It may seem strange, but I do as much garden work in the fall as I do in the Spring. In early October I decided to start cleaning up the garden and picking the last of the produce. This is what I found:
After the clean-out, I swept the goat barn and brought the "brown gold" up to the garden. I dumped it in a pile beside last year's compost and the grass clippings that I've been collecting throughout the summer. I was using the clippings as mulch, but in the fall I use them in my raised beds, as I will the manure.
After filling them up, I put a layer of newspaper on top, weighted by chunks of manure, and then soak it all with water. This will help the layers break down into beautiful compost for next season. After the last layer, I put a pallet on top to prevent the newspaper from blowing off. It gets crazy windy in the fall!
$12 green beans
$80 tomato products
$12 bell peppers
$20 herbs & spices
Total savings: $304
My hourly wage for this project is just over $5 an hour. This is not bad compared to a part time job. Next year I will be doing mostly raised beds, which will cut my gardening time at least in half (no mulching or weeding), thus doubling my hourly wage. Because we are installing the beds this year, next fall I will only have a fraction of the work to do. No building boxes or filling- just topping off. It took me a half hour to top off three beds this year, so it should only take a couple hours to do them all next October.
If you would like to start a garden primarily to save money, I would grow strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and winter squash (if you eat those, of course!). These are fairly easy to grow, easy to freeze/can, and provide the most savings. The reason I only saved $12 by growing peppers is that most of my peppers got killed out by the tomatoes. :(
Mistakes & Lessons Learned
Next year I will NOT be inter-planting tomatoes and peppers! The tomatoes almost completely obliterated my pepper plants. After the tomato vines died, some of the peppers were able to grow. However, there wasn't enough time for them to mature before our first frost. This was sad, and I won't plant that way again.
I was disappointed in my acorn squash and sweet corn varieties, so I will be buying new seeds for those. I'll also be purchasing a different variety of tomato seed- a bigger tomato, in order to cut down on processing time. Romas just weren't big enough, and they suffered from blossom end rot.
Lastly, I'll be starting my herb seeds much earlier (Feb.) and also starting my melon and squash seeds indoors. This is only because Michigan weather is so crazy that it isn't "safe" to plant until the middle or end of May if you want to avoid frost. I'll give my plants more growing time if I start them indoors.
Happy garden planning!
*My garden produce qualifies as organic, but I would not buy organic produce from the store. This is why I use non-organic prices to calculate savings. If I used organic prices, the savings would be much, much higher. Anyone who is buying organic produce should grow their own, period.