Do you want to grow your own produce, but don’t have a lot of money to get started?
You’re not alone.
Lots of people want to eat healthier and grow their own food, but don’t have extra money to throw at a big garden.
I’m here to tell you that vegetable gardening doesn’t have to be a big strain on your wallet. I’ve been gardening for years on a tight budget, and I’ve had great success. Gardens don’t have to be expensive!
Here are my best tips for how to find free gardening materials for starting your vegetable garden.
How you choose to grow your plants is an opportunity for big savings in the garden.
If you go to the garden store and buy transplants, you’re missing out on some serious savings.
Starting your vegetables from seeds is a great way to save money. Transplants cost as much as $4.00 per plant – you can get a whole packet of 100+ seeds for $2.50! Seeds are viable for 4-6 years after you buy them (sometimes longer if you have good storage).
I’m still using seeds I bought years ago and I don’t re-buy seeds every year. This saves so much money over time!
Use An Online Seed Exchange. Get to know nearby gardeners online with local Facebook groups and seed exchanges. Often, these groups will host free seed exchanges to trade seeds with other gardeners. You can also get cuttings and seedlings from these exchanges.
Visit Your Local Seed Library. Many public libraries launch new seed library programs in the Spring and Summer. Browse their collection and check out a packet of seeds. At the end of the season, save some seeds to bring back for the next person!
Many vegetable plants are heavy feeders. They need nutrient rich soil to encourage plant and fruit growth. The best fertilizer is from natural sources. Organic fertilizer is made from living organisms and not chemical processing.
My two favorite free fertilizers are:
Homemade compost. Start your own compost pile, and in 6 months you’ll have rich, loamy fertilizer that will make your plants thrive.
Rabbit manure. Rabbit manure is a “cold” manure, which just means that it can be applied directly to the soil without burning the plants. Throw a handful of rabbit pellets into your soil when planting out your transplants. They will break down in the ground and provide great nutrition to the plant.
ChipDrop is a company that connects arborists and tree trimmers with home gardeners. Sign up for free online and get a delivery the next time a local company has a load of wood chips.
Be careful, as these chips aren’t always sterile for garden use. They sometimes carry disease or pests like termites. Use these chips for beautifying your garden, such as pathways and edging. Don’t apply directly to your plants.
Newspaper is a safe and effective mulch for using on your beds. Contact your local paper to ask if they have misprints or old issues to donate. Or, use free local classified or entertainment papers that you can find around town.
You don’t need a lot of tools to start a garden. Garden stores love to display the latest “must-have” gadgets, like electric rototillers and chrome-plated shovels.
In truth, a lot of these things are unnecessary. A sturdy shovel, a sharp pair of shears, and sunscreen are my go-to tools for the garden. Other things may make it easier or faster. If you’re on a budget, skip the convenience tools.
The Dollar Tree usually has a garden display each year when spring comes around. I always stock up on simple tools like garden gloves, hand rakes and shovels, and pruning shears.
Scope out yard sales for bigger tools like shovels and stakes. The best time to go searching is at dawn on Friday and Saturday. Make the effort to get up early and you can usually find these things for just a few bucks!
A Note on Soil
Okay, so this is really important. A big part of saving money – in general – is knowing when to shell out and when to cut corners.
Soil quality is the single most important element for a successful vegetable garden. High quality soil is the foundation that you build upon.
For this reason, I don’t recommend sourcing free soil. Although there are free ways to get soil, it’s important that you know what’s in your dirt.
Be wary of free soil from freecycle, landscaping companies, or random “buy topsoil” signs on country roads. You have no clue what is really in it.
Often, these soils will have insects, pesticides, nematodes, etc. I don’t want to risk my precious garden with these contaminants.
Create a sterile soil environment for your garden by filling your beds with peat moss + organic matter, like compost or fertilizer. It’s simple, relatively cheap, and a lot safer than trusting dirt from outside sources.
Gardening is for everyone. You don’t have to have big manicured beds or fancy flowerbeds. You can grow a bountiful vegetable garden without a lot of money. Use your creativity to think of ways to garden frugally and you’ll be successful.