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14 Tips for Gardening on a Budget (for Those of Us Not in the 1 Percent)

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Not in the 1 Percent? Your Guide to Gardening on a Budget

I admit it: Gardeners are guilty of dishing gossip. I live in a state where a certain billionaire domestic maven has just one of her many homes, and we gardeners love to gossip about her local garden. Our favorite unsubstantiated juicy tidbit is that she heats her soil to make it zone 7 versus zone 5. (This is a big deal when you live in a place where snow often lingers in gardens into April.) But you don't need bank to have a successful garden; here are tips for gardening on a budget.

Gardening on a budget ($25):

1. The best piece of advice for gardeners with smaller budgets is to start planning early. Your investment of time and planning will compensate for your lack of financial investment.

2. Choose simple, hard working tools. Put on your comfy shoes, grab a thermos of coffee and spend time scouring yard sales, swap meets, and antique stores for deals on used tools. The bare minimum for garden tools is a multi-purpose shovel and watering can. You should be able to find a functional used shovel and a sturdy watering can for less than $5 each.

3. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2016 there will be about 76, 380 new cases of melanoma skin cancer diagnosed, and about 10,130 people will die from this disease. Your take away: You need a sturdy hat and sun block to protect yourself from the sun. Shop at your local thrift store for the hat, but don't cheap out on a quality SPF ($10-$15).

4. No matter how small your budget, you absolutely can not ignore your soil. (This is advice from someone who tried that her first year gardening.) Luckily, this is where your early investment of time and planning pay off. Four to six months before you plan to plant your first seed start a compost bin. Make a super-simple compost pile by containing kitchen scraps, leaves, and soil in chicken wire ($5-$10). A used garbage bin with air holes drilled in it can also serve as a compost bin.

5. Be a savvy seed shopper (or, better yet, seed swapper). Swap seeds with fellow gardeners at your work place or in your neighborhood. Also check out Seed Swap Day events in your area. Your local Cooperative Extension may offer an annual seed/plant swap. If they don't, start your own!

6. Those cheap seeds at the dollar store may be appealing, but chances are they contain GMOs and aren't organic. Also, I've never had a good germination rate with them. Resist these low cost options in favor of seed swaps.

7. Plant seeds that are easiest to grow and will give you a generous harvest. Lettuce and other greens, green beans, squash, and peas are safe bets. Tomatoes can be a bit trickier, but who can resist them?

8. It's always hard to predict what your garden's yield will be. However, a $25 investment should provide you with salad greens for most of the growing season, enough green beans and squash to share (or trade) with friends and neighbors, handfuls of early season peas, and a few tomatoes to brag about.

Gardening on a budget ($50):

An expanded budget means expanded options!

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From the Organic Authority Files

9. Broaden your garden tools to include a pitchfork for turning soil and moving hay and compost. If your used shovel isn't up to the task, replace it with a new model ($20-$30). If you can find a used rake, garden scissors, and weeding tool (a.k.a dandelion digger) at a yard sale then you'll be in great shape.

10. Invest in expanding your compost to include multiple bins. Live near a farm? Strike a deal with the farmer for some manure. (It's approx. $5 per 50 lb. bag at the home store.)

11. Seed swaps are fun and bountiful for gardeners of any budget, so look for a swap in your area. Quality seeds from suppliers such as Johnny's and Burpee will cost $4-$6 per packet. Shop around for deals on free shipping. Generic seeds can also be found online, but be careful to avoid GMOs and aim to buy organic whenever possible.

Gardening on a budget ($75):

With $75 to spend you're still not in the tax bracket of certain billionaire presidential candidates, but you're still gardening on a budget.

12. Invest in quality garden tools that will serve you for years to come. Take care to routinely clean and oil them to keep them functioning long term.

13. Add to your existing compost bins with a worm composting bin. Twenty dollars will buy you a couple pounds of worms.

14. There's a reason why gardeners refer to seed catalogs as porn--they're oh-so irresistible. Fill colder months by perusing these catalogs and dreaming of warm weather gardening. Experiment with different varieties of seeds including heirlooms. Shop for deals on shipping and handling rates.

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photo of garden tools via Shutterstock

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