowly  estimates a $1.91 return for each $1 invested in his garden -- but acknowledges that 60 hours of labor also went into the project. This gardener saved about $300, so you could say that he and his wife earned $20 an hour, tax free, for working on their plot.
  • In this New York Times article, a Burpee rep estimates that a $100 investment in a garden will yield over $1,000 in savings. In the same piece, an experienced gardener says she hopes to save $20 a week, which, extrapolated over the course of the year, is about the same thing. She mentioned drying and freezing some of her yield, so I think she meant over the whole year and not just during the harvest season.

Invest $100, save $1,000 in a year, tax free? What am I waiting for? Gardening seems like the investment deal of the century!

And yet, I'm still hesitant to put in more than a few plants and spend more than a few bucks. Here are my reasons: The output from any investment in a garden is uncertain. I've seen my dad's crops get decimated or at least severely diminished by so many things -- pests, hail, late frost, mysterious failure to thrive. He has had years when he had to replant three times -- increasing if not tripling that initial investment. Realistically, I have to assume that my results will be worse than his. My yard is not as sunny, pests (squirrels) are more rampant, I have no track record of successful gardening in this yard, I lack his experience and skill, I have less free time to tend to the garden, and, at nearly 7 months pregnant, I won't be as physically up to the task. Finally, since I want to skip the chemical fertilizer and pest killers, I can assume that I will lose more to pests and/or have to work harder than he does.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

My dad might be surprised if he ever did the math and figured out how much he's saving, on average, with his garden. But I think a lot of newcomers to gardening will also be surprised at the amount of work and risk involved. I'm willing to bet there will be a lot of abandoned gardens come midsummer, and a lot of folks who spent more than $100 who end up getting $0 worth of produce. But for those who do stick with this new hobby, there will be nonmonetary rewards as well as the hoped-for return on investment. Ever bite into a BLT sandwich when the T was picked just as the B hit the pan? You could pay hundreds for a haute cuisine meal that doesn't match it. Ever see a man teach his grandchild how to space out green bean seeds, and then watch that same grandchild help bring in the harvest?

I have, and that, more than the uncertain prospect of being able to recoup my investment, is what drives me to put in at least a few plants this year. Squirrels be damned.

If you do invest your time and money as a new gardener this year, here are some tips to help avoid losing that investment: 

Myscha Tehriault's recent post about cheap garden hacks right here on Wise Bread.

Get Rich Slowly has great tips, including: Start small, pick high-yield plants (berries over corn), and share seeds with friends.

Growing Plants for Free is supposed to be a good book for beginners and experts alike on splitting plants and harvesting seeds so you don't have to buy them.

This article has some tips for frugal gardening, like making your own fertilizer with worms (I'm gonna wait until fall to make another go at the worm bin) and which seeds you can save and expect to come true.

Note: This post contains an affiliate link.

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Guest's picture

I think people need to think more broadly about growing your own food. Here's a longer term plan for people that can grow orchard plants like blueberries, almonds and apples. I came up with 61K each for three families yard sharing over 20 years. It's a back of the napkin calculation, but still it frames things a little differently.

http://tinyurl.com/dmmtgb

I think if people think in terms of an entire food plan rather than JUST growing veg, the more you fit together the more you save in the long run. Initial investments are important to consider but so is a long term vision. You buy one shovel in 20 years if you care for your tools. You plant one apricot tree and it feeds your family apricots for life.

Some things make a long of sense to grow because they are expensive in the store - some don't because they are way cheap.

Seed saving and trading is the way to go. Compost done right doesn't cost you a lot. Companion planting and other natural pest plans mean you don't HAVE to spend a lot of money - You just need to inform your self on techniques that have been around for a long time.

Also for people that cannot afford food at the store banding together in a yard share group to share muscle, time and space makes sense.

Factor in the fact that we are past peak oil, the burbs are collapsing, and kids spend way too much time watching TV eating non-food that makes them huge farting machines...well getting out in the yard and gardening with your neighbors starts to make a lot more sense.

Guest's picture
Miguel Marcos

I agree with this post. Gardening at this scale should not be regarded as a tool for saving money. The big deal about such a garden is being able to grow what you like, getting it as fresh as possible, being comfortable with the growing and harvesting process (truly organic or simply no pesticides and so on).

Guest's picture

Certain costs are one-time costs: fencing, pots, stakes, even seeds-- if you save.

I don't rent a roto tiller-- I use muscle . . .

My compost is my garbage . . .

The only real cost is time, water, and some fertilizer.

But the real value is the quality and personal satisfaction . . .

Guest's picture
Jan

Gardening feeds the spirit as well...

Guest's picture
Donna

Square Foot Gardening saves a lot of time, once the initial work is done to get your raised beds made and filled with a soil mixture. I never have to week, cutting the actual time I spend gardening way down. The initial work is a lot, but maintaining them is nothing. I'm a lazy gardener, too so I pretty much just water the garden as needed and that's about it.

I like what the above poster says about gardening feeding the spirit. It's very satisfying to grow your own food. And don't get me started on how much better the tomatoes taste when they are fresh picked out of your own back yard! I'm counting down the days until Tomato Time!

Guest's picture

http://www.squarefootgardening.com/

The methods are certainly different than expected. We have a 4' x 4' box that will produce lettuce, cauliflower, and a TON of strawberries (which my daughter would eat by the gallon, if we let her). Labor is minimal (by design) and although initial setup can be high, if you have farm stands near by, they can often provide you with better and cheaper compost, seedlings, etc.

This is our second year. We have spent $45 so far and I anticipate a harvest worth triple that. We could have spent less but we needed to build a fence box to protect our garden from local rabbits. Next year, we'll probably get under way for around $15.

It is a great method, especially for new gardeners, people short on space, renters (like us -- we can take our garden with us when we leave)

Guest's picture
Tanja

I came here to suggest SFG and found someone else had already mentioned it. I looked into it yesterday after deciding I want some herbs / plants / veggies on my (fairly small) balcony.

I found: http://www.squarefootgardening.com/

From what I understand from people already using it, it's pretty low maintenance. I'd really like some tomatoes on my balcony, not out of frugality per se, but more for the freshness and the convenience. Plus, I'm looking forward to taking care of the plants a bit, and watching them grow.
For me, growing them is also 'fun' and a way to fill my time (and get something out of it too), all of which I can't express in money.

And I love tomatoes, so growing my own will make me so very happy :D (priceless)

But yes, use your common sense. Don't start out too big, start small to see if it works for you. Don't count on a garden replacing your need to go buy groceries if you've never done it before. However, if you enjoy it, and manage to keep the spending limited, whatever you can harvest will be something you do not need to buy and that doesn't cost you that much (with the added benefit of you knowing where it came from and it probably tastes better).
It's all about what really matters to you.

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree with the idea of planning out your garden over the long term. For example, we have planted raspberries, asparagus, strawberries and fruit trees. These are expensive food items at the grocery store. By growing our own we eat many more of them than I would ever buy. Also we have made the fruit trees part of our landscaping so they do double duty.

Also having a garden allows you to experiment with vegetables that you might not normally purchase. For example, I don't normally like Brussel sprouts. However, when we grew our own, I found that I really liked them.

Another thing to think about is planning the garden out so that you get early season, mid season and late season crops. This extends the growing season for you and in some cases you can re-use the same section of the garden.

Plan on saving some of your crops for the winter. Nothing is better than cooking your own vegetables all winter long. You can also plant crops that store well such as winter squash, onions and potatoes.

Guest's picture
Guest

I don't know if my husband and I save money by having a garden. However, we take pride in being more self sufficient. It is also deeply satisfying to be able to enjoy the results of your labor all year long.

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree- I probably spend more on gardening then I get out of it, in terms of vegetables, but I enjoy doing it. I grow just a few tomato plants each year, as I can only eat so many when they start to ripen, but each year, at least 1 plant doesn't do well. I spend most of my time growing herbs, but I'm sure I never get my investment back, but there's nothing like fresh herbs when you're cooking, and it's also wonderful to smell when sitting on the patio.

Guest's picture

... that it's a good idea.

That way, I get what I want, like heirloom tomatoes that I LOVE to eat, and I know that I grew it, and not someone like a slave in the U.S. in Florida, or that it was shipped across the country in a polluting truck.

I think I'd be willing to pay more for that, even if it was more expensive (which I don't think it is).

They also have options to grow tomatoes for example (what I love to eat the most), up from the ground in something I saw on TV called a Topsy Turvy.. There are ways to grow specifically what you love to eat so that you don't waste time.

Tomatoes, Potatoes, Chives and Onions would be my thing.

Guest's picture
Guest

If you put rain barrels under your downspouts or do as we do: plug the tub drain during a shower and re-use that water to water the garden. We also have a chlorine filter on the shower so our water is chlorine free--a plus for gardens and compost bins.

Guest's picture
Part One of Two

Most people who garden, while cautious of costs, are not trying to profit from a garden.

Some want healthier food, some want a guaranteed source of food (this will grow in importance over the next two years - wait and see), and some just want the spiritual satisfaction that comes from independence.

Only the naive think it will save money in the short term (even though it can).

Starting a garden can be expensive. The one-time costs should be spread out over the expected life of the item though: putting up $250 worth of welded wire fence does NOT add $250 to your produce expenses this year! That fence will last ten years, so it adds about $25 to this year's produce expense.

Pro tips:
Don't buy junk. If you need a spade, buy one of the all-steel spades. It costs twice as much, but will last for the rest of your life. Home Depot, Lowes, K-Mart, and WalMart sell mostly junk (and you might want to have the paint on their tools tested for lead...)

Learn about beneficial plants and insects.

Milky Spore. Get some.

Moles are harmless at worst, and they eat grubs that will rip your garden to shreds. The mole-trap, mole-repellant, and mole-bait markets are a racket aimed at the naive.

Take the time to learn. A great online resource for raising food is www.homesteadingtoday.com, but you really need to read books. Lots of them.

Guest's picture

Repeating what others have said...

* gardening costs go down over time, while groceries keep going up - and some predict hyper-inflation which will put a tomato out of the reach of the middle class;

* organics are pricier in the store - you get better quality from your garden;

* gardening increases self-reliance which is a hedge against catastrophic events, in case, for example, Obama fails to charm the nukes off of Iran and N Korea, N51 pandemic, oil prices sky-rocket, a commercial real estate crisis, etc. I'm making my mistakes now, so I will have a reliable garden if or when something happens;

* gardening is a healthy, natural lifestyle choice;

* gardening cuts down on your entertainment bill - gardening is entertainment!

Do yourself a huge favor and experience nurturing a food-giving plant.

Guest's picture
Andy Gray

Ditto the comments about Square Foot Gardening. It's a great way to make the most of limited space, with much lower cost and effort than traditional methods.

Don't forget about seed saving; in the age of big corporate agriculture, patents on plants, and genetic modification, it's important to maintain heirloom seed lines. Besides, it's easy to save seeds at the end of the season and dramatically reduce next year's costs; several friends are planning to pool our seeds to start a small local seed bank. Check out Seed Savers Exchange for information and access to seeds.

Finally, for some DIY inspiration, check out The Cheap Vegetable Gardener for homebuilt versions of self-watering containers, upside-down tomato growing, grow lights, hydroponics, and more.

Guest's picture
Kathryn

If I were going to have a baby in the middle of June, I wouldn't put a lot of time or effort into a garden this year either. :-)

The ROI for gardening depends on a lot of things, including your base of comparison. If you're using it to replace organic produce from Whole Foods, it's easy to come out on top. If you're comparing it to iceberg lettuce and canned tomatoes, it's more of a toss-up.

If you're really hoping to save money on the gardening game, it's important to think in terms of low-fuss, high-yield crops: tomatoes, lettuce, bush beans, and so on. And keep your paraphernalia minimal.

Guest's picture
Chase Saunders

I agree that many gardeners spend more than they will ever get out, and I think it's important to decide if you are gardening as a hobby or of you want to see a return. Permaculture offers small-scale solutions that are conscious of inputs vs. outputs. Today most recommended growing techniques require a lot of fertilizer. And tilling takes a lot of energy. These things will be getting way more expensive, along with commercially grown food. Permaculture gardens are no-till, use more perennials than annuals, and focus on building the soil and controlling pests naturally. The goal is to maximize output versus inputs, which is way different than the typical approach today. While individual plants may yield less (because they are spaced apart, grown without chemical fertilizers, and in the shade of other diverse plants growing nearby) the whole system can yield more.

Guest's picture
Marcia

I agree with square foot gardening. We just started this year. And we started small - just two 3x3 plots, and a couple of extra pots. I am going to see how it goes, and add on maybe next year. We are CSA members, so I can't go whole hog.

I figure that due to my year-round growing season (So Cal) and relatively fenced-in yard, I could probably provide all of the veggies for my 3-person family in my less than 1/10 acre plot. But I probably won't.

If I were pregnant, I wouldn't be doing it either. I've been meaning to start a garden for years (my seeds are two years old), and it wasn't until this year (when my son is three and old enough to know not to pick the green tomatoes) that we actually started.

Guest's picture
Olivia

Ditto for square foot gardening
Ditto for homemade compost
Ditto for tomatoes AHHHH tomatoes still warm from the sun

We've found marigolds to be a great animal repellant as we get them all, rabbit, squirrel, possum, skunk. We also use grey water for our garden from the bathtub, sticking it in gallon milk jugs, putting them under the back porch and using as needed. Rain barrels are a bit problematic here as we have mosquitoes. But someone may well have figured how to solve that one. You may want to check out if your state has any gardening programs. We were given our composters at clinics held locally. The information was wonderful as well. We have two raised beds about 4 by 8, and zero in on what we like best. Tomatoes (we go through alot of sauce), green beans (easy to freeze), some carrots and lettuce and BASIL. We do alot of pesto and basil freezes well. Last year we were given a rhubarb plant from a friend and some seed from a freecycler. So our repetoire will expand this year. Have fun.

Guest's picture
partgypsy

One of the not so great things about our house is the very small backyard. Like Carrie our backyard is shady and populated by critters. I would love to have a big garden like my grandmother (what I mean by this is a 10 x 5 foot plot). Our biggest bang for the buck is using 2 small raised beds and a couple pots for raising tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. Seriously if I had more room I'd grow more herbs because we use them ALOT and they are expensive in the store.

Guest's picture
Guest

If you're going to invest the time and money in any size gardening, invest in a canner or take the time to freeze your produce! Most vegetables freeze really well, but we find our tomatoes do best with hot-water canning.

In fact, we just had fresh tomato soup last night. Yum... We always grow more than we can eat and share, just to ensure organic veggies year-round.

Guest's picture
Guest

feeds the soul as well.

We had 240 square feet of raised, terraced beds built for us this year. We'll never get the cost back in dollars but the satisfaction we will have eating our veg straight from the garden will far surpass any monetary outlay.

Guest's picture

Even a small investment can yield outsized gains.

I planted a green pepper plant and a six-pack of varied tomatoes last year. Due to a complete lack of knowledge of how to grow things in Texas, I didn't get any tomatoes until fall... but I did get three pounds of super-sweet cherry tomatoes (retail: $5/lb), 25 green bell peppers (retail: $1.99 each)... and I learned how to do better this year.

The biggest thing about "frugal" is thinking about the long term as opposed to short term. In the short term, you may have grown six seedlings and ended up with one plant. But next year you know to harden the seedlings off slowly as opposed to putting them all out at once in the dirt. You learn to start from seed ordered over the winter instead of buying started plants, even if they are tempting. And your first year investment pays off in knowledge, satisfaction, and nutrition later.

Besides, when I spend an entire weekend tending my little 8x8 plot, I'm not out spending money on other stuff. :-P Now THAT'S frugal.

It's always wise to approach anything that's supposed to create a return with caution -- but I give a huge thumbs down to this article's author and her attitude. Wise Bread isn't a website that I come to for this kind of negativity.

Fred Lee's picture
Fred Lee

I agree, the return on a garden is questionable relative to the time, effort, money, and frustration (I loathe weeding). Even still, we do it every year and scratch our heads at times. Why do we do it? Because we love the process, especially as a family endeavor. Granted, we live in Vermont where EVERYONE gardens, even the manly lumberjacks, but it takes a lot of work to even get a mediocre garden (ours barely qualifies) together.

Then again, there is a lot to be said about the journey, and even though the end result may not make complete sense, if you enjoy the process, then it's time well spent.  Besides the practical considerations, we feel that there are benefits to the tangible fruits (no pun intended) of our labors, not to mention any increase in self esteem at having done it ourselves, as well as the time spent together, as a family, outside.

To allegorize, you can either go buy the plastic, made in China birdhouse at Walmart and save time and money or sit down and make one with your kids. Sure, it'll cost you more in time and materials, and you might even injure your fingers and make a mess, but think of the quality time spent actually making it yourself. I think the same goes for gardening.

We can benefit from putting practical issues aside and looking at the real value of our experiences. After all, sometimes value can go beyond simply the cost of things, and there are valuable lessons to be learned when we challenge ourselves.

Guest's picture

Sure, there are costs and risks to gardening. Crops can fail, and you can spend $60 to produce a tomato, if that's the way you garden. But there are also plenty of ways to garden cheaply, year after year, and to minimize risk, as you point out. Experience pays big dividends in gardening.

I would also point out that the raw costs/savings when comparing gardening to shopping at the grocery store don't tell the whole story. You can save money on gasoline by shopping in your backyard. You save time too by going to the store less frequently. You get some physical exercise and a very cheap form of therapy. You get healthier, fresher produce which will never feature in a national recall or e. coli alert. If you happen to be one of the people sickened from store-bought spinach/peanut butter/apple juice/cantaloupe, how do you suppose your reckoning of the value of homegrown produce would change? How do you value produce that is two, three, or more times as nutritionally dense as the stuff from the grocery store? It's your own health you're talking about here, after all.

Finally, I would add that perennial edibles such as asparagus, rhubarb, fruit and nut trees, grapes, and berry bushes offer a superb return on investment over the long run, and with a lot less risk than annual crops. Perennials are an entirely different "game" than the typical garden annuals.

Guest's picture
Kacie

Think outside the plot for your garden. Think about growing tomatoes near your front door if it's the only sunny spot in your yard. Think raised beds and no till gardening. Rototillers have been found to destroy the texture of the soil.

So many options including container gardening. Rabbits in my neighborhood don't eat the vegetables grown in large containers.

And try catching water in a rain barrel. Compost your non-meat foods to amend your soil.

One of my friends raised five children, worked full-time and has the most wonderful garden filled with grapes, asparagus, squash and much, much more. The garden was a means to feed their children and work side by side with their children - a life skills course that provided a bounty for the family in more ways than one.

Keep in mind that the bounty of the garden depends on what was chosen to grow. Zucchini are very prolific as are herbs. The key is to know what does well in your zone and what you like to eat.

Happy planting.

Guest's picture
Guest

Gardening and tightwaddery go well together. We use egg crates to start seeds and only buy "heirloom" varieties that will come up true from seed to reduce seed costs. We swap seedlings with coworkers every spring so nobody ends up with more than they need (we start squash, others start peppers, tomatoes, etc.)

We don't have a lot of time to weed, so we only have a small garden to grow more expensive veggies and most of our money has gone to buy "edible landscaping" fruit trees and fruit bushes.

We've invited our neighbors to dump all their grass clippings, pine needles and leaves into our "lazy mans compost ditch" and dug an irrigation ditch to capture stormwater runoff to help the yard debris break down faster. The compost ditch will become our new garden in another 2 years.

Water is expensive here and rain barrels are expensive, so we've added plastic garbage bins (be sure to keep them covered and USE them or they'll be full of mosquito larvae YUCK). We also have a "greywater recycling bucket" where we capture around 6 gallons of waste water from the sink before it goes down the drain every day and dump it into the garden.

We did buy tomato cages (back when we were young and foolish) instead of using sticks, but we keep reusing them so I guess they've earned their keep. If you start small and expand a little every year, you'll get there without an overly sore back or a huge expense.

Guest's picture
lefawn

I'm growing crops for the first time this year. I live in an urban area so I have no yard and am doing everything in containers on my back patio. I've spent a lot of money and made a lot of mistakes.

BUT I've learned tons. I'll be better at this next year (ie, planting later, more shelter, composting, water saving).

And I will do this again next year.

Why?

Because lettuce harvested that day tastes 1000 times better than bag lettuce harvested a week ago.

Guest's picture
Rosa

I'm with the tightwadder guest above. No need to spend more than $50 on a garden every year, even the first year. Especially if you start your composting the fall before your first spring planting.

A beginner gardener can eat for really, really cheap on a few staple foods - you can dig up most of your yard for potatos and zucchini, put in a few tomato plants, and there you go. If you know or live near gardeners you can probably get everything you need to do that for free, too.

But man is that miserable. There's a reason my mom hates to garden, and it's the 1970s gas-shock recession.

The other way to save money at it is the one I see magazine articles about right now. If you usually spend a lot of money on things like sprouts, cherry tomatos, broccolini or mesclun mix - those are all easy, fast, low-input veggies with really high dollar value (I wouldn't put tomatos in that group because of their water needs.)

Mix the two together, and you can do pretty well for cash savings - add in the opportunity savings (if you used to have a more expensive hobby, or if your kids can be motivated to be self-entertaining with the threat of weeding duty) and you're golden.

But if you hate it, there are a *lot* of more cost-effective ways to spend your time. Food is usually cheap and the times of year when your garden would have the most yield are the times when food is cheapest.

Carrie Kirby's picture

I picked up a lot of interesting tips here, and I wholeheartedly agree with those who advocate gardening for the nonmaterial benefits. I especially like the last suggestion of focusing on more expensive crops. And the one thing I always want is fresh tomatoes cause I can never get enough.

I am a big advocate of finding ways to be frugal that you also enjoy. And that's why I'm scared to get started with a garden -- Even though I love the idea of knowing where my food is coming from and getting it fresh from the vine, I'm afraid I'll hate it and lose my investment through neglect. Already my best intentions of vermicomposting starting in fall and starting seedlings indoors in late winter have gone by the wayside.

But here's a ray of hope: The single strawberry plant we put in last year made it through the winter, and is growing nicely. I never expected it to overwinter! And I did put in a couple tiny blueberry bushes last year that are greening up. So let's hope we at least get some sweat-free berries this year to urge us along for a better garden next year!

I blog at www.shopliftingwithpermission.com.

Guest's picture
Juliette

I used square foot gardening last year, and quickly lost the seedlings to pests. That aside, I was surprised at the cost of startup, not to mention the labor and materials used to build the square frames. The use of peat moss bothered me, too, as it's not a renewable resource.

Still, I think I'll give it a go again this year--I have materials left over and I'll cover the seedlings to keep out birds and the squirrels that plague my neighborhood.

Guest's picture
Cindy Rae

1) What materials and inputs you use
2) The style of gardening you follow
3) Where you live
4) The benefits that you can't put a specific number on (healthier, more vitamin-rich food, exercise, time outdoors, improving the environment via better soil quality, and more)
5) Correctly analyzing startup costs and annual benefits and dividing up among future years of gardening.

In most of this country, our great-great grandfathers and grandmothers gardened very economically. They didn't use nice raised beds, soaker hoses, seedlings from the local nursery, or seedstarters with fluorescent lights.

So much of what we do today isn't necessary to grow food for the family. Sure, alot of it makes things easier, in terms of quality, how much yield we get, and how much time we have to spend.

In my part of the country the minimum one needs is a cheap fence around the area, tools to prepare or weed the soil, seeds, and some way to water when necessary. (One also needs time to learn, like about recycling food waste through compost back to the garden to cut down on inputs, or about storage, freezing, and canning).

Having said that, I do spend money on seed-starting equipment, soaker hoses, good fencing, a few tools, and a few good books. It frees up my valuable time for other things.

Guest's picture

I agree with a lot of what you say. The thing that I did before getting into gardening was think about how much of my time I wanted to put into the project. I did not want to dig holes, I did not want to worry about what is in my soil or if there was enough nutrient to keep the plants going the whole season. Not to mention the fact that I did not want to worry about bugs and the porblems that they can cause. The last thing I want to do is spend time every day watering. Sure this is fun kinda like shoveling snow for the first time but after a week or two it gets old quick.

The solution that I came up with was hydroponics in a greenhouse. I have no soil to worry about nor do I need to water the plants. They water themselves (with a little help from timers and pumps).Rather than soil I use two liter bottles and nothing in them but a peat pot. Once a week I need to add nutrients to the water in the reservoirs and I keep an eye out for problems with plants but that is about all that is really needed.

Don't get me wrong here. If you do hydroponics you can end up spending a fortune. The number one way that you can spend money is to buy those over the counter nutrients. Companies will try to get you hooked on using their solutions and then you are stuck paying a bill everytime you need to refill the reservoir.

What I have done to counter this and will be trying for the first time this year is to make my own solution from a mix of horse manure, compost, worms, guano etc. This is much easier than actually using soil. What I do is take my mixture and put it in cheese cloth. I then put the cheese cloth tea bag into the reservoir when I refill it with water. I pull one out and put a new one in each week. There is a bit of work in making the tea bags but the results so far have been great.

I also have a great local compost source so I have tried a bit of soil but still I put it in gutters with heat pads and went from there. At 6500 feet elevation it seems to be working fine for early April. This season will really tell the tale. :)