If you're anything like I was a couple of years ago, you love the idea of growing your own food and may have even dabbled with some potted herbs or lettuces, but you aren't quite sure you're ready or able to grow a "real" garden. If you're a beginner (or semi-beginner) gardener, I hope these 5 tips to help save money and time in the garden will encourage you to give it a go!
1. Find cheap/free containers
Large pots, tree tubs (from transporting immature trees), and whiskey barrels are easier, cheaper and smaller scale than preparing a plot of ground that hasn't been gardened before or building a larger raised bed. My first vegetable garden in large tree tubs worked wonderfully, and I continue to use a whiskey barrel for my herbs. My tree tubs were hand-me-downs, but I'm told that nurseries will often sell them to you for a few bucks each. If you can't find an affordable solution locally, Amazon sells large plastic planting tubs for a decent price. I purchased my large whiskey barrel at Lowes for $45 - a total impulse buy, so I'm sure there are better deals out there!
2. Buy starter plants
The process of growing food from seed is wonderful, but it requires more time and TLC than just putting heartier starter plants into the ground. I don't think I've ever had a starter plant fail once I transplanted it into the dirt, but I've had plenty of small seedlings fizzle out after weeks of germinating and hardening to prepare them for planting. If you think you might be easily discouraged as I was, starting out with ready-to-plant starters may be the way to go! Of course, if you're starting your garden well into the season (such as starting a spring garden now), starter plants will be almost necessary to get enough of a jump on the weather so that your plants can thrive.
3. Use an irrigation system
This could be as simple as a single soaker hose coiled around a small garden bed. My husband built one with rolls of drip hose he cut to size, then fit them together with plastic "T" and elbow joints that steak into the ground. This starter kit has similar items to what we used. In my opinion, hassle free watering all season long is more than worth any time spent building the watering system, especially in the hot summer months when it's hard to water enough to keep up with the blazing heat. Soaker hoses are perfect since the gradual release of water allows plants to take in adequate moisture gradually without flooding the bed, which can lead to fungus, runoff, or water loss due to evaporation.
4. Get (free!) expert advice*
I'm sure there are experts you could pay to give you advice, but I've found that employees at mom and pop nurseries and feed stores are often a wealth of knowledge. I live in a huge city, but we have an incredible feed store right in the middle of town. On our first trip to buy all our startup gardening supplies, we left equipped with all the materials we needed, plus a printed gardening guide for year round planting in our area, and all kinds of tips and tricks for success. No-cost resources are also abundant online - Ag extensions, local grower's groups, and - of course - Pinterest (visit my Gardening Ideas board)! Just be sure that any planting and watering information is specific to your climate.
* A Caution About Researching:
Don't feel like you have to understand everything before you ever begin - Once you've learned the basics, just get started! I'm glad I did some reading and researching up front, but I've learned much more from trial and error - "getting to know" the type of dirt, sun exposure, pests, etc. in my garden has been essential for honing my craft each season.
5. Weed and Remove pests often
Doesn't sound like much of a shortcut, does it? Well, I can assure you that a little time spent every few days pulling out a few weeds and pulling off a few pests is SO much better than letting either of these get out of control. I neglected weeding for about a month last year and the garden was literally taken over by weeds. Granted, it's an in-ground garden with no weed block in place, but I was shocked at how quickly they spread. It took me several hours of hard work to get things back in order, when just 15 minutes here and there would have prevented all of it and allowed my plants to flourish. Pests can do the same thing if allowed to settle in and reproduce. Just be sure you know which ones are harmful and need to be removed vs. those that are helping your garden along! Ask that expert you found in #4 for help if you're not sure!These are 5 tips that have really helped me in my novice gardening efforts to save money, time and the hassle of making unnecessary beginner mistakes in my first few seasons of gardening. I hope they helped some of you too! Or maybe you've got years of gardening experience and have some of your own tips you could share - I'd love to hear them in the comments section!