I won’t disillusion you about jumping on the grow-your-own bandwagon. The reality is, you could wind up with a pile of debt instead of a pile of veggies. Several years ago, when I bought my first home, I couldn't wait to start a vegetable garden. The potential savings were appealing, but I savored the idea of eating produce I'd grown myself. However, I spent over $200 and harvested just a handful of beans. If only I'd put more of these rules into practice.

Start Small

This isn't one of the times to "go big, or go home." No, it's best to start a vegetable garden in a small way. If I would have followed this sound advice, I would have known when to plant certain items and how to care for them properly.  Maybe then I would have enjoyed a harvest worthy of my financial investment and effort. This year I plan on starting with just one or two types of veggies before adding more.

Reuse Containers

To cut costs this year, I'm trying out container gardening.  I won't waste money on fancy pots from the garden center. I've already got a nice stash of ice cream tubs, peanut butter jars, yogurt containers and the like. Even though I could get cute cheap pots at the dollar store, I'm not taking any chances. My recycled containers, with a few holes punched in the bottom for good drainage, won't cost me a single penny extra.

Borrow Tools

If you don't have tools at home, hold off going to the gardening store to buy them. Feeling all warm and fuzzy with the idea of growing my own vegetables, I headed to the nearest Home Depot and shelled out over $75 on tools. I should have borrowed a spade, trowel, rake and anything else from a relative, friend or neighbor for free.

Grow Your Favorites

To increase my chances of success with my first vegetable garden, I followed a friend's advice of growing beans because they're some of the easiest vegetables to grow. Sure, I felt a twinge of pride when I got a few off the vine, but I don't actually like beans. Even though the pack only cost me $1.99, it was essentially money down the drain. What I should have done to make my investment worthwhile was plant one or two of my favorite vegetables. As it happens, some of my favorites are also easy-to-grow choices such as carrots, lettuce, spinach, cherry tomatoes and potatoes.  I would have had a better chance of a good harvest.

Time It Right

Planting vegetables at the wrong time is a sure-fire way to fail with your first veggie garden and blow your budget. For instance, I could plant cool-season veggies like beets, carrots or lettuce in early spring for mid-summer harvesting, but I would have to wait until all dangers of frost are gone before planting warm-season veggies like pepper and tomatoes. Seed packets give planting guidelines, but if you're splitting seeds with a friend and don't have the packet, gardenate.com is a good guide.

Catch Rainwater

As a green living nut, I did put this gardening goodie to good use. Instead of spending $50 or more (and that's on the low side!) on a rain barrel, I used an old garbage can to collect rain water. I simply cut a hole in the cover to place the downspout and voilà! When it was time to water my veggie garden, I dipped my watering can in and off I went.

Fight Pests Naturally

In my enthusiastic haze at the Home Depot, I grabbed two bottles of insecticide and pest sprays that came to about $20. Even though I try to live as green as I can, at the time I didn't know that I could have thrown a few cloves of garlic into the garden to ward off ants, use a scooped out grapefruit to catch worms, or water early in the day to ward off fungus and insects.  To fend off those fearless raccoons, I could have sprinkled salt (which they hate the taste of) around the garden. Squirrels might have scurried off by my veggie plot if I'd just added some castor oil to my can before watering.  I would have spent way less than $20 to help my garden grow. To avoid my mistake, visit PestInformation.com, which is a great resource for information on fighting pests naturally in the garden.

This has been a guest post by Andrea from Ontario, Canada
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How to Grow Your Garden on a Small Budget