11 FASCINATING WAYS TO SAVE MONEY FOR GARDENERS + PERMA TIPS
Save money on gardening resources without losing the integrity of your plants with these effective tips.
Many people rely on gardening products, and it is natural to look for sales and promotions in order to save money.
But what if there are different ways to have a flourishing garden without those hefty product costs? Not only that, but also limit purchased inputs like water and electricity?
That's what will be covered in these 11 tips below, plus bonus permaculture tips. If you’re a gardener looking to be a bit more frugal these are some of the best solutions.
1. Test your soil
Before buying any fertilizer and amendments, test your soil. It is common to think about testing the soil to discover what you need to add, but a good test can show you what your soil doesn’t need to avoid unnecessary expenses and promote a greater equilibrium.
You can use compost worm castings and mulch to get high nutrient levels into your soil, without ever needing chemical or store-bought fertilizers. When the soil is rich in nutrients, you can use less compost.
If you live in the United States, you can get low cost professional soil tests through your local agricultural extension office. Some states even offer free tests. Do it often and you will save a lot of money in the long run.
2. DIY compost
Did you know you can make your own compost from free local resources? The ingredients may vary depending on the results of your tests, but usually covering your garden beds with an inch of compost per year is enough to get enough organic matter and ingredients for a great outcome.
Compost saves nutrients and beneficial microbes to the soil, improving the soil structure, increasing the nutrient and water retention while also promoting plant health and growth.
If your soil is deficient in nutrients, compost alone can be enough to correct the deficiencies, without spending a penny. Look for ingredients on your own property like kitchen scraps, autumn leaves, grass clippings and other yard and garden organic waste. If you don’t have enough to produce an inch of compost per year, look around your community and you’ll surely find free resources around.
Scavenge for leaves, wood chips, grass clippings, used coffee grounds, spent brewery grains and horse manure. People treat them as waste, but they are very rich and nutrient-packed resources for composting. Look hard enough and you will find everything you need.
3. Free mulch garden beds
Mulching has a great deal of benefits, from saving water to feeding the soil. It helps to control weeds, reduce erosion and that’s all free if you know where to look for.
The best mulch ingredients are autumn leaves, wood chips, grass clippings, eggshells, you can also chop & drop garden waste and add small amounts of used coffee grounds. If you can find free straw, that is awesome!
This is why mulch saves you money: one, it covers the soil and reduces evaporation, holding the moisture in requiring less water, which means a lower water bill. Two, it slowly releases nutrients into the soil, saving up on nutrients and three, it increases worm castings in the soil, since mulch is food for worms and also provides excellent habitat and extreme temperature protection.
Mulch away and you’ll notice a great increase in your native earthworm populations and worm castings in your garden.
4. Promote mycorrhizae
Fungi can provide beneficial symbiotic relationships with a great number of plants. The plants provide the fungi with carbohydrates and B vitamins, while fungi provides the plants an increased uptake of water and nutrients.
The best way to do it is by growing a broad diversity of plants that form mycorrhizae associations and use mulches like wood chips and leaves, which creates a great environment where native fungi can flourish. It is way better than introducing store-bought products.
5. Grow nitrogen fixing crops
You won’t ever need nitrogen fertilizer if you let your own crops do the fixing for you. Just buy $5 worth of cover crop seeds and let them be killed by the winter cold and you’ll have great nitrogen levels. If your winters aren’t cold enough to kill the cover crops, just chop and drop them before they start seeding. Cover crops also prevent erosion and increase organic matter in the soil.
Growing polycultures are a natural way to reduce pest and disease problems, and therefore reducing pesticide costs. You can keep your plants healthy without conventional pesticides and with a very low input of organic pesticides through polyculture.
When you plant a wide variety of interplanted unrelated crops, the pests will have a hard time finding their preferred plants and that will prevent them from wreaking havoc. It is not hard to understand why: if you monoculture cabbage, you will create the best environment ever for cabbage moth to lay their eggs and find food in their early pup stages.
If you plant all your squashes in the same place, you are just begging for powdery mildew spreading from plant to plant. But if the plants are scattered in a variety of locations, spreading is much harder.
You want to create the perfect environment for your plants, not for your pests.
7. Grow edible perennials and self-sowing annuals
Load your garden with perennial plants and self-sowing annuals. You want to make your garden run on the “automatic” for the most part. If you do it right, you will need to plant only 10% of your garden intentionally every year.
Self-serving annuals and edible perennials will keep your garden running for years with minimal need of interference.
Perennial crops are the ones you plant once and they keep coming back year after year on their own, while self-sowing annuals live only one season but they produce and drop enough seeds to grow the next crop. They save money because you only need to plant them once and they keep coming back with minimal care and no additional costs, since you use free resources to amend the soil.
Some very popular perennials are asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and Asian pears.
8. Save the seeds
Keep the seeds cost down by saving a wide variety of seeds from your own crops, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, pumpkin, kale, collard greens and mustard greens. These are only examples, you should keep as many seeds as you can with the greatest variety possible.
Store the seeds in small plastic bags and air tight containers to improve longevity. Keep the containers in a cool, dark cabinet.
9. Grow most crops from seeds
Buying plant starts seems easier, but it is costly. There is no free lunch, the people who grow the plants also get their cuts, enhancing the costs. You can often buy a hundred seeds for the price of only one plant start!
Direct sowing is usually more economical. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are better to start in the grow room, but other species can go straight to the soil. That means less lights and shelves in the grow room, saving electricity, starting trays, potting and so on.
10. Reuse, repurpose, upcycle
Don’t waste anything. You can use fallen trees as garden bed borders, build a compost bin with discarded pallets or tree branches. Cold frames can be built with old storm windows and scrap wood, while cottage cheese and yogurt containers can be great starters.
Get creative, the possibilities are nearly endless! If it works and it saves you money, go for it and don’t ever look back.
11. Conserve water
If there is plenty of rain in your area, make sure you store as much as you can. If there is not so much rain, this is even more important!
Reducing the use of tap water in the garden can save you big bucks. Mulch beds help you do that, and harvesting rainwater from the roof into a barrel is a great way to reduce tap water consumption.
Try to reuse as much as you can. Save the water used to rinse produce and water your plants with it! Reuse the water collected by the dehumidifier, if you have one. In drought areas, you must take even more measures to reuse your water, like installing a greywater system to divert some wastewater from the house into the garden.
Wicking beds instead of traditional raised beds are great for they hold a reservoir of water under the soil and the water is whipped up from the bottom, resulting in less water loss to evaporation.
Here are some bonus tips for permaculture water saving strategies:
To craft a genuine and fruitful permaculture design, you must consider what resources are entering and leaving the system. Most urban environments are similar, when considering water.
Inputs & outputs
You will have three primary inputs: surface runoff, direct precipitations and the town supply. For outputs, we’ll have evaporation, transpiration, storm water collection, surface runoff and town sewer.
The purpose of a great water design is slowing down the transition between resources entering our system and making the most of it before it leaves. There are a lot of things you will only learn through experience, but if you study before you start doing your thing, it can save you a lot of time, energy and frustration.
The swale system
One of the best changes you can make is implementing a swale system along the land verge. In the past, swale was generally referring to low moist tracks of land, but nowadays in the permaculture circles it is a reference to a shallow ditch dug around a land’s contour with a berm on the downhill side, using the soil dug from the trench itself.
Without a swale, whenever you face a heavy rainfall event, there will be a lot of surface runoff that will just sweep through your land and leave your property.
Not only you will lose a lot of water, but it will also rake up great organic material from your garden and impoverish your soil, tarnishing your mulch and the rich compost you took so much effort into building up into your soil.
A swale is nothing but a mimicry of nature, like when fallen trees slow down the water flow and spreads the water passing by. This also allow ephemeral flows of water to sink into the landscape and be thoroughly absorbed
This trait makes the swale so attractive in a design perspective, while also being completely free - all you need is hard work with a shovel (if you have some friends or family to help, it gets easier).
Over time, this process can restore enormous amounts of water and further enhance your soil nutrient density, helping you get through dry spells and get bigger crops. Water will accumulate within your soil, and form a small moving lens of water that will keep your plants hydrated for a greater time frame.
You can notice the swale aligns with all the objectives mentioned earlier concerning water design. Sinking the water in your property means that it will need to take a longer journey through your system and give you the most benefit. If you live in flood regions, it will even help to further reduce the wrath of the water before they reach neighboring lands and that will prevent damages.
To prevent accidents and further enhance your land’s soil, pulling organic material like leaves into the ditches is a great strategy, since those ditches are more moist than the slopes and can support even more life, breaking down the organic material quickly and tilling the soil underneath it (after all, this is not a dam).
The water infiltrates the landscape, and carry much of the nutrients.
If we strip down the mulch to check out the bare bones of the swale system, it will always work better when it sits on a slope, with a 4x1 ratio or a 25%.
Each swale has 3 basic components: the berm which includes two returns, a ditch behind, called basin and a spillway for safe carriage of water should a catastrophic rain event happens.
To avoid chemical fertilizers, organic material and animal manure are paramount to amend the gardens. The leachate (nutrient-rich water that percolated the swales) is above and beyond the average nutrient levels, so one important aspect of this form of water harvesting earthwork is this huge ability to hang on to those nutrients and prevent them from leaving your system.
That’s it! If you put these tips into action, your garden will thrive - as well as your pockets.