Monday, April 21, 2008

Gardening: Is it worth it?

We had a pretty cold weekend a few weeks ago so I waited a bit to get my garden planted. After we got everything planted we headed in and canned a few jars of strawberry preserves. They are so good! I make them lower sugar than what you get in the store, so they are better for us to eat. There's nothing like opening a jar a preserves that you've made with your own hands.

That brings me to my next frugal things we do post. Gardening and preserving. It sounds like alot of work, doesn't it? It does involve some effort, but the reward is great. I just read a great post by Kate, at A Simple Walk, called Spending time to save money.

Many times we feel that it's just not worth the effort we have to put in to save a little bit of money. "Time is money," as they say. It's so much easier to pick up that jar of preserves already canned for me, or to pay extra for the many vegetables I can grow and put up for my family. I do still have to buy some vegetables, but I long for the day where I do not.

I would have said that it was cheaper to buy your vegetables rather than grow them a year ago. With the price of fresh produce skyrocketing, it has once again become cheaper to do it yourself. We are coming to a time where we need to step back and reevaluate how we are doing things.

You can save your family quite a bit of money by gardening. Not to mention it provides food that is healthier too. I keep reading over and over of all of the produce recalls due to ecoli and salmonella. It's a little scary.

One of the best things about gardening is that it can also create precious family memories in the process. My children love to help plant and harvest the garden. The older ones are involved in picking out the plants we buy, they help with the placement of the vegetables and the upkeep of the garden. Even the littlest ones get in on the fun. Although it is usually just to dig in the dirt. It is a team effort.

That being said, even though my garden takes a little more work than going to the grocery store, I am always on the lookout to make my job a little easier.

This was our very first little garden. It is the way we used to garden. We worked hard to get that garden in. This was about 4 years ago. It took us the whole weekend to finish it. We had to till up the ground. Buy dirt to make the mounds and then plant. We had an ok harvest, but it cost us more to build it than it would have to buy the vegetables ourselves. It was great fun though. We did learn one thing that year, don't plant your garden next to a pine tree. One, the limbs fall off frequently and sap will get all over your plants.

After gardening the traditional way for 2 years we decided to try raised bed gardening. More specifically, Square Foot Gardening. While I don't follow exactly what he does, I do come pretty close. Here are some of the pros we have found by using this method.

  • We can raise many more vegetables in a smaller area.
    This is great since we have a city sized lot. You can even make a small box on a balcony or patio.

  • It is also cheaper to do after the initial investment.
    Now that we have our beds built, we just add a little compost before we plant and that's it.

  • It is easier to get going.
    This equals not as much work.

  • One last pro, barely any weeds!

It takes us a few hours of work to get the garden ready for the planting. Then we spend maybe an hour or two a week watering, weeding, and harvesting the vegetables. That's it!

Here's a few tips to make gardening more frugal.
1. Make your own compost.
You can put a small bin in a corner of your backyard in which you put your raked up leaves, grass clippings, food scraps(no protein), tea and coffee grounds, shredded newspaper, and a little manure to heat it up. Your garden will love you for it.

You can also find free compost at your local compost facility. Most areas have one. Look in the blue pages of your phonebook. You might have to let it break down a bit more before you use it though.

2. If you want raised beds, be on the lookout for cheap lumber.
To build our beds we used 2 x 8's. I would suggest asking friends for lumber, going to your local habitat restore, even going to construction sites and asking for leftover lumber.

3. Grow from seed if you can
You can start most seeds indoors and then transplant them. It's a cool science experiment for the kids to do if you'd like. They learn all about the germination process. One packet of seeds usually equals the price for one plant to transplant.

Gardening can be frugal and a wonderful thing to do. Go ahead and try it! Of course, if you have questions just ask.

I'll finish up with preserving tomorrow. This post is already long enough.

Graphics courtesy of


Cathy said...

I am new to your blog and I just LOVE it. Thank you for such great writing and all the blessings you share with us.

The Baker Family said...

Hi--as I prepare to become a full-time mom, I've been reading your blog for tips. One question about the square foot garden--does the 'box' need a bottom, or just sides? I looked over on the website you linked to, and I wasn't sure. If you put it in your yard, could you just have the four sides and no bottom--use the grass as the bottom? Thanks so much for all your writing!

Tara said...

I have enjoyed reading your blog for the past few weeks. I like your practical ideas on how to stretch a dollar. I am hoping to see more on how you do your preserves. I grew up eating homemade fig/strawberry preserves, but have no access to figs. I do frequent our local strawbery patch and am hoping to make preserves soon.

We are also hoping to start a garden this spring. We keep putting it off due to lack of time (or so we say), though I usually say I have more time than money. I hope to get started soon on that as well. Thanks for your great ideas.

Teresa @ A Life At Home said...

the baker family, if you are putting the box in your yard you do not need a bottom. Ours are just 4 sides. We did put the black weed guard down to cut down further on weeds. You just lay your box right on top of the grass. No digging!
Oh, and congrats on becoming a stay at home mom. I plan on writing about my transition to home sometime real soon.

tara, we make strawberry fig preserves every July. It is usually a 3-4 day process. It is a week we all look forward to every year.

cathy, thanks. I'm glad you are enjoying my blog.

Kate said...

Teresa, I was so excited to see this post. I have wanted a garden for the longest time. I've seen square-foot gardening mentioned in quite a few places but I've yet to really look into it. It sounds like your system works perfectly though. If I knew we wouldn't sell our house until after the summer, I'd definitely try it out this year. As it is, I'll just have to wait until next year. I do wonder though, and I'd love your opinion, if I could do some of the boxes with some kind of "bottom" and then just move them if we do move during the summer?

Tonya said...

Hi, I'm new to your blog and I'm really enjoying reading it. We are planning on starting a garden this year (just moved to acreage) and I had a question about your SFG. What do you grow in the boxes? Do you grow melons and pumpkins and such or is this only good for smaller plants like tomatoes and such? Thanks for your tips!

Teresa @ A Life At Home said...

Hey Kate, yes you can do the boxes with a bottom. I think you would just put plywood at the bottom. I wouldn't build them too big or they might be a bear to transport.

Tonya, glad you are enjoying it. We grow many of the bigger vining fruits. While I have not tried pumpkin yet, we do grow different melons. I will get a picture posted of my garden tomorrow with my trellis built. We just trellis those kinds of things up, instead of out. They will grow 6-8 feet tall and 4 ft wide if I let them. I just trim them back a bit to keep some order. My grandfather used to grow his melons and pumpkins along his picketed fence. It worked great!

Kathryn said...

I did 4 x 4 square foot garden boxes. I put bottoms on mine since we rent and are planning to move in the next year. I had 6 boxes last year and had enough to can for the winter. :-) YUM!! I'm getting 3 more 4 x 4 boxes this year.

Teresa @ A Life At Home said...

kathryn, I have a few 4 x 4 boxes and one long 10 x 4 that we just put in this year. When we do sell this place that 10 foot box will be a pain to move, but i'm gonna try. :-)

Mrs. Querido said...

Thanks for this post. Just yesterday I checked out about 30 books on gardening (I had requested them online and had NO IDEA they would ALL come in at!). After reading Square Foot Gardening, I got excited but a little discouraged as well. It just seems like so much work to keep weeds and pests away. I am not a bug person..eew! And so this morning after finishing the book, I was asking myself "Is it really worth it?" Oh and did I forget to mention that I do not have a green thumb on either hand...LOL...I kill plants. Hopefully if they are outside they will have a meager chance of survival. Thanks again for the timely encouragement!


Mrs. Q

Teresa @ A Life At Home said...

Mrs Q, that's the great thing about SFG. There are hardly any weeds. Now I can't guarantee that a bug or two won't find their way to your garden, but i've never had a bad problem. Good luck as you start your new garden!

The Baker Family said...

Thanks so much for all of your answers--one more question! Do you grow root vegetables in your garden? I'd love to grow carrots, but I'm not sure they'd have enough room. Thank you!

Teresa @ A Life At Home said...

the baker family, I found this interesting answer to growing longer carrots. I'm sure it would apply to all longer root vegetables.
Oh, and no problem about answering questions. I love them!

Carlie Faulk said...

Well - as the recipient of your old boxes - I just hope it all grows :) I put carrots in the middle four squares. We'll see tihgt?

I can't wait to pick figs. It'll be fun!!

Teresa @ A Life At Home said...

Carlie, they'll do fine. I have had little ones dig up a few of my bean seeds twice and the cat get into them once. Guess what, they are all sprouting! How are those tomatoes looking?

Daisy K @ With a Green Thumb said...

Great post Teresa!! It's so great to see so many more people wanting to have their own gardens!!
SFG are great for Interplanting!! Makes it SO much easier and helps keep the pests away!!

Have you tried putting cut flowers in with your veggies yet??

Teresa @ A Life At Home said...

Hey Daisy, I was hoping you would leave a comment so I could find my way back to your blog.-lol

The only flowers we have planted in our garden is Marigolds. I would love to add a few more flowers that were not only beneficial, but also aesthetically pleasing. Any suggestions?

Daisy K @ With a Green Thumb said...

Zinnias are GREAT!!! They stay beautiful long after they are cut and definitely divert your eyes from your veggies who are close to being finished. A few others are dill, fennel, garlic chives, parsley, shasta daisies, yarrow and flowers of the aster family. Most shades of blue, yellow or white flowers will attract many pollinators as well!!

Kathryn said...

Teresa, I just wanted to also mention to your readers that this is far and away the easiest gardening I have ever done. South Carolina red clay soil is not the best, but the weed grow like wildfire, and I spent hours hoeing weeds. I feel somewhat guilty with the SFG beds---virtually no weeding, just planting, watering, and eating. I have severe back issues and this has been wonderful for me. I canned a ton of pasta sauce, salsa, beans, etc...I think that was the hardest part! ;-) I have a link on my blog to my other garden blog with pictures of my SFG, or here is the website I have not started updating for this year yet.

Tonya said...

Thanks for the reply about the melons. Now for my next question. Do you have any idea how much you used for your 4x4 boxes? I don't have any idea how many bags of each thing I would need to fill up a box. Also, since I do not currently have a compost pile (and can't find any in the local area) do you have any recommendations? I'm even having a hard time locating the vermiculite! Just trying to find out if this is going to be worth it over the start up costs of a normal garden (have to rent a tiller). Sorry for all the questions!

Teresa @ A Life At Home said...

Hey Tonya,
About the compost. I wish I could say for sure exactly how many bags you'd need but my book is loaned out. When you do buy compost just make sure you buy a few different kinds. Manure, mushroom compost, peat humus and whatever else you can find. All of these things are pretty cheap to buy. Maybe get 3-4 bags each to start out with. You may need more or less.

About the vermiculite. You can sometimes find it at hardware stores. I found mine at a feed store. If you can't find it, then you can't find it. It is to help with water retention and to keep the soil loose. Just make sure you don't skip out on the peat moss too if you can't get it. I'd say 1 bag of the peat moss is sufficent.

I remember when we rented our tiller for the day it was around $50.00. That is a cost that repeats itself every year. With the boxes, all you have to do after the first year is to add a little compost to it to fill it back up. No peat moss or vermiculite needed after this year. Good luck!