Less is More: Gardening on a Budget

A beginning gardener's ingenuity turns $75 into 6 months of fresh vegetables.

By Sharon Tregaskis

Photography by Matthew Benson

You can grow a lot of food for a little bit of moneyWhat We Bought
Seeds $35.45
Row cover $12.00
Cover-crop seed $10.00 
Rooting medium $7.55
Seed inoculant $5.49
Plastic pickle barrel $3.00
Hollyhock seedlings $1.25
Total $74.74
What We Grew
Here's what we harvested on our property:
Beans 4 pounds and remainder to seed for 2010
Beets 25 pounds
Cabbages 64 pounds
Carrots 10 pounds
Cherry tomatoes 5 pounds
Corn 10 pounds dry seed, 12 ears fresh
Cucumbers 25 pounds
Daikon 5 pounds
Eggplants 10 pounds
Flowers 1 or 2 bouquets cut every week
Green tomatoes 9 pounds
Horseradish A few leaves for sushi; harvest in 2010
Hot peppers 3 pounds
Kohlrabi 30 pounds
Leeks 20 pounds
Lettuce 10 pounds
Podding radish 1 pound, plus seed
Potatoes 350 pounds
Purple-top turnips 30 pounds
Rhubarb 2 pies
Scallions 1 pound
Soybeans 1 pound as edamame
Spinach 3 pounds
Sunflowers 100 pounds to feed chickens, wild birds
Tomatillos 10 pounds
Winter squash 40 pounds
Total About 796 pounds, plus our CSA share
September 30 
Our first frost was 10 days ago. Yet, while harvesting kale and turnips yesterday at our CSA farm--which has provided a rich education in larger-scale organic farming techniques, great exercise, stimulating conversation, and hundreds of pounds of veggies since May--we learned that the gorgeous green tomatoes in their hoop house must make way for winter greens. I requested permission to glean, and in one hour this morning we picked several hundred pounds of fruit. More than half went to a program that provides CSA memberships for low-income families, augmented with cooking and nutrition classes. They'll organize a giveaway and class with a local chef. I'll trade and share what we kept, stock the pantry, and ripen some in newspaper for November salads. I've heard rumors of a defunct gleaners' network in the area; I plan to learn more. 
November 4 
We still have potatoes to dig and leeks we'll harvest into the New Year. The pantry, freezer, and root cellar promise good eating throughout the winter, and we haven't paid cash for produce since early May. Yet we still have much to learn. In September, we forgot to freeze our collected vetch seeds to kill bugs. Instead of a free winter cover crop, we had a startling October hatching. Our laying hens feasted on several heads of sunflowers, but the challenge of drying and storing 100 seedheads demands winter research. 
Even so, our myriad trades and barters have produced a generous harvest while the social connections we've made and the wisdom we've gained will yield for many seasons to come. We've already thrown down the gauntlet for 2010: all the food we can eat and give away from May to November, for less than $25.