Wondering how to start a frugal urban garden bed? These practical tips will help you start the best budget-friendly garden from scratch! Looking for more gardening tips? Here’s my beginner’s guide to gardening.
When I was a kid, I thought my parents were so uncool for wanting to plant things outside.
I remember them waking up early on Saturdays and working diligently in the garden… decorating with bricks, planting a variety of colored flowers, laying down mulch… They would work hard until the Texas heat kicked in and the sun mercilessly poured out its scorching rays. My sister and I were routinely called to deliver tall glasses of water, iced tea, or lemonade – always with extra ice.
Now that I’m older, have children of my own, and am passionate about real food, I’ve grown to appreciate the art of having a garden. Except…
I did NOT inherit the green-thumb gene. In fact, I’m pretty sure I got a double dose of the black-thumb instead.
Still, I’ve been wanting, yearning, and CRAVING a garden year after year. My lettuce growing in a cup wasn’t cutting it out anymore. I wanted the real deal. Outside. With dirt.
Since it’s growing season, I’m very excited to share my garden with you guys, but today’s post isn’t really about my garden. It’s about inspiring you to start your own!
I know that many of you desire a garden, too, but feel inhibited with finances. So I’d like to share some ideas with you to help offset the cost of starting a garden, plus how we tackled some of our typical gardening issues above without spending money at all.
Starting a Frugal Urban Garden
Why am I talking about gardening on a frugal real food blog? For 4 main reasons:
- Growing your own food is the only way to know for sure the methods used for growing and harvesting.
- Picking food from your own garden is good for your grocery budget.
- Gardening is therapeutic, and stress can really do a nasty number on your body.
- Gardening is a way you can teach your kids about real food, as well as yourself.
What are you going to grow in your garden?
This should be an easy answer while making your garden plans, but it’s really not. Not every climate is ideal for every fruit and vegetable, and not every family likes tomatoes! Some ideas to consider when deciding what you’re going to plant:
- Your family’s preferences. If your family can’t stand zucchini and hates green beans, then don’t grow them! Only grow what your family will eat and enjoy. This will make the entire gardening process much more fun.
- Cost if you bought the food. What foods tend to lean toward the expensive side? Which ones are affordable? Try to grow the foods that cost the most at the store or the farmers market.
- Growing conditions. Certain vegetables and fruits will grow better in different regions. Consider how much full sun, shade, rain, and wind your home garden will have.
- Research the average growing season temperature that your climate has and also what your annual frost dates are. You can do this research independently, or talk with nurseries in your area.
When should I start my garden?
To know the best time to start your garden, reference an interactive map of the US hardiness zones. This is a very helpful way to see growing zones across the country, so you know when to plant your garden.
How do I grow a frugal garden?
To plant and grow a healthy and frugal garden, you’ll need:
Remember to save seeds from your family’s favorite fruits and vegetables for planting in your seasonal garden. You can do seed starting early in the season, indoors. Then plant the young plants outside according to your hardiness zone. But, if you’re going to buy them, it’s best to find ones that are non-GMO.
The cost of seed packets can range from $1-2, and it might be worth shopping around at different stores to see who has the better deal. If the cost of seed prevents you from gardening, consider splitting the cost with another real foodie.
Also remember that spending just $1 and growing just one item will have an impact on your budget in the long run. Consider a $1 packet of zucchini seeds:
- One packet could grow 12 plants (and honestly, that’s on the conservative side) with each plant producing 3-5 zucchinis each week.
- If you’re paying 50¢ per vegetable, you’ve saved $17 in just that first week!
If your property is lush with dark brown dirt and rich with naturally occurring nutrients, count yourself lucky – your healthy soil is free! You can easily plant in the ground, or in raised beds, using the dirt you already have on hand.
If your property is less than ideal (i.e. filled with sand, plant roots, clay, rocks, sticks, and random pine cones), you’ve got a little bit more work to do and some things to consider before you start planting.
- Do you want to plant in-ground, in raised beds, hanging planters, or boxes lined up against the fence? Your answer will greatly depend on what you’re growing, but know that there IS hope for a garden in your sandy, reedy beach.
- Determine how much dirt you’ll actually need. The best mix for plants is actually not 100% topsoil, so you can mix/match certain materials to get a perfect combination based on the food you’re growing, your environment, and how you’re going to grow it. Here’s a tutorial for making your own potting soil, plus tips for enhancing the soil you already have.
- Organic soil isn’t always better, but it’s almost always more expensive. Rely on labels instead and if there’s anything from animals (like poultry litter), know that it’s likely from conventionally-raised chickens unless it says “100% organic.”
- Think outside the box in terms of where you get your dirt. Traditional stores like Home Depot and Lowes are an option, but so are smaller hardware stores, grocery stores, drug stores, and even the dollar store! You can also ask family and/or friends if they have spare dirt or salvage dirt from open land.
There are so many different free things you can use to start seeds, it’s crazy. My container of choice is the cardboard egg carton since you can start seeds of several different plants in just one carton and it’s easily portable to the best spot in the house.
Just be sure to label each cup so you know which is which (C for carrot, Z for zucchini, etc.). When it’s time to transplant, rip each little cup off – taking care not to break the roots – poke a hole in the bottom and plant the whole thing in the garden!
Other container ideas include:
- yogurt containers
- reusable bags
- small trash cans
- kiddie pools
- clam-shell from berries
- or a shoe rack that hangs over a door!
Even the cardboard from toilet paper can be shaped into a container! All you need is something to hold a little bit of dirt that has a small hole at the bottom for drainage (or is porous) and you’re set! Remember, you can cut a hole if one doesn’t already exist.
How do I transplant seeds into the garden?
Once the seedlings are ready to be transplanted, you can:
- Put them into pots
- Corner off parts of your yard with a raised bed. Things like rocks, cinder blocks, and even wood make great “walls” to your bed and allow you to fill just that area with the good dirt the plants need. Here are some big fabric raised pots, but I’m considering the cinder block approach for next year in a spot that gets partial sun (which I’m told is good for zucchini).
- Consider re-using materials around the house too, like empty hanging planters.
Most of us pay for water in some way, and it’s inevitable that the cost of watering a garden every other day will add up to something. Reduce the cost by…
- Capturing water from the tub as it’s getting hot and use that water to water your garden.
- Routing your gutter into a large trash bin to collect rainwater, and then using that.
- Reusing water used to wash your car. You can also reuse your bath water or water for boiling noodles/steam veggies.
Anytime you’re about to pour water down the drain, consider setting it aside for the garden instead.
Note: When you water your garden, be sure to water the roots of the plants well and you won’t have to water as often.
What is the best method for watering my garden?
Here is a great tip that I have seen in some frugal gardens…
- Poke holes in a water bottle.
- Plant the bottle a few inches away from the plant, but leave the top of the bottle above the soil.
- When you water, water the jug so the water goes out of the poked holes, directly feeding the roots instead of just the surface of the plant.
Also, a milk jug with holes poked in the lid can make a great watering can, or just go super simple and use a cup!
Regardless of your circumstances, how little your yard is, or how busy you might be, I promise that you can grow SOMETHING and enjoy the rewards that come from growing your own food. Even if it’s a basil plant in a cup of water in your kitchen, starting small by taking baby steps can make such a difference.