Monday, January 27, 2014

The DD's Comprehensive Guide to Saving Money by Growing Your Own Food, Part III: Seeds, Soil and Tools

Today's article in my frugal food-growing guide will be short and sweet.  However, it is one of the most crucial parts of the guide: Saving money on seeds, tools and soil.

Most of the big box stores sell seeds and tools for a ridiculous mark-up.  I've seen seeds sell for $1.50 per packet at places like Lowes, and their tool selection ranges from $20 to $100+ for a single tool.  And forget about plant starts... every year, they reduce the amount of plants you get in a pack and charge a little more than they did the previous year.  Not a great way to save money on growing food.

You should know that you have cheaper options, though.  Much cheaper options.

My "go-to" place for yearly seeds and potting soil is the Dollar Tree.  Somehow this company is able to sell open-pollinated vegetable seeds for the bargain price of $0.25 per seed packet.  I'm not sure how they do it, but this is the best price I've seen for seeds anywhere, other than end-of-the-season discount sales racks.  The Dollar Tree also sells 8 lbs. bags of potting soil for $1 per bag, as well as simple hand tools, also a dollar a piece.

Because all the seeds that Dollar Tree sells are open-pollinated, you can simply grow the plants, allow them to produce seeds, and collect the seeds yourself every year.  In this way, you can effectively reduce your costs on seeds indefinitely.

I recently went down to my local Dollar Tree and picked up 45 packs of vegetable seeds, 16 packs of flower seeds and a bag of potting soil for under $20.  Had I bought the same amount of seeds from Lowes, it would have cost well over $75.  And that doesn't even buying include the potting soil.

The Dollar Tree starts selling its vegetable seeds very early in the year for most places, usually in mid-January.  Usually their supplies are limited, so you should run down to your local Dollar Tree as soon as possible and pick up as many seeds as you can.  You don't necessarily have to grow everything you pick out this year, as many seeds remain viable for a few years, despite the "sell by" date on the package.  Do this as soon as you can, so you have the largest selection of seeds as possible.  Many gardeners already know what a great deal this is, and the store is likely to have sold most of its seed inventory if you wait until Spring is officially here.

If you are looking for discount perennials, head over to Big Lots.  This store's seed prices are just alright, but you can get a ton of perennial fruits for the low price of $5 per plant.  I've not yet seen them stock these plant starts this year, but they generally have a wide selection of grapes, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and roses for sale.  $5 is a little more pricey, but the ease of growing these plants is second to none.  All you have to do is dig a hole, put your plant in the hole, and recover with dirt.  Then just wait for your plant to sprout to life in the spring.  Couldn't be any simpler than that.  I will update the guide when my local Big Lots begins selling these plants.

Finally, the ultimate frugal way of obtaining seeds or plant starts/cuttings is to post up a message to the GardenWeb seed trading forum.  While generally you must also have seeds to trade in order to get different seeds from people, sometimes generous members of the forum will offer newbies free seeds the price of a stamp and and envelope.  These posts will usually include the words SASE (meaning Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope), newbie, or free.  Last year, I personally traded seeds with a few members and the experience was great.  All the forum members were very nice and helpful, and I managed to get a ton interesting varieties of seed for the low price of mailing a letter.  While I wouldn't recommend a total newbie to only use this method of obtaining seeds, it can be a very frugal way of obtaining additional seeds to add to your collection.  Sometimes you can find a rare or interesting variety of plant seeds that you won't be able to obtain anywhere else.

GardenWeb can be a great source for rare seeds

ADDENDUM 11/19/2014: After a lot of thought and basic arithmetic, I've realized that seed trading may not be quite as frugal as it would seem.  Sure, you get the seeds for free, but you have to pay for the stamps in order to mail the seeds you wish to trade.  With stamp prices reaching $0.49 a piece, you may as well get the bulk of your garden seeds from the Dollar Tree.  It may still be a frugal if you get a large amount of small seeds in one envelope, but larger seeds are going to take more stamps to get it mailed.  Found this out the hard way over the 2014 growing season.

GardenWeb's seed trading forum is still the ultimate frugal way of obtaining hard- or impossible-to-find varieties of many vegetables and flowers, so I still recommend visiting the boards and making a few trades once you already have a majority of the seeds you need for your garden.

To wrap this article up, my main source of cheap seeds, as well as potting soil and tools, is the Dollar Tree store.  For perennial plant starts, take a look inside of Big Lots.  And if you're really frugal, try your hand at trading seeds on the GardenWeb forums.  Between these three sources, you should be able to find a good variety of vegetables to grow this year without spending a small fortune.

Total Costs So Far

The cost of growing your own food so far:
  • $0.00 for home-made compost
  • $0.25 for seed packets
  • $1.00 for potting soil
  • $1.00 for hand tools
  • $5.00 for perennial plant starts 
All these seeds for less than $20

 My total cost for this year: $17.39 (for vegetable/flower seed packets, potting soil)

This concludes Part III. Click here to read Part IV: Preparing Your Garden for Planting .

ADDENDUM 02/06/2014

I went back to the Dollar Tree a few days later and picked up some more seeds and a few more bags of potting soil for my wife.  That increased my costs by $6.15, bringing the total money spent so far $23.54.


Annie*s Granny said...

Great article! I've found seeds from the dollar stores to be excellent germinators. I've also found them for 20 cents a pack at my local Ace hardware. The varieties offered are rather limited, but the choices offered are certainly sufficient for most basic vegetable gardens. I buy almost all of my flower seeds from the dollar store racks.

Nate D said...

Thanks so much! I appreciate the tip about Ace's Hardware, too. I'll have to check them out and see if my local store has those cheap seeds. I've heard Wal-Mart also sells seeds as cheap as $0.10 per pack, but personally I've only seen those kind of prices for end-of-season sale racks.

Thanks for reading! I'm following your blog as well. I'm sure you've got plenty of tips and tricks to share!