By Kathlee Freeman

The benefits of gardening are huge, including increased time spent outdoors, fresh fruits and vegetables, connections with neighbors and the community, and a way to relax and unwind. However, as they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch (even if it’s grown). Here are some things to consider that will save you time and money on your next gardening project.

1. Plan ahead. Like any project, planning ahead for costs can help avoid a lot of headache and overspending down the road. Consider not only the cost of the plants or seeds, but other expenses. Will you need to purchase soil? Will you need any containers? What about structures to keep animals out? What will it cost to water your garden? All of these can sneak up on an unsuspecting gardener, leaving them with a bigger bill than anticipated. Here is a great list to get you started!

2. Start small! Once you get the gardening bug, it’s hard to stop. A few tomato plants can turn into grand plans quickly. But, if this is your first season, start small and build up. A few containers or a small plot can take time to maintain, especially if you’re still learning. Also, some plants are much easier to grow than others. Take your time and learn what works best for you garden before you invest a ton of money in supplies and plants.

Egg Carton Garden

Recycled egg cartons are a great option for seed starting. (Image via Flicker User min.dy)

 3. Use recycled containers to start your seeds. This tip will get you looking at your trash in a new way. Everything from egg cartons to folded newspapers can be used as seedling containers. It’s also a great way to prevent more trash from winding up in landfills.

 4. Swap, borrow, or split costs. There are some things that you will have to shell out money for. Equipment like tillers, spades, soil, and seeds or plants are necessary, but don’t always come cheap. To save costs, consider going in on the items with a friend or, for equipment, borrowing. You can always offer a portion of your harvest in exchange for borrowing supplies. In the same vein, instead of buying new seeds, save them from season to season. Looking for something new? Trade seeds with a friend. If you’re in short supply of someone to swap with, the Chicago Botanical Gardens, Chicago Community Gardener’s Association, Peterson Garden Project, and the Southside Organic Gardeners Seed Swap all host annual seed swaps. Also, don’t forget about seed libraries and the Great Perennial Divide, where you can snag some great seeds and plants for free.

5. Compost. Composting is a great way to reduce greenhouse gases and trash by converting waste into fertilizer, all while saving money. If you’ve never composted before, there are a few upfront costs and things to consider before you get started. You’ll need the actual compost bin (you can make one yourself or buy one) and you should choose the location of the bin carefully. If you would like to learn more about composting, check out the Garfield Park Conservatory, where free weekly composting demonstrations are held on Saturdays through September.

Keep these tips in mind and you will be sure to save a few bucks. Happy planting!

Kathlee FreemanKathlee Freeman is an advocate for just food systems and sustainable agriculture. In addition to working in nonprofit development and marketing, she is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Food Tank: The Food Think Tank. She received her undergraduate degree from DePaul University and is currently pursuing her graduate degree at the University of Missouri – Columbia.