How do you save money with gardening?

A couple years ago I posed this question: Does gardening really save money? It seems like every time you read a magazine article about saving money on groceries, the author suggests planting a garden. To be honest, I’m sure we’ve suggested it a time or two on this very site. It’s a no-brainer, right? Food from the store costs big bucks. Food from the backyard or balcony is FREE!

My garden (not this year’s)

Well . . . I’ve remained skeptical about this. My start-up costs for my first year of gardening outweighed the amount of produce I ended up harvesting. While it’s certainly possible to throw some seeds in the ground and wake up to a fresh crop of gourmet lettuce a few weeks later, the reality of gardening seems more complicated than that.

Does Gardening Really Save Money?

One money-saving eco-tip I hear over and over again is grow your own food. Ever since I had a plot of land to call my own, I’ve tended a small veggie patch. Some summers my gardens flop, sometimes they take over the back yard—but even on my Year of Abundant Tomatoes, I doubt my homegrown efforts offset my expenses.

Last year’s tomatoes

Now, the good thing is, I am not doing it purely for economic reasons: I enjoy gardening as a hobby, and I like to dart outside to pull a scallion out of the ground or pluck a few basil leaves to garnish that tender homegrown zucchini. And of course it’s great knowing exactly where my food comes from.

My Garden Failures (Or, How Do I Revive My Dying Vegetable Plants?)

I suffer from Black Thumb. I can’t seem to grow veggies! I’ve tried. Year one I had moderate success, despite starting too late in the season. Year two yielded a few pounds of green beans and maybe five tomatoes from five tomato plants. The next few years were a blur of blossom end rot, un-sprouted seeds, and one-inch carrots.

This was my garden about a month ago. It actually doesn’t look so bad here, but keep in mind that the raised bed in the background has virtually nothing in it but a few dying cukes and peppers.

This year in a new house with a new back yard, I vowed it would be different. I checked books out from the library and pored over my copy of the Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith. We made new raised beds, filled them with brand-new four-way soil recommended for veggie gardens, and planted everything according to the directions. It was sunny and I watered my garden faithfully. Why, then are the leaves from my pepper plants turning yellow? Why aren’t some of my plants any bigger now than they were a month ago? Why won’t the carrots, lettuce, and basil sprout?