Eating Cheap from the Garden

Frugal Gardener Mort Mather shares how you can be eating cheap from the garden by investing only in tools, making fertilizer and buying cheap seed.

| August/September 1997

The Frugal Gardener column: Everyday, we have a choice: either spend $10 for dinner . . . or spend virtually nothing by eating cheap from the garden. Which would you choose? 

Some people may wonder how I can call myself a lazy gardener when I turn a 3,000-square-foot garden by hand. They just haven't considered the alternatives. I could hire someone to till the garden. Sometimes I do. But when I hire someone I have to pay them . . . and to pay them I have to have money . . . and to have money I have to work.

For me, being lazy is also being frugal. Spending money to save "work" in the garden so I can work someplace else just doesn't make sense. That's not to say I haven't done just that. When I have found myself working so hard making money that I didn't have time to turn the garden, I was at least smart enough to pay to get it started. That is certainly preferable to not having a garden at all.

I have never seen an argument against the economic advantage of growing food in a garden that figured in the full cost of buying food in a store. Skeptics will quantify every minute spent in the garden and every expense and compare that to the price of a vegetable, without adding in the time and hassle spent shopping. Me, I'd rather hoe a row, pick a bushel of tomatoes, or turn several hundred square feet of garden than go shopping. Here's how simple it is to eating cheap from the garden (nearly free).

Spend on Only One Thing . . . The Tools

There are three basic areas of expense in a garden—tools, fertilizer, and seeds. Tools are a long-term investment and can be amortized for their life. Fertilizer can be free for the collector of organic matter. Seeds can be free for the seedsaver. Since saving seeds has never interested me very much, it often feels like work. I have found ways to cut seed costs to minimal levels, but even buying them in the store figures to about a dollar a pack.

Two important thoughts about tools. First, buy quality. I bought a new hoe and spading fork this year because the quality of previous ones was lacking. I snagged a tree root with the fork and bent one of the tines. Forget bending it back. It was weakened and would most likely bend again with even less strain. I have several hoe and rake heads and handles. I have held them together through a variety of means with exasperating ineffectiveness. I got a great rake 10 years ago that I expect will outlast me. I always intended to get good tools but that intention, it seems, also required forethought. When a tool broke and I needed a replacement I was stuck with what the stores in the area had on hand, which always resulted in a repeat performance in two or three years. The really good tools have come through catalogues, the most recent from Johnny's Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine.

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