You don’t have to become a farmer to save money, but starting a gardening hobby could save you money on groceries.
Have a bare patch of ground outback or room on your patio for potted plants? Save a surprising amount of money by using the space to grow to produce. According to the National Garden Bureau, the average home food garden yields $600 in produce per year.
Even if you only have the room and time to grow a few fruits and veggies, you’ll soon reap the savings. Make your jams and jellies, grow your herbs, make your spices.
Consider the following tips for cashing in on growing your fruits and veggies.
Choose your favorites
Just because everyone in your neighborhood is growing squash doesn’t mean you have to—especially if you don’t like squash or eat it infrequently. Instead, grow and harvest those foods you most enjoy. You’ll be more likely to use the produce and will save money at the grocery store.
Something that’s always a good idea to grow at home is tomatoes. Versatile for pasta, sauces, soups and salads, you might always be spending money on them. Heirloom tomatoes in the grocery store can cost $3 a pound, but if you learn how, you can grow and harvest your own for just pennies apiece.
Grow expensive fruits and vegetables
Especially if space is limited, be particular about what you grow. If you use pricey produce like herbs, organic berries, specialty peppers, or English cucumbers, opt for farming those items, as opposed to less costly produce like cabbage. In the case of herbs, growing them fresh is also economical. You can pick a single sprig of basil or rosemary from the garden, instead of buying and wasting a bunch from the store.
If you’re new to gardening or are short on time, avoid overwhelming yourself and taking on more than you’re able to handle. Begin with a small plot of land or three or four pots of herbs. Success with a limited amount of crops is better than failing with a lot. Once you master a few crops, try adding more.
Dating back to the 1890s in France, the process of intensive gardening—which involves growing crops close together to maximize space—has an American version known as square foot gardening that appeared in 1981. This method requires that you install square raised beds, such as 4 x 4-foot plots.
Within square footbeds, you can also install trellises, further saving space by growing produce vertically. In square footbeds, you can plant a wide variety of produce. This tactic also saves on water and fertilizer, as you’re farming a much smaller area.
Seeds vs. Transplants
When you have the time and you require several plants, seeds are your least expensive option. With an average seed packet costing around $2 and a typical transplant (the little potted starts) costing the same or more, the savings can be substantial. If you have limited growing time or you only need one or two plants, transplants are more economical. Something else to consider, though, is what you want to grow.
Curb setup costs
Though gardening tends to be one of the least expensive hobbies, there are still a lot of gadgets and tools associated with the pursuit. In the spring/summer months, check the dollar store for the basics: garden gloves, a hand trowel, shears, etc. Don’t forget potting soil or planter mix, all-purpose fertilizer and containers or a shovel, if you’ll be planting in the ground.
Also, consider gardening organically by using free homemade compost as your fertilizer. The bonus of growing naturally is organic produce is generally more expensive in the grocery store than traditionally grown crops, so you’ll save even more money growing your own.
Take care of your investment
After putting time and money into your garden, make sure your plot thrives with regular maintenance. Keep the fruit and vegetables picked, fertilized, and make sure to water your crops regularly. Save money on your water bill by collecting precipitation in a rain barrel and using it to water your garden when it’s not raining.
Now that you know how to cultivate your produce, you can watch your garden and savings grow.
Julie Bawden-Davis is a widely published journalist specializing in personal finance and small business. She has written 10 books and more than 2,500 articles for a wide variety of national and international publications, including Parade.com, where she has a weekly column. In addition to contributing to SuperMoney, her work has appeared in publications such as American Express OPEN Forum, The Hartford and Forbes.