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Time To Veg Out: How To Save Money Growing Your Own Produce

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I’m not going to sugarcoat it: meat is expensive. Conservative estimates say you could save $750 a year by forgoing meat entirely. 

A year ago, “vegetarian” or “vegan” were considered dirty words in my house. I’ve never been a huge meat-eater, but my husband is a modern-day caveman who has to eat his beef. 

But in light of the pandemic, health issues, and the fact that I just don’t like meat, I’ve been eating a plant-based diet for a while. 

Don’t worry: I’m not a crazy vegetarian who’s trying to convert you. Enjoy your bacon and burgers in moderation. 

All I’m saying is that you can save a boatload of money by eating less meat and substituting that with veggies instead. It’s a “meat on the side” approach to mealtime. 

Sure, you can grab your produce from the grocery store, but if you have a green thumb and the time, you can grow your own food at home. That’s especially important if you live in a food desert or have difficulty sourcing fresh produce. 

Here’s how you can grow your own fruits and veggies on a budget—no matter your living situation. 

Scenario #1: Zero outdoor space

Gardening kinda-sorta requires outdoor space. But not everyone has a balcony or a yard to grow stuff. What can you do? 

I successfully grew herbs in my dingy, dark college dorm many years ago. You can grow food indoors without outside access, but you’ll need to pick your crops carefully. Choose plants like:

  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Green onions (buy them at the grocery store and just re-plant the roots!)
  • Cilantro

These plants don’t require a ton of sunlight. No matter the time of year, you might have more success growing winter crops that don’t need a ton of sun, too. 

All you need is a reasonably sunny window or LED lightbulb, dirt, pots, and seeds. Dollar Tree carries decent pots and seeds for $1 apiece and dirt is literally dirt-cheap. 

If you have a budget and want something more heavy-duty, I’ve used the AeroGarden for 6 months and love it. It’s an indoor aquaponics system which, in plain English, means you grow your produce indoors with water, no dirt. It comes with a super-bright LED light system, too, so your plants always get the right amount of “sun.”

The AeroGarden isn’t cheap, though: one system can go for $150, so this is better suited for folks with a higher budget. 

Scenario #2: Porch gardening

Once I graduated from college, I really moved up in the world. My first apartment had a balcony! I could finally grow plants outside, which felt like a real step up. This makes it way easier to pump sunshine to your veggies, which means you can grow a wider variety of plants. 

Pay attention to how much sun your patio gets, and at which times of the day. If you’re facing north and get nearly zero sunlight, you may want to stick with indoor-friendly crops for now. I’ve tried growing sun-loving veggies on a north-facing balcony, and it was just too wet and cold. 

If you have a balcony that faces any other direction, great! Try growing crops like:

  • Beans (they can grow on the patio railing)
  • Tomatoes
  • Chilis or peppers
  • Radishes

Like the previous scenario, you can get most of your supplies at Dollar Tree if you’re strapped for cash. If you have a small patio and a little spending cash, try pots designed for patio railings. They’re more expensive, but they look cool and give you more room. 

Scenario #3: Yard gardening

Thanks to salary increases and a frugal lifestyle, my husband and I were finally able to buy a home in 2016. It was basically the Millennial dream—we’re debt-free? Pinch me!

Now that we have an actual yard with actual dirt, we’ve gone full speed ahead on our gardening plans. We have a small yard, but we’ve done things like:

  • Fruit or nut trees: Fruit trees need a lot of babying for the first year, but wow! They’ll provide tons of fruit to you over the years. We’ve harvested 10 pounds of fruit from our fig this year alone. A tree costs $50 – $100 but it will feed you for decades if you care for it. Try to plant something that you love, but that costs an arm and a leg at the store. For us, that was figs, but we also want to grow pecans and peaches.
  • Raised bed planters: This is perfect for small yards. Use giant planter boxes to grow crops. This worked great because our yard’s soil doesn’t drain properly, so we had to haul in outside dirt for the planters. We did spend $200 on the boxes and $150 on dirt for the planters, but it was worth it. Bonus: this is easier on your back than planting things in the ground. 
  • A homemade greenhouse: Today, we have a framed greenhouse in our backyard, complete with irrigation. It wasn’t cheap, but my husband DIYed the affair for $700 or so. We’re able to grow year-round now, which helps us stay fed more consistently. 

Know which growing zone you’re in, though. This will have a huge effect on when you plant and what you plant. For example, my growing zone in super-hot San Antonio means I should start fall crops indoors during the summer. 

The bottom line

You’re going to have trial and error with gardening. I, for one, was unpleasantly shocked by the number of pests that destroyed our produce. Start small and expand from there. Pick your favorite fruits and veggies and learn how to grow them perfectly first. Before you know it, you’ll have an edible Eden on your windowsill, balcony, or back yard. 

Feel free to eat meat, but if you’re down for saving money (and having fun at the same time), try your hand at veggie gardening. Whether you live in a dingy dorm, cramped apartment, or spacious home with a yard, you have options. 

Contributor’s opinions are their own. Always do your own due diligence before investing.

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