One of the best methods to saving money on food is to grow your own vegetables. A packet of seed costing $2 can yield a harvest worth 10 times the initial investment during one season. Beyond the initial savings, gardeners can maximize the savings further by using research, planning and efficient use of both space and harvest. Growing vegetables to save money can be a fun and rewarding experience while not taking up a great amount of room or time.
Choose the ground for the vegetable garden. Look for a space that gets sun during the daylight hours; use a time frame of at least six hours of direct sunlight. This ensures enough sun and warmth gets to the plants. Pick a location with good drainage. Locations prone to standing water or slow to drain will cause root rot and make the plants prone to fungus and other diseases. Build a raised bed if needed; use railroad ties or 4-by-4-foot posts as the border. Remember to create a growing area large enough for the vegetables you wish to grow.
Choose the vegetables to grow. Choose vegetables that you and your family will eat. Do research on growing conditions and planting seasons for the vegetables to help plan the garden. Talk to local garden centers or cooperative extensions to find out what types and varieties of vegetables grow best in your area. Read the seed packets to find out the yield of each seed packet
Plan the garden layout. You don't have to plant the entire packet if you won't use all of the produce; save the leftover seeds for the next year. Keep the unused seeds in the packets; fold the packets in half with the label visible and place the packet inside a sealable plastic bag. Plan the garden so root vegetables like radish and carrots are around and under vine vegetables like peas and beans. This maximizes the square footage used providing more yield per inch of ground used. Place the bush vegetables like tomato and broccoli in the area where the sun reaches last; this prevents shading of vegetables growing lower to the ground.
Plant the vegetables. Use pre-started plants for vegetables such as tomatoes, peas and broccoli because these take longer to start from seed. Plant vegetables according to the appropriate seasonal schedule; cool-weather plants such as broccoli, cauliflower, peas and onions need to be started early while tomatoes, carrots and potatoes must wait until after the last frost of early spring. Use creative planning to plant the vegetables. Use all of the available space such as walls, containers and hanging baskets. Use fences and stacked tires to grow space-saving vertical gardens. Use spot gardening to utilize a variety of locations both indoors and outdoors.
Maintain the garden. Keep weeds under control to ensure the vegetable plants have enough nutrients to maintain full growth. Water the planted areas weekly unless a sustained rain has fallen during the week. If a dry spell sets in water twice a week to maintain moisture levels. Fertilize the soil using compost or mulch instead of commercial fertilizers to save more money; natural fertilizers work just as well as commercial grade and can be created from materials found around the yard.
Harvest the crop. Use vegetables that give multiple harvests throughout the year; broccoli, tomato, beans, peas and cucumbers are examples of vegetables that continue to produce multiple harvests. Reuse ground made available by single-harvest vegetables to get maximum yield from the area. Radishes can be replaced by carrots, lettuce can be replaced by winter squash. Cycle vegetables throughout the year as well; second crops of radish, carrot, squash or onion can be planted if you remember not to plant them in the same space used for their first crop. Keeping the vegetables rotated avoids draining the soil of nutrients needed by specific vegetables.
Plan how to use the vegetables. Freeze or dry out harvests to get more use from home-grown vegetables. Put vegetables in soups and stews to stretch out their use. Use fresh vegetables as snacks or sides to dinners; use potatoes for french fries and chips; use celery and carrot sticks as quick snacks. Allow up to 1/3 of the plants to go to seed; pick the seeds and save them for the next year. This ensures you save money and can still plant successive gardens using the original seeds as starter.