Growing your own food and living a more self-sufficient lifestyle doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor. Sure, there are some initial investments (like finding a nice piece of land…whether it’s a half-acre or a hundred acres) but by far and large, gardening can be an inexpensive hobby and lifestyle.
Our Journey to Self-Reliance
My family and I live on approximately one acre of land. That may not sound like much, but after leaving our tiny, postage-stamp-sized lot in the suburbs, it feels like a real farm to us. We’ve been here for about five years now, and we’ve slowly transitioned our space into a working homestead.
We ditched our traditional front yard and replaced it with a working garden, giving us approximately half an acre for growing our own food. The back half of our land is used for raising chickens. We have approximately a fourth of an acre that is wooded and could be used for more gardening and homesteading in the future. At this point, we can raise almost all of our own food if needed. (Granted, it might mean eating a lot of potatoes and eggs.)
How did we get here? I’d like to tell you it was a quick and easy transition, but alas, the opposite is true. Slow and steady, bit by bit, we learned how to garden and homestead on the cheap. I do have a few tips to help you get started.
Step 1: Commit to frugality.
This is really your first and most important step, if you want to be a successful frugal gardener. You need to make a sincere commitment to frugality. Don’t allow yourself to be lured in by gardening gadgets and gizmos, or the latest and greatest growing potions. You’ll also need to learn to have a DIY mentality. Know that it won’t always be easy, and in fact, the work can be very hard at times. But you can rest assured that the payoff is worth it! Your commitment to frugal gardening and growing your own food will sustain you on hot summer days when it would be easier to throw in the trowel and quit.
Step 2: Be in it for the long haul.
We live in a world that is constantly trying to find bigger, better, more…and fast! While the world says “go find the next best thing” the frugal gardener says “be content with what you’ve got.”
The best advice I can give you is to find a permanent location to garden where you can raise your food, not just right now but for the years to come. Learn to be content with it.
Next, you will need to develop a long-term vision for your land. Perhaps it is growing food in a few raised beds this year, and working your way up to a full-blown garden. No matter your goals, you will want to have a practical plan to help you achieve your goals over time.
Be reasonable with your goals. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your garden won’t be either. Set goals within goals. Have short-term, seasonal goals as well as a long-range, visionary plan. We have been here on our land for five years. We’ve come a very long way since that first pitiful attempt at gardening. However, we haven’t “arrived” either. We still have much to do and much to learn. That’s why it’s good to have one, five, and even ten-year goals in mind.
Step 3: Get back to basics.
When I first discovered gardening, I was a suburbanite. I knew way more about fancy coffee than I did about gardening. I thought gardening meant a trip to the big-box gardening store to buy a bunch of flowers, plants, soil and maybe a bag or two of mulch.
Needless to say, I had a lot to learn. And I spent too much money in the process doing it the way I thought it had to be done. I had no idea I could raise my own plants from starting seeds at home. I thought you really needed cute gardening gloves, a matching kneeling pad, and seventy-five different tools to garden really well.
Boy was I wrong. I’ve since embraced a simpler philosophy:
All you need to garden well are some heirloom seeds, a good patch of land, water, sun, and a little bit of know-how. Sure, I do purchase things here and there aside from my seeds, but I largely garden on the cheap with just these 5 things!
Speaking of land … More is not necessarily better when it comes to owning or renting land. You can get by with less than you might imagine. Sure, it’s a dream of mine to own 20 or more acres so I can really expand my chicken farming dreams. However, I can make do and provide more than enough for my family here on our one-acre. I just have to be prudent with the land I’ve got and make it work for me.
Step 4: Get help!
If you really want to be successful at gardening cheaply and raising most of your own food, you’ll need to get the whole family on board. Gardening is a great way to spend time together. It’s also a great way to exercise and get your daily dose of Vitamin D.
When the whole family buys into the gardening lifestyle, you’re less likely to spend money on eating out, fancy food, and other money-wasters when you could be at home, growing your own. Plus, the more hands you have to work in the garden – the less fancy tools you’ll need to accomplish the work!
Step 5: Change your outlook on food.
When you raise your own food, you learn to eat what is available. Strawberries in the spring, squash galore in the summer, and sweet potatoes in the fall…these are just a few ways our diet has changed since we all got on board with gardening. Our kids are eating better and we’re all healthier for it, too.
You are saving money because you’re not buying all of that stuff in a store somewhere, out of season. Ever wonder why strawberries are so expensive in the dead of winter? Well, simply put – they were flown halfway across the world, from where they actually are in season, to make it to your grocery store and then on to your table. You pay for that extra mileage in higher food prices and decreased food quality.
When your backyard becomes your farmers market and supermarket, you greatly cut down on your family’s food costs. This saves your family countless dollars each year…and the more food you produce at home, the more you save!
Step 6: Use your garden to make money.
This past summer we experienced another one of our gardening “firsts” – selling produce to family and friends! While we’re nowhere near ready to start our own CSA or open up our own farmstand, we are able to sell some of our over abundance of produce. We also sell fresh eggs from our little backyard chicken flock.
It’s not enough to pay off our mortgage (yet) but it certainly helps our home economy. Our eventual goal is to be able to sell enough produce and eggs to pay for our yearly gardening expenses. Then we really will be eating for free!
Don’t ever let expense keep you from learning to grow your own food. Gardening can be done cheaply if you work hard and get a little creative with the resources at your disposal.