Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance or other book of interest. Also available is a complete list of the hundreds of book reviews that have appeared on The Simple Dollar over the years.
Yes, starting in February, I was planning a “how to garden on a tight budget” series. The problem is, after reading this wonderful book by Maureen Gilmer, that post series is pretty much redundant. This book covers all of the ground I intended to cover in that series.
I guess this would lead to the question of why I would write a series about budget gardening. Simply put, a garden is a great way to produce vegetables and fruits and herbs inexpensively for your kitchen, plus it gives you a great outdoors activity to fill the months of spring, summer, and fall. The one catch is that gardening tends to have a large startup budget, one that you might be repaying for quite a while out of the savings on your garden’s produce.
So, how can one reduce the startup costs? At the same time, are there any tricks for reducing the ongoing costs of gardening in the form of things like seeds, fertilizer, and so forth? That’s pretty much exactly what this book covers and it provides a lot of great answers.
Stretch Every Dollar
The book opens with a focus on the absolute essential equipment you need to get a garden up and running. One key section of this chapter that I particularly enjoyed listed about fifteen key garden tools (like a hand trowel, a pointed shovel, a hoe, a small leaf rake, and so on) and identified specifically what you should look for when buying that item. What features does it need to do its job well over a long period of time? The chapter also includes some homebrew recipes for insect repellent (mix four tablespoons liquid dish soap into a gallon of water, then spray on plants), fertilizer (a crazy mix of common household ingredients that I’m going to try soon), and other such items.
From there, the book moves onto how to shop for the initial plants you need, incorporating some great standard frugality tactics into garden supplying. One good suggestion is to just buddy up with other gardeners, so that when you buy a multi-pack of plants (saving money by buying in bulk) you can split them up among the people involved. Another good tactic is to save seeds and cuttings from previous years, but this requires that you start off with non-hybridized seeds (from a Seed Savers catalog, for example).
From here, Gilmer moves onto making good soil. Soil can be expensive if you’re buying bags of topsoil or potting soil, so she suggests making your own. Hunt around for a source of manure (if you know a livestock farmer, cattle manure is fantastic for this). Use alfalfa as a mulch. Better yet, make your own compost (which is something we do) out of your leftover plant scraps. It’s not hard to make really rich soil for your garden at a pittance.
The focus of this section is mostly on how to reduce your utility bills using your plants, making them serve double duty (or perhaps triple duty). The first example is the advantage of planting shade trees around your home, effectively keeping the hot sun out in the summer and insulating a bit in the winter. Fast-growing shade trees are plentiful and will let you start reaping that advantage in just a handful of years.
Another method is to choose ornamental plants that are drought-resistant so that you don’t have to actively water them very often. Instead, you can rely on the rainwater in your area to provide plenty of water for them, enabling you to cut down on your water use.
This section also focuses on the value of reusing the things you have on hand. Use large twigs to build lattices and other structures for your vines to grow on (we do this every year for our cucumbers). Use grass clippings and leaves as a resource for the composter or for direct mulching on your garden. Instead of buying large rocks or cement blocks, keep your eye out for flat rocks that would make for beautiful garden decorations.
Gratis – As It Should Be
The final section of this book focuses on how to get free things for your garden, from plant and seed samples to wonderful ideas. One great suggestion is to simply start following good gardening blogs (a couple of my favorites are A Way to Garden and Garden Rant).
However, the real focus of this section is on saving your own seeds and cuttings for the future. In the case of seeds, this requires that you start from non-hybridized plants or seeds of your own, which you can get from a group like Seed Savers. The book provides a great guide on techniques for saving seeds and cuttings. Once you’ve established this as a routine, you can begin trading your excess seeds for new ones, enabling you to try new plants without spending a dime.
Is The Small Budget Gardener Worth Reading?
If you’ve ever liked gardening and would like a few frugal tips, pick up this book. Furthermore, if you’ve ever thought about gardening but been daunted by the startup costs, you must read this book.
It’s colorful, fun, easy to read, and full of wonderful frugal gardening tips. That adds up to a great book to me. Ours is already accumulating dog-eared pages.