How to Garden: Your Options

Corey —  April 9, 2010

       When it comes to gardening, you have several options to choose from. Your choice will depend on how much space you have, how much money you want to spend, and how much time you want to dedicate to gardening.


container garden on the patio by thomas pix on Flickr       Container gardening is a great choice if you have limited space or limited desire to garden. It doesn’t take much time and you don’t have to worry about weeds. But you still get to enjoy the vegetables of your labor. You can use just about any container you can get your hands on (as long as it won’t leach poisonous chemicals into the soil). It doesn’t even need to be very deep – you can grow quite a bit of stuff in just six inches of soil. (I know. I’ve done it!) You’ll just need a few holes in the bottom for drainage. You can find cheap options for containers by looking creatively around your house, going to yard sales, or stopping by your local thrift store.

       If you decide to go the container route, you’ll need to realize that you won’t be able to produce very much unless you have tons of containers. You’ll also need a source for soil. If you’re going to dig it up out of your yard (or somewhere else), then you’ll probably need to add compost or other soil amendments to get good results. Otherwise, you can just buy potting soil and mix it with compost.

       If you’ve never gardened before, start small with container gardening. This way you can see how much you’ll enjoy gardening before making any big investments.

Raised Beds

Square Foot Garden Bed by mlwhitt on Flickr       Raised beds are just a variant of container gardening. Put a few boards together with screws, cover the ground with landscaping cloth (to reduce weeds), and throw in some soil. Now you’ve got one giant container for your garden. It should be at least six inches deep, and you’ll need somewhere to put it. Full sun is best, but you can grow all sorts of vegetables in partial shade. If you find you need to grow more stuff but don’t want to rip up your yard, you can just build another raised bed. Easy expansion!

       Raised beds require a bit of work the first year, but they’re pretty easy to maintain after that. If you start with a good soil mix, it’ll be easy to pull any weeds that sprout and to harvest your vegetables. A great book for getting started on this is Mel Bartholomew’s All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!. It’s how I learned about it and I still use some of his techniques despite having gone to a regular old patch of ground.

       Another interesting concept that I haven’t tried yet is column or vertical gardening. I was first introduced to the idea at Journey to Forever’s article on Growing Columns. I haven’t tried it yet, but I hope to! It’d be a great way to get a lot of growing area in very little ground space. Journey to Forever also has lots of information on square foot gardening as well.

Garden Patch

Vegetable Garden by Southern Foodways Alliance on Flickr       This is the typical image that comes to mind when we talk about gardening – a rectangular piece of ground that’s been tilled up and is ready to plant. This option can require the most work and/or money. You don’t have to buy the soil, but you’ll probably need to add something to it and you’ll have to work it. Oh, and you’ll need the space and willingness (or permission) to tear up a patch of your yard!

       Compost is a cheap way to fix soil, but that takes time. A gas-powered tiller makes quick work of most small gardens, but then you’re looking at a large up-front cost or rental fees. There are other methods to work the ground but they’ll break your spirit and back if you’re not ready for them.

       As I mentioned before, we have a typical garden but I don’t use the row method. You know – long rows with three foot wide aisles between each row. Instead, I’ve taken the concepts of square foot gardening and applied them to what looks like a typical garden. There’s less wasted space and less weeds to pull this way.

A Final Word

       I’ll talk more about the specifics of gardening in later posts, so make sure you sign up for free updates to Provident Planning if you’re interested. But if you’re considering starting a garden because you think it’ll save you tons of money you need to proceed with caution. Gardening can save you some money but probably not as much as you think. This is especially true if you don’t have a big freezer and take time to preserve your harvest.

       You should garden because you enjoy it or because you want the convenience of fresh vegetables just outside your door. It is a hobby that can pay for itself. But once you factor in your time you’re not really “saving” a ton of money. Like most other things, if you’re only in it for the money you’ll burn out fast. So if that’s you, start small and see if you like gardening. Then you can go bigger. Just be careful or you’ll find that gardening is costing you money instead of saving it!



Corey is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in religion. While he enjoys learning and writing about Christianity, another one of his new passions is writing about personal finances in order to help others make wise decisions with their money.