Gardening on a Budget: Grow an Entire Garden for $50 or Less!

Gardening on a Budget DIY Tips
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Gardening on a budget is easier than you think. If you’re like many people, you want to be able to grow your own fruits and vegetables but don’t think you can afford it. Gardening can seem like an expensive hobby, but it doesn’t have to be.

More than ever, it makes sense to grow your own food to save on gas and to help ensure you have your favorite foods available to you.

  • This blog post will show you exactly how to grow an entire vegetable garden that will feed your family hundreds of dollars worth of homegrown food for $50 or less.

Why Growing a Garden is the Best Investment You Can Make Right Now

Gardening on a budget is a great way to save money on your grocery bill. With a little planning and effort, you can grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs for a fraction of the cost of buying them at the grocery store.

You can also save on transportation costs by growing your own food. If you have a yard or even a small patio, you can easily create an inexpensive garden that will provide you with fresh produce all season long. In addition to saving money, growing your own food also tastes better.

Gardening on a Budget

Freshly picked fruits and vegetables are far more flavorful than those that have been shipped from afar. And, when you grow your own food, you can be sure that it is free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

Finally, gardening is a great way to get exercise and fresh air, both of which are essential for a healthy lifestyle.

We Spend A lot of Money on Groceries

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average American family spends about $600 per month on groceries.

That’s a lot of money! Growing your own fruits and vegetables can help you reduce that expense by 25% or more.

Gardening is Also a Great Way to Get Exercise

Not only will gardening help you save money, but it’s also a great way to get some exercise and improve your health.

Just 30 minutes of gardening can burn up to 150 calories, and it can also help you to build strength and flexibility. Gardening is also a great way to clear your mind and reduce stress levels.

Gardening is Good Exercise

In fact, studies have shown that just 30 minutes of gardening can significantly reduce levels of anxiety and depression. Gardening is also good for your brain health.

Research has also shown that gardening can help to improve cognitive function and memory, and it can even reduce the risk of dementia.

So if you’re looking for a great way to improve your health, your garden on a budget could be good for your mind, body, soul, AND your pocketbook.

Reasons People Don't Garden

People decide not to garden for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons is that they think they don’t have enough time. A couple of other reasons people don’t garden are because they have poor growing conditions or think they don’t have the money.

Let’s look at these reasons a bit closer.

Misconception #1: I Don't Have Time to Garden

You may think that starting a garden is a lot of work, but there are ways to streamline the process and make it easier than you think. For example, you can create a gardening routine that includes tasks such as watering, weeding, and fertilizing.

By doing these things on a regular basis, you can minimize the amount of time you spend on gardening overall. Additionally, there are many ways to make the actual process of gardening easier.

For instance, you can use raised container gardens to reduce the amount of bending and stooping required. With a little bit of planning and effort, gardening can be a breeze.

Misconception #2: I Don't Have the Right Growing Conditions

You think you need a lot of space and sunlight to grow your own food, but that’s not the case!

You can successfully grow a small space garden with very little sun. There are plenty of crops that don’t need direct sunlight to thrive, such as leafy greens, root vegetables, and herbs.

You can also grow fruits and vegetables in containers on your patio or balcony.

So don’t let a lack of space or sun stop you from growing your own food. With a little research, you can find the perfect crops for your small space garden.

Misconception #3: I Don't Have the Money to Garden

You may think that gardening is expensive and that you need to spend a lot of money on potting soil and containers.

However, there are ways to garden on a budget. You can find potting soil and containers at garage sales or even in your own backyard. Gardening does not have to be expensive.

Not only that, but gardening can also be a great way to get exercise and fresh air. So don’t let the cost of gardening deter you from starting your own garden. With a little bit of planning, you can easily garden on a budget.

How This Garden on a Budget is Different

This Garden on a Budget is different from anything you’ve seen out there, because this entire system has been planned and optimized, from the containers to the soil, fertilizer, crops, and seeds.

This Garden Plan is Truly Gardening on a Budget

I designed this garden to cost $4.00 per 10-gallon pot. That’s $4 per pot for EVERYTHING. The Container, soil, fertilizer, and seeds are all included in the costs. Including everything, the cost is just $4 per pot.

$4 for a 10-gallon pot to grow food for you all year is super-cheap. Paying $4 for the pot ALONE would be a great deal to many people, and I’ve certainly paid that much or more for only the fabric pots.

The Methodology Behind this Garden

It was extremely important that this garden plan be formulated to save as much money as possible while growing high quantities of fresh food.

Personally, that is the only way I could share and endorse this approach. It’s important for people to realize that gardening DOES make financial sense.

Patio Garden on a Budget

If you follow this plan precisely, you WILL save money on your grocery bill, while eating fresh delicious food and mastering a new skill that will give you confidence in your ability to feed your family. No green thumb required!

Optimized Pot Size and Type

The first variable we optimized was the container size and what it was made of. For this garden, we are using 10-gallon fabric grow containers. Using a raised bed is popular, but a raised bed is not the only way to garden.

Why Ten Gallon Grow Bags?

10-gallon gardening containers have many benefits and are perfect for a beginner gardener or someone who doesn’t have a lot of space.

They are small enough to move around easily but large enough that they don’t dry out quickly.

The fabric allows the roots to breathe and also helps to prevent water evaporation. In addition, fabric containers are much lighter than plastic or metal containers, making them easy to transport.

Container Gardening on a Budget
Handles Make These 10-Gallon Pots the Perfect Size

Another reason to use 10-gallon pots, and maybe the most important reason of all, is because you can grow at least one plant of any variety you can think of in a 10-gallon pot.

Overall, gardening in 10-gallon fabric containers is the optimum size to get started with when gardening in a smaller space.

I bought a 20 pack of fabric containers online for around $1.00 per pot. Click here to check the current price on Amazon.

Issues with Bigger Containers

Larger containers are very heavy when filled with soil. Filled this way, they are almost impossible to move. Being able to move your pots so they can stay in the sun or out of the cold is very handy.

Also, large containers can be expensive. Some of the newer modular metal growing containers cost hundreds of dollars for JUST the container. This is too much money for a self-sufficiency gardener to pay. There would be no cost savings associated with this setup in the first year.

Issues with Smaller Bags

In the same way that bigger bags can be an issue, so can smaller bags or containers. Smaller containers can dry out very quickly. This is one of the biggest issues a gardener can face. When plants dry out repeatedly, they are stunted and never grow to their full potential. When that happens, the garden will not produce enough to be financially viable for you.

Why Fabric Grow Bags?

If you’re looking for a gardening solution that is both effective and attractive, you may want to consider using fabric growing containers.

These pots are made from a breathable fabric that helps to aerate the roots, promoting healthy growth.

Gardening Budget

In addition, the fabric helps to improve drainage and prevents waterlogging, which can lead to root rot.

Fabric pots are also very lightweight and easy to move, making them ideal for small spaces or balconies. And best of all, they are very affordable, making them a great option for budget-conscious gardeners.

So if you’re looking for an attractive and effective way to grow your plants, be sure to consider using fabric growing containers.

Optimized the Soil

What is Municipal Leaf Mulch?

Our 10-gallon pots will hold right around 1.5 cubic feet of growing medium. Many growing mediums cost between $8-and $15 per cubic foot or more. In this situation, the cost to fill a single pot is over $20. Even in best-case scenarios where you can find topsoil blends or compost/manure blends for $3-5 per bag, you’ll pay at least $7-$8 to fill each pot.

Municipal Leaf Mulch is the Answer

Municipal leaf compost is a type of compost that is made from leaves that have been collected from municipal parks and neighborhoods.

Leaf mulch is an excellent source of organic matter and nutrients for your garden.

It can also help to improve the drainage and water retention of your soil.

Municipal leaf compost is a cost-effective way to mulch your garden, as it is typically less expensive than purchasing bags of mulch from a garden center. If you are on a limited budget, using leaf mulch compost makes good sense.

In addition, using municipal leaf compost can help to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills.

Municipal leaf compost is available for free or for a nominal fee at many public works departments in North Carolina.

Municipal brush mulch is aged and composted over 8 months- a year.

Starting a Garden on a Budget
Pile of Composted Leaf Mulch from Local Municipal Recycling Center

In North Carolina where I live, cities and other municipalities are not allowed to put yard waste in landfills, so many medium and large-sized cities have started very successful composting facilities to turn this waste into a leaf compost full of nutrients and organic matter.

At my local city recycling center, they sell an approximately 2 cubic yard scoop of fully composted leaf mulch for $15. We fill the dump truck with around 3 cubic yards for $30. Gas and other costs bring that up to $55.

Figuring the Cost to Fill Your Bags

You’ll need 1.5 cubic feet of soil to fill each 10-gallon pot.

At a cost of $55 per 3 cubic yards, we can fill a 10-gallon pot with growing soil for $1.

So, for around $1 per bag, you can fill your pot with the perfect medium for growing your plants.

If you like, you can add some topsoil or compost blends to your soil to make the leaf mulch denser.

When we do this, we add a 1/2 cubic foot of a compost/manure blend or we’ll add 1/2 cubic foot of mushroom compost and mix it in.

Adding compost increases the cost of the bags to around $6.00 instead of $4.00.

You definitely don’t HAVE to add this additional compost, especially with the high-quality fertilizer you are adding, but this is a good approach if you need a more dense soil that holds water a bit longer before drying out.

Don’t Have to Deal With Poor Native Soil

Another advantage to using municipal leaf mulch or bagged potting soil/compost/manure is that you don’t need to worry about having to amend the soil excessively.

Other Growing Mediums or Amendments

You can also add grass clippings or coffee grounds to your garden soil to add nitrogen.

If you have a steady supply of grass clippings, leaves, or other sources of Nitrogen and Carbon, you can make homemade compost.

If free wood chips are available in your area, you can use those as the source of carbon for your compost. Nothing beats free compost or having access to your own soil amendments.

Optimized Fertilizer

The fertilizer you’ll use for this garden is Espoma Biotone Starter Plus (click here to check the current price on Amazon), or any similar organic all-purpose granular fertilizer.

Gardening on a Budget Tips
Amending 10-Gallon Fabric Containers with 1 Cup of Biotone Starter Plus

This fertilizer is the best all-around fertilizer that I’ve ever used for starts, and I’ve tried probably 10-15 different brands of granular, organic, all-purpose fertilizer.

Optimized Crops

There are many crops that are well-suited to container gardening. Generally, a good container crop is:

  • compact
  • self-contained
  • doesn’t require excessive trellising
  • isn’t super-finicky to grow
  • bonus points if you can harvest multiple rounds off a single plant, but that isn’t required.

Crops that do well in containers are:

  • Asian greens
  • lettuce
  • peas
  • beans
  • carrots
  • radishes
  • scallions
  • onions
  • bush or other compact tomatoes
  • peppers
  • summer squash
  • sweet corn (planted in pots placed together in a block)

The Garden Plan

We’ve addressed containers, soil, fertilizer, seeds, and the kind of crops that do well in containers. We’ve also covered how this garden is optimized for gardening on the cheap.

Now it’s time to discuss the garden plan.

Three Garden Versions: Small, Medium, and Large

A lot of consideration went into this garden plan to make this garden project as accessible as possible. Cost was the biggest consideration, and I wanted anyone with big garden dreams to be able to try one of these plans and see results without having to invest a ton of money.

The Small Garden Plan

Cost= Under $25

Number of Containers= 6

It’s absolutely your choice to decide which crops you grow. You should pick crops that are easy to grow, that you like, and that you already spend money on.

I use a methodology for the small garden to grow a salad garden. Salads are easy to throw together as part of a meal, and it’s these types of vegetables that we often buy and forget about in our refrigerator. This makes the salad garden a great investment.

If I were growing the Small Garden Plan, here’s what I would grow:

Lettuce/Greens

DIY Gardening on a Budget

Cucumber

I’ll have cucumbers in one container. I have grown Beit Alpha cucumbers and I recommend those as a variety that you can save seeds from. As for hybrid varieties, I’m growing the Unagi seedless cucumber this year. If you want to save seeds from one season so you can grow them in the future without buying seeds again, stick to open-pollinated varieties or heirlooms.

One container will contain 2 cucumber plants, and I’ll provide a trellis for the cucumbers to grow on.

An average cucumber plant will grow around 10 cucumbers, so we should get around 20 cucumbers from that pot. Organic cucumbers sell for around a dollar each, so this pot alone will turn your $4 investment into $20.

Gardening on the Cheap

Tomato

One container will be a Baxter’s Bush tomato. This tomato is a compact cherry tomato that will grow well in a 10-gallon pot. This tomato plant gets extremely high marks for yielding tons of crack-resistant tomatoes. This tomato plant definitely deserves a spot in any productive garden.

The Small Garden Pays for Itself in 3 Weeks

If you aren’t looking to spend more than $25 on your container garden, a salad garden is great. If you buy 2 cucumbers, 2 bags of lettuce, and a pint of cherry tomatoes every week, it will only take 3 weeks for this garden to pay for itself.

The Medium Garden Plan

The next size up is a $50 investment, and it’s the garden I’m growing this year on my patio. You could certainly spend more money on your garden, but this $50 garden makes great use of outdoor spaces and will grow enough food that you’ll notice your smaller food bill.

Cost= under $50

Number of Containers= 12

The methodology with the medium garden is to build on the small garden by adding more quantity to the crops grown in the small garden, and then adding some other crops for variety. Again, sticking with foods that you like and that you buy regularly will make this garden the biggest money-saver it can be.

Lettuces/Greens

I’m keeping the amount of lettuces/greens the same as for the small garden. Four containers of lettuces/greens including Parris Island Cos Romaine, Tom Thumb lettuce, and a Kale mix.

Beans

Beans are the first new crop in the medium garden. When you’re adding beans you need to keep a few things in mind.

First, you’ll want to plant more than one container of beans so you can have enough for a side dish every week or so. For this reason, I’m planting 3 containers of beans.

I grow bush varieties in containers due to their smaller footprint compared to pole beans, and the flavor of the Dragon Tongue Bush bean makes them a great choice.

I plant 4 beans in each container so that I have 12 plants total. You’ll harvest about 1/2 pound per plant, so you will have 6 pounds of green beans from these plants.

Cucumbers

We are sticking with one container of 2 cucumber plants, just like we had in the small garden. Two cucumber plants will yield around 20 cucumbers.

Tomatoes

We are adding an additional tomato plant to double our harvest. I plan to stay with the Baxter’s Bush Cherry Tomato, but you could successfully grow any cherry tomato in a 10-gallon pot. If you have a different favorite variety, feel free to try that. Many people like Sun Gold cherry tomatoes or Sweet 100s.

Peppers

Peppers are a great addition to the medium garden. There is one pot devoted to peppers in this garden, with 2 plants per pot. With only two pepper plants, you’ll have enough peppers to top a salad, fajitas, or eat raw.

Herbs

The container you grow herbs is worth more than any other pot in your garden. If you buy fresh herbs at the store, you know how expensive they are. This single herb container will pay for itself in just a few weeks. Also, many herbs are perennial, which means they will survive to grow the following year.

In my medium garden, I’m growing the following herbs in the herb container:

  • Russian Tarragon
  • Cinnamon Basil
  • Lime Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Large Leaf Basil
  • Dill

We buy so many of these herbs at the store, and they are $3 per herb, per package. This container alone will easily pay for itself in 1-2 harvests.

The Large Garden Plan

Cost= $100

Number of Containers: 25

The Large Garden Plan consists of 25 containers, and expands on some of the crops from the previous gardens, and it adds a few new crops. Again, you can plant whatever you want in your garden. Some suggestions for the Large Garden could be:

  • 6 lettuce/greens
  • 6 beans
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 3 peppers
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1 summer squash
  • 2 onions
  • 2 herbs

The Large Garden plan is 35 square feet packed full of your favorite foods in a portable garden that will produce food for you for MONTHS.

Many people will start with a smaller garden and then work their way up as they get more experience or increase their budget due to the savings they see with the garden system.

Optimizing the Seeds and Plants You'll Use

The vast majority of these crops will be direct sown. That means you will take a seed and simply plant it into the soil to grow the plant.

Direct sowing is easier and more cost-effective than buying plants at the big box stores. If you bought bean plants at $3 apiece, you’d pay $12 for the bean plants in a single container which would make it more difficult to save money. This is why I recommend that you buy a pack of bean seeds for $3 and plant those.

I also recommend that you buy heirloom or open-pollinated seeds where possible. You can save these seeds and have your own seeds for future seasons. Saving money on seeds is always a great idea.

There are a few crops that I recommend you grow from plants: herbs, tomatoes, and peppers. You can get those plants you need from other gardeners, a local farmer or two, folks in your local community on social media who are growing plants, or garden centers. You can also try your hand at growing them yourself pretty easily.

Places to Buy Seeds

  • Botanical Interests
  • Seed Savers Exchange
  • MIgardener
  • Sow True Seeds
  • Alliance of Native Seedkeepers
  • Baker Greek
  • Hudson Valley Seed Company

Places to Buy Transplants

You can purchase transplants in the spring from many places. Many people sell the extra seedlings that they plant for their own garden. You can find these seedlings on Facebook Marketplace, yard sales, your local farmer’s market, or your local garden center. Purchasing seedlings from local growers is a great way to grow those varieties that do well in your area.

You can grow your own seedlings once you get more comfortable with it. I wrote a post about inexpensive grow light setups that you can read about here. Once you start growing your own seedlings, you can set up plant swaps with other gardeners, sell your extra seedlings, or give away free plants to your neighbors. Being able to grow your own transplant will make your garden on a budget save even more money.

When You Should Start Your Garden

Early spring is a great time to start your garden. Your growing season starts with your last frost date in the spring and extends until your first frost date in the fall. Just follow the instructions on the back of the seed packet to find out exactly when you need to plant. Find out what your average last frost date is for your area, and plant after that.

Extras for This Garden

There are a few extras you may need for this garden, but it’s likely you already have these laying around. By using free materials you already have on hand, you can make your garden work on a tight budget.

  • Chicken wire: you can use chicken wire to protect your plants if you notice squirrels or birds are munching on them. I find that I only need something like this in the beginning when the seedlings are first emerging.
  • Rain barrel: You may choose to collect rainwater to save even more money. 
  • Gardening tools: Thankfully, the need for big garden tools is very small for this garden, since it is grown entirely in containers. You can use handheld garden tools for anything you do.

Conclusion

Gardening on a budget is more accessible than you might think, and it can save a ton of money.

In this post, we’ve covered how gardening in 10-gallon fabric containers can help save the most money on your grocery budget.

Whether you choose the small, medium, or large garden, you’ll have a garden full of fresh vegetables at a bargain price by following the garden plan detailed in this post.

Finally, we looked at when you should start gardening in your area and what extras you may need to perfect your gardening experience. With a few tips, tricks, and a small budget, you can have the garden of your dreams this season!

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