Ahhh, my garden. I try to believe that it is going to help me save grocery money in the long run. And it just might. However, having read The $64 Tomato and having discovered Get Rich Slowly’s Year Long Garden Project, I wonder if it is truly a frugal thing to do. I mean, if you start with free plants and seeds, and don’t amend the soil with anything your own household doesn’t produce (compost and urine), and don’t spend a lot of time working in your garden, then it would be very cost effective. But also less productive. I wouldn’t suggest going crazy at the plant nursery, but starting with good quality seed or seedlings (which are disease resistant) and getting some good mulch for weed control is going to cost. And gods help you if you are trying to grow anything near Houston in this terra cotta factory we call soil! Having lived in Illinois and visited family in Arizona for years, I can understand why the Midwest is America’s bread basket with its dark blackish brown soil, and Houston’s red clay soil is good for shrimping. *grins*
I currently have two raised beds and am planning my fall and winter gardens in them. I am going to be buying a load of soil to top off one bed, and work some pre-compost (i.e. kitchen scraps) down deep, and ask the menfolk of my household to discretely fertilize the area. Yeah, I’m cheap. 🙂 Once it has been prepared, and fertilized, then I will probably give Square Foot Gardening a try. I’m not using the approved mix, but I think it will work. If needed I will do some extra fertilizing. My mother actually has the book, and I need to grab it from her to read up on this before I put my plan into action, but what I have read so far makes sense.
As for frugality, this is maybe not the way to go. But for me, having a vegetable garden is not just about frugality. Well it is, but in a different way. To me frugality is not spending money on things you don’t have to, so that you have the money to spend it where it matters to you. I am not spending money on a brand name of cereal, but I will spend big bucks to get gourmet seeds to have yummy tomatoes and purple carrots and Japanese Mizuna greens – three things I can’t find in my grocery stores, at least not without a premium price tag! So, the money I spend is worth it, and when I actually get a garden started and know what I am doing and get into the rhythm of planting and harvesting (which is weird down here in Zone 9), I may do something similar to GRS and keep track of everything. At this point I just get excited when stuff grows well. *grins*
For the ultimate frugal garden, though, I would suggest herbs. Whether you plant one or an entire raised bed full, in a windowsill or outdoors, your investment will be rewarded. It will cost less than $5 to set up a small container of one herb, say basil. A small bunch of basil costs $3 at my grocery store. A good basil plant will produce and produce and produce if you treat it right. If you start it outdoors and get 2 or 3 plants (or start from seed), you will be able to harvest for pesto a couple of times during the summer. My mother did, and she has to grow her plants in partial shade – not the nest for herbs and veggies. Look at what will grow well in your area, and what you like to cook with (fresh!, not dried) and those will be the plants that are most frugal for you to plant. If you don’t think your favorites will grow in your area, grow them indoors (and keep your cats away!).