Grow your own food to save money…or not (52 ways to save money on a healthy diet)

This post is part of my series, 52 ways to save money on a healthy diet.

I have decided that I definitely have a black thumb. I have a hard time keeping houseplants alive, and many of my attempts to grow my own food have been failures. Whenever I mention that I want to try to garden again, my husband looks a little bemused. I think that it says a lot for my husband’s patience that he gamely helped me build garden beds this year for yet another attempt.

Why I am trying again? Three reasons. I like fresh food, food costs are rising, and I think that gardening connects you to your food in a unique and healthy way. But lest you think that I am exaggerating about my gardening failures let me walk you through what has happened thus far in my gardening attempts.

I was trying to garden on my parents two acres (which sounds ideal, right?). I spent hours combing over gardening books, plotting out my garden beds, buying seeds, weeding and preparing the beds. It was a lot of work.

I was thrilled when my seeds started sprouting into little green hopes of future produce, and then it happened.
The rabbits discovered my garden. And boy, do my parents have a lot of wild rabbits on their property! I think it took a short two days to demolish everything I had grown. I was so heartbroken that I didn’t attempt to plant anything else that year.

The next year I had great success with my tomatoes, but slugs destroyed my zucchini and cucumber plants despite the 15 slug traps I put out, and the carefully sprinkled eggshells around each plant.

Let’s just say my gardening attempts in the past have met with a lot of disappointment and just a little success.

We no longer rent from my parents, but now live in the city with a shared backyard with our neighbors. After my husband built me my garden beds, the girls and I had a lot of fun sowing our seeds. We are starting to see green leaves reaching for the sun as they break through the ground. We will see if I have any more success this year or not (can you hear the cynicism in my voice?)

But I am hopeful that while perhaps this year I will have a steep learning curve, that eventually this will help us eat better for less. My friends who have had better success with their gardens assure me that this will be the case.

The tomatoes that I have grown for myself have demonstrated how amazingly delicious homegrown produce is. Studies have often found that nutrient levels are often highest when produce is the freshest, and it doesn’t get fresher than when you picked it out of your backyard!

Plus, food costs are rising. As my girls grow older, my food costs are naturally rising too! While I don’t know how successful I will be this year with my gardening, I do know that the better I become at producing food in my yard, the more I can save.

At the very least, gardening is an important connection to our food that we just don’t get anymore. We are so separated from the everyday miracle of growing crops, that we can take our food for granted. It has been pretty fun to see my girls delight in our garden already too.

So, I am not a great example of how to save money gardening, but I hope to one day be one.

And, speaking of gardening, ditch Roundup. A recent scientific paper linked it to a variety of diseases and autism. I write about it here.

I’d love to hear from you! Have you gardened with success? Has it saved your money?

KimiHarris

I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

Comments

  1. RH says

    I inherited a strong green thumb from my mother, but when it came to growing my own food the challenges required me to turn heavily to the resources around me. Asking questions at my local nursery and reading reading reading were key to my success in the garden. The one best piece of advice I can give you if you’re raising plants in vegetable beds is to get some cheap chicken wire to wrap around the bed. If you don’t, the neighborhood cats will assume they have a new litter box. I’m all for organic, but…

    • says

      Pinterest really is a great resource! Go to pinterest.com and search for
      How to start a garden or vegetable gardening or grow your own….you name it.
      I especially like the visuals!

    • Dawn says

      Square Foot Gardening is a great book. After I struggled with heavy clay soil for six years, we moved and used this concept to make our own soil in raised beds in our new yard. I love this method of planting closely and sequentially. Very efficient space and time-wise as we have almost no weeds, even after 12 years here! We do have a chicken wire fence around it all to keep out the bunnies, woodchucks and occasional raccoon. We’ve also chosen to live trap chipmunks and gophers and remove them from the area. They can do a lot of uprooting and tomato tasting. Sometimes I use a row cover to keep birds and chipmunks out of the strawberries, or Japanese beetles out of the beans.

      • Nicola says

        I, too, highly recommend All New Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew (the 2nd edition just came out in February.) Another good starter book is “small-plot, high-yield gardening” (title not capitalized, i.d.k. why) by Sal Gilbertie & Larry Shehan, and I just checked “Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook” by Ron&Jennifer Kujawski out from the library

  2. donna says

    I have always gardened since childhood, with my great grandfather, my mom and Dad, and on my own as an adult. I always grow tomatoes and green beans, and an assortment of other things. Three years ago, I also planted onions and ate a stewed dish several times a week of onions, green beans and tomatoes. I make it kinda soupy and put the veg mix over hunks of bread, top with herbs and Parmesan. Not only was it fun to eat actual meals from my backyard, but it was cheap and I lost weight!

  3. Diana says

    My husband and I are about to make some raised garden beds in our backyard. Our son is really into helping us in the garden and loves spending time outdoors with us. I’m trying to teach him more about food as he’s almost 3, so can’t wait to show him how it’s grown. We’ll be on to label reading after that :)

    Love the advice above about chicken wire – didn’t think of that and as we’re a pet free household I have a feeling the many neighbourhood cats frequenting our yard would enjoy our nice vegie patch… eek!

    Goodluck with your garden Kimi, hope it works out this year :)

  4. Michelle says

    We don’t have a large gardening area, but I have had at least a small garden almost every year since I began living on my own, and then with my hubby, and now with our two kiddos! I love how my children are fascinated by growing our own foods. They very much enjoy snacking in our garden–radishes, green beans, carrots, spinach, snap peas and lettuce all become their morning snacks in the summer. Honestly, I harvest very few of those things, as they get eaten by the children! However, what a fun way for them to learn and for them to get their vegggies!

    Kimi, I would like to recommend that you plant a few perennials, if you can. Raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and grapes are all pretty easy to grow and don’t require a ton of space. And they all make fun snack for the little ones! I think for berry bushes, the rule of thumb is that 2-3 bushes per person give you enough for snacking and using for fresh eating. But even a couple are fun and educational for little ones! One house we lived in had a very large raspberry patch, apple trees, and two very mature grape vines in addition to our garden. I made LOTS of applesauce, which we then enjoyed and froze green grapes for snack and smoothies. Given the high price of organic raspberries, I think we saved quite a bit of money, just by eating those as snacks. I also love pumpkins as decorations, and generally am able to grow enough of those to use to decorate without having to buy any. And honestly, whether it saves me money or not, seeing my kids get excited about growing veggies makes it well worth doing.

    • Michelle says

      Oh, and fresh herbs in pots are super easy to grow, and a big savings over store bought fresh herbs! Chives, mint, and lemon balm are almost weeds, they are so eager to grow.

    • KimiHarris says

      Hey Michelle,

      Thanks for the advice! I don’t know if we are willing to invest a lot into perennials right now as 1) we have a shared backyard (with four neighbors, and limit our garden space partly because of that) and 2) we may only be living here a short time. But I have been greedily eying some of the fruit perennials that are supposed to grow really well in our climate. One day….

  5. Renee says

    There are lots of great resources to help gardeners! One that I highly recommend for those who are on the West coast is Sunset Magazine. The magazine and their myriad books (Western Garden Book for sure) are big helps for home gardeners and they are including more and more about growing edibles.
    A second resource is to go to your county or find a large university and find out if they have a Master Gardener program. Here in our county they have a Master Gardeners’ program and those MGs have “office hours” at the local community garden twice a week where you can go to see what they’re growing and get advice.
    Keep working at it, Kimi! If nothing else, grow herbs in pots – they usually grow well and they add so much to dishes, but they can be expensive if you buy them at the store or market.

  6. Elizabeth says

    The book that I found most helpful was “Square Foot Gardening.” After I measured out the garden area according to the book’s instructions (4′ x 4′ and then into individual sq. feet) I placed wood stakes 2-3 ft. in height in the corners and in several other spots and in the middle. I then took some old sheer curtains and draped it over the entire area — using the stakes as support for the fabric (making sure that the fabric rested on the ground. This allowed the sun in but kept the critters out and the plants to grow undisturbed.

  7. Sile says

    I am trying my hand at gardening this year too, since the house we bought had a mess of tomatoes growing in the yard already. We got the last of them last fall and they were delicious. I have black thumbs too, so I’m trying not to be too ambitious.

    Starting to wish I had done raised beds, because my garden is so uneven. I’m hoping my MiL will be able to help me salvage it before too much longer.

  8. says

    I think you get the best return on your money if you garden for a few years in a row. The initial output for 4 way mix soil, lumber to build the beds, heirloom seeds, tomato cages etc, can add up pretty fast and if you only end up getting a few radishes, one side dish of swiss chard and a few tomatoes, it can be very discouraging. I’ve done the on and off gardening for a few years, but to really make it worth it, I’m trying to stick with a summer and a fall garden for at least 2 years. My garden is looking pretty promising. I’d love to add a salad garden and some berries too.

  9. Jen B. says

    I struggle with gardening too. This year will be my third year. Some things worked and some didn’t, and the deer and rabbits ate a lot! But I just keep trying each year, and gathering more information each year. And maybe someday I’ll have a thriving robust garden, and if it never works out great, that’s ok too. God will sustain us, with or without a robust garden. But it is fun to try with the kids and see what comes up each year.

  10. Brittany says

    There’s definitely a learning curve to gardening…and I’m still in it. It seems like every year we get a little bit more out of our garden though, so keep trying! :) I have to second (third? fourth?) the chicken wire. There’s no way our little garden would survive without it. For tomatoes we protect them with cages. My husband made some tomato cages/supports out of some kind of fencing he found at a home improvement store. The holes are bigger at the top (so you can pick tomatoes), but they get really small at the bottom, so that they also keep out critters. We use tent stakes to hold them down.

    I also have a lot of herbs and perennials in pots on the patio. That way I can bring the herbs in when it starts to get cold, and we can take them with us when we (potentially soon) move.

    Good luck on this year’s garden!

  11. says

    Oh did I need this today…in Texas we have two growing seasons…for the past 3 years I have tried my hand during each growing season…
    Having started out trying to save money and increase our fresh food intake by growing my own garden, I officially have spent more trying to garden than I have saved in finally harvesting my tomatoes last year…
    Between the deer, bunnies and bugs – and the rocky land (thus why I use raised beds) – I have to fight for any greenery we eat! Your post has encouraged me not to throw in the towel…at least not yet!!!

  12. Faye says

    Hi!
    I don’t think you have black thumbs at all Kimi, most of those challenges are a normal part of gardening.
    My dad had a huge garden growing up and was able to produce a lot of food for our family of four. I definitely took it for granted and now that I have my own family I am discovering the love of gardening myself. Nothing beats my small children getting excited over baby kale, peas and green beans! That alone makes it worth it. It’s a huge learning curve. I don’t have a lot of space so I try new things every year, what works for the soil, my climate (we are in BC, a bit colder) our growing season. I do have a big raspberry patch which I have to admit, I try to baby as much as I can. The kids eats a lot and I freeze the rest.
    We all do our best with what we have.

  13. says

    We keep gardening each year with the hopes that it will eventually save us money. Each year we get a little more harvest, and learn something. Last year we couldn’t grow a root vegetable at all, I think we’ve figured out it was a lack of phosphorus in the soil so keeping my fingers crossed for those beets and carrots this year. We are also square foot gardening, so each year if we add a bed, it eats up any savings we would have gotten from the harvest.

  14. HG says

    If you don’t already know of smilinggardener.com, I highly recommend Phil’s site – I stumbled upon it about 1 1/2 years ago. The free lessons as well as the paid course are all really useful. I’ve found it to be a helpful, comprehensive resource and learn a lot from his lessons.

  15. Lisa says

    Thomas Jefferson said, “Though I am an old man, I am but a young gardener.” His gardens were famous here in VA and still are. Keep trying!

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