Spring will come eventually, and with it, the chance to save some money with your own home garden.
The average family vegetable garden costs $70 a year, but produces an estimated $600 worth of vegetables, according the National Gardening Association.
Plan it carefully, and you could shell out even less to cultivate a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs.
“Begin by making a list of what you want to plant,” suggests nutrition coach Jenny Giblin. “Then, decide what it is that you spend the most on or consume the most of at the grocery store. Don’t grow anything just because it’s easy to grow if you don’t really use it.”
9 ways to grow green, while spending less of it:
“Seeds are less expensive than buying seedlings, and smaller seedlings, in 6-packs, are less expensive than buying larger plants in 1-gallon containers,” says Angela Price, owner of EdenCondensed.com.
The trade-off: Your garden may take a little longer to bear fruit.
Considering you’ll spend $2 or more per pack of fresh herbs at the supermarket, growing your own is an endeavor that can quickly pay for itself.
Container gardener Annabel Jones recommends basil (Italian and purple), mint, oregano, thyme, and Italian parsley.
“Just make sure that your herbs get enough sunlight,” she says—even a windowsill will do fine for apartment dwellers.
Check listings on Craiglist, and on gardening forums.
Many gardeners are willing to give away seedlings and seeds, if their garden is booming.
It can also help to find friends or neighbors willing to split the cost of a flat of seedlings—you’ll get the bulk prices, without needing to create an expansive garden.
Pick prolific plants.
It’ll maximize your yield. John Forti, curator of historic landscapes at Strawbery Banke Museum, recommends kale, chard, carrots, radishes, beets, spinach, lettuce, and cucumbers.
As a bonus, they can be easily grown from seeds.
“This not only diminishes costs but it helps children to understand the connection between seeds and food on their plates,” he says.
Not everything grows well in every region.
Check your list of plants against growing zones to ensure you aren’t wasting money planting something that needs more sunlight or a warmer climate than you can provide.
Stagger planting times.
Plant one of the same vegetable every two or three weeks, if space allows, says a spokeswoman for EdwardsYards.com.
It will ensure you have, say, salads all summer long instead of one big batch of greens that have to be used within a week.
It’s an easy and cost-effective way to plant your own veggies if you don’t have space for a garden, says Anne Lawton of Nutrucation.com.
Fresh herbs grow easily that way, and so do tomatoes and peppers.
Enhance the soil.
“Seeds can be sown directly, but like people, they need a nutritious diet to grow healthy,” Forti says.
A cheap way to do it: Use compost or composted manure. “The yield will be worth the investment,” he says.
Make sure to monitor your garden daily, Price says.
“Daily checking can alert you to pest problems that you can take care of right away,” she says.
She continues, “Also, once your veggies and herbs are ready to harvest, regular picking usually encourages additional harvests.”
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.