8 Tips For Growing An Organic Vegetable Garden On A Budget

Practical ways to stretch your dollar when growing an organic vegetable garden.

March 9, 2017
cabbage in a vegetable garden
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Growing some of your own organic vegetables is a great way to increase the amount of fresh, organic food in your family’s diet while saving yourself some cash. But it is also easy to waste money, especially if you get seduced by marketing hype and buy lots of stuff you don’t really need (e.g. hybrid seeds or fancy containers for planting), or if you don’t select your vegetables strategically. Here are 8 tips to help maximize the return on your investment.

(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

cherry tomatoes budget garden
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Pick the right veggies for your garden

Grow only vegetables you and your family already buy and eat and only plant as much as you will eat. These might include veggies that are best fresh (such as leaf lettuce) or those that are expensive or hard to find fresh and organic in your local stores. 

To help you narrow down your list, first figure out what vegetables actually do well in your climate—your local Cooperative Extension Office is a great source for this information, as is your local Master Gardener Program. Find either one by searching the name online in combination with your state or city name.

Next, plan to include some vegetables in your garden that will produce for months (i.e. give you more edible bang for your buck) such as cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and string beans (pole variety, not bush). And for vegetables you plant and harvest just once, like radishes, choose varieties that mature more quickly so you can plant something else in the same place after you pick them. Optimized space is money saved.

Related: 7 Secrets For A High Yield Vegetable Garden, Even When You’re Tight On Space

planting seeds in a budget friendly garden
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Start from seeds—with a few exceptions

Start almost all veggies from seed. Garden centers increasingly sell seedlings of almost any veggie you can think of in pots, but most are a waste of money as they don’t transplant well. Plants grown from seeds you put directly in your garden will almost always catch up and outperform them.

Buy old-fashioned, non-hybrid seeds as they tend to be less expensive than fancy new hybrid seeds. However, disease-resistant hybrids may be a good investment if a particular disease tends to kill plants prematurely in your area. If you can't find organic seeds locally, two all-organic companies worth trying are High Mowing and Sustainable Seed Co

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Starting Seeds Indoors

There are, however, a few exceptions to the “start everything from seeds” rule. Heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants take a decent amount of planning and timing to start from seeds indoors. Plus, it can be less expensive to buy a few plants from your local garden center—especially if you don’t have any sunny windowsills to start them on and don’t own grow lights—than buying packets of seed when you only want one or two plants. 

seeds for budget friendly garden
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Coordinate a seed swap

Get in touch with your gardening friends, or anyone you know who’s interested in growing their own delicious fresh vegetables, and coordinate a seed swap. Decide who will buy which vegetable seeds and then split the packets. Most packets contain more seed than the average herb gardener will need in several years, so splitting up multiple packets can end up being a big money saver.

raised bed  budget friendly garden
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Go small to start

If you’re new to gardening, start small—no more than 10-by-10 feet, or two 4-by-8-feet raised beds. You will harvest more out of a small, well cared for plot (and have a lot more fun) than you will from one you lose to the weeds mid-summer. Also consider placing your garden close to the kitchen door, or next to a path you use every day. This will make it easier to remember to pick and use your produce, and to give your garden a little love on a regular basis.

Related: How To Build A Simple Raised Bed

container garden budget friendly garden
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Consider container gardening

If you’re tight on space, or simply don’t have the time or money to build your own raised bed, container gardening is your best bet. Many vegetables grow well in containers. Look for compact and quick-maturing varieties for best results. For tall or climbing veggies, install a sturdy trellis as you are filling the container with soil.

To save money, forget fancy containers—as long as you can cut or drill holes in the bottom, you can turn just about anything into a great pot. Your local bakery or restaurant may be willing to give you 5 gallon buckets. Big is better, since that will reduce how often you need to water. Large veggie plants are thirsty! 

Don’t skimp on potting soil for your containers though. Garden soil won’t work by itself, it gets too compacted and your plants will suffer. Buy an organic potting mix designed for containers like this one, or blend your own.

Related: Container Gardening 101 For Small Spaces

spinach in a budget friendly garden
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Keep your veggies productive

For some vegetables, a little primping and pruning can ensure that they keep delivering throughout the growing season. For example, lettuce, spinach, and many other greens can be harvested multiple times if you just snap off the outside leaves, leaving the center of the plant to continue to grow. Pro tip: Baby greens (e.g. baby spinach, which are simply less mature spinach leaves) grow super fast, and you can get multiple harvests by snipping them off with scissors, leaving the base of the plant. (You can also extend the harvest of all your vegetables with these 4 simple and inexpensive ideas.)

pickles made from leftovers of budget friendly garden
Waste nothing

Use everything you raise! Got extra? Pop ‘em in the freezer, make refrigerator pickles, share them with friends, or donate them to a food bank.

seeds on table
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Save seeds for next season

You should always save any extra seeds to spread out the cost of a packet, as most vegetable seeds remain viable for at least two years past the date on the packet (parsnips are one exception). Store unused seeds in a dark, dry, room-temperature location. Take advantage of end-of-season sales, too—seeds can be marked down significantly come fall. 

Related: 10 Tips For Growing An Organic Herb Garden On A Budget