With the gardening season winding down, I’m digging into my archives to share tips on how vegetable gardening can save money. This post ran as part of a series I wrote a few years ago when I was still using coupons as part of my food shopping strategy. You’ll find the rest of the series on my Feeding a Family of 6 page at A Life in Balance.
One of the ways I save money on our food is right in our backyard. We grow our own plum tomatoes to make spaghetti sauce. We also grow pickling cucumbers for pickles and relishes. Thanks to my crops of zucchini, beans, broccoli, carrots, etc. I’m able to fill two shelves in my freezer with quart bags of mixed vegetables grown organically and frugally. About 3 years ago, I did a cost comparison for tomatoes to see if we were saving money by growing our own.
When I did my rough estimate of my cost per pound for growing vegetables, I figured on $.25 to $.50 per pound. When our harvest is finished, our costs will be around $.25 per pound because I’ll be able to include the pumpkins, potatoes, apples, raspberries, acorn squash, and the fall planting of broccoli, snap peas, lettuce, spinach and greens.
We live on a quarter acre flat lot in the suburbs of Philadelphia. When we bought our home over ten years ago, we had the two pine trees on the lot removed immediately, but kept the smaller tree, a hawthorn. Removing the trees gave our property full sun most of the day. The chip pile from one of the pine trees became our herb bed. The other pile is now part of our vegetable garden.
Along one side of the property, we have a large vegetable garden made up of 12 raised beds, approximately 3 x 10 feet. The main ingredient in these beds is leaf mulch, free from my county’s transfer station. We used to have a pickup truck and for several years, I loaded up the truck with the free leaf mulch and used it on all the beds in the yard, vegetable and perennial. I think it took about 10 trips each year. Now, I would either use trash cans in the back of my mini van to supplement or I would rent a pickup truck for the day and try to do 2 – 3 loads.
The other important ingredient in my vegetable beds is compost. I’m fortunate to have bought a property with a cinder block wall on one side. I use this wall as the back wall for my three compost bins. Almost all yard waste goes into these bins, except for anything in my rose bed. Year round, we keep a largish plastic container on the kitchen counter near to our cutting board for vegetable scraps, eggshells, and spent coffee grounds. However, nothing tainted with oil or meat goes into the compost. We have a shredder for breaking down the larger items in the compost like cuttings from our hedge, but it isn’t necessary.
The basic crops in my vegetable garden are: tomatoes, sugar snap peas, pickling cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, lettuce, spinach, carrots, bush and pole beans, broccoli and cauliflower. I’ve tried potatoes which were good, but subject to little worms. I’ve had pumpkins, watermelon, cantalope, and squash from time to time. Many years I’ve grown tomatoes, peppers, and broccoli from seed to transplant into the garden. The other crops are seeded directly into the garden.
When it’s time to plant, I have a diagram of the vegetable garden that I copy from year to year to plan where the crops will go. I rotate these crops through my 12 beds following up with a bean crop the next year to add nitrogen back into the soil. When I make my plan, I start with the tomato crop since they’re the tallest plants, and I usually plant 3 to 4 beds of 10 plum tomatoes. Next I decide where to put the pole beans and snap peas since their frame takes up an entire bed. Then it’s one to two beds for zucchini which are space hogs, and one bed for pickling cucumbers. Another bed for the peppers and one for the broccoli. Once these plants are planned for, I tuck in bush beans, carrots, spinach, and lettuce around them, otherwise known as companion planting.
I never plant all the bush beans, carrots, and lettuce at one time. Every two weeks during the summer, I plant a few rows of each crop. When the bush beans stop producing heavily, I pull them and put in a new planting. Because of this bi-monthly planting method, the harvest continues all summer in manageable amounts.
Even though this year, 2012, I cut back on our garden, we still managed to fill the freezer with lots of homegrown organic veggies which will carry us through to next spring.
Resources for Further Reading
How to Start Your First Vegetable Garden (an article I wrote for the Lunch Break Blog)