The Frugal Garden

I recently watched a YouTube video on frugal living. In the video, someone asked if gardening and canning was a good money-saving option. The woman recommended that people have a garden only if they enjoyed maintaining one as a hobby, because it wouldn’t necessarily save any money.

I was surprised. Isn’t having a garden classic frugal advice? Isn’t that why gardens were so common during the Great Depression? This woman went on to say that if you factor in the cost of canning jars, lids, seeds, fertilizer, tiller, plus your time, you might as well buy a few cans of vegetables and save yourself a lot of hassle and hours and hours of work.

The more I think about her advice, the more I disagree. Sure, if you calculate the worth of something by cost alone, you could argue that gardening and canning doesn’t always save money. We’ve all observed the people who’ve bought a flat of strawberries, ingredients, and all the canning gear, only to make 6 jars of jam, at a cost of about $10 a jar and complain that canning is expensive. I believe that if it’s done well, however, gardening and preserving your harvest WILL save money, and quite a bit, too.

Here are several ways to maximize your savings if you have a garden and want to put up the harvest:

  1. Grow the produce yourself instead of buying it, unless by chance you get a fabulous price or make a beneficial barter. Beyond growing produce, start seedlings instead of buying expensive starter plants. Seed packets hold fewer seeds every year and cost a little more, so harvest and save your own seeds for the next season.

  1. Grow the produce that saves you the most money, especially if space is an issue. Potatoes and carrots are relatively cheap in the store and don’t always yield the best return for the space.  For me, I couldn’t afford to buy all the raspberries that we’re able to eat by growing our own.

3. Use your produce in ways that maximize your savings. A can of store-bought generic whole tomatoes is pretty cheap. A can of tomatoes with added jalapenos increases the cost significantly. Tomato sauce with herbs added becomes spaghetti sauce, which is also more expensive. If I didn’t have the space to grow many tomatoes, I would focus on canning things like spaghetti sauce and salsa. As a bonus, every jar of spaghetti sauce represents a meal during the winter. It’s an efficient way to meal prep! A few cups of berries might makes one small jar of jam worth a couple of dollars, but those same berries infused in a jar of balsamic vinegar is a bargain compared to that ridiculously expensive specialty store product.

4. Canning jars and lids are an unavoidable cost. However, you can often find jars used so they are cheap and sometimes free. Reusable lids are more expensive, but if you use them regularly, you decrease their cost. Occasionally, you can find lids at garage sales, too.

5. Produce doesn’t have to be canned! You can eat out of your garden from spring through fall. A single packet of lettuce seeds will provide you days, or perhaps weeks worth of summer salads. Canning is great for long-term storage, but it does take more time. Freezing is much less laborious.

One lemongrass plant, started from seed

Freezer bags are super cheap, and like canning jars, the cost of a large freezer (if needed) will decrease with every year of consistent use. And don’t overlook drying. Dehydrators are relatively cheap and easy to find in thrift store and at garage sales. You may not even need a dehydrator for everything. The mint plant I got as a cutting from my neighbor years ago provides me with more than enough mint tea for the winter. I just cut the stems, tie them and hang them upside down until they dry and crumble.

These are a few ways that gardening saves me money–can you think of more?

I also think there are more benefits of a garden than simply saving money. But that’s a whole other post. 🙂

 

A Garden–A Declaration of Independence, 1870

…the garden does begin to yield…It is kind of a declaration of independence. I have never read of any Roman supper that seemed to me equal to a dinner of my own vegetables, when everything on the table is the product of my own labor. -1870

I agree and know the feeling of that same independence when I raise, harvest, and store my own food.

It’s a game I play often. When we sit down to eat a meal, I often point out the ingredients and where they came from. Of course, I do this most often when a majority of the meal’s components are homegrown, but it’s fun when I’m able to identify even minor ingredients that come from our own hands and property.

I had my own little “declaration of independence” day this week. Every morning in the summer I do a daily tour through the garden. I assess the progress of the produce to determine how much time I’ll be spending in the kitchen in the afternoon. If I’ve brought a container with me, I’ll gather any produce that’s ready, which inevitably includes Our Daily Okra.

I’d been planning on making Butter Chicken for dinner that day–one of my favorites. But when I looked at what I’d picked, I knew I needed to re-think my menu. It only made sense to eat what I’d just harvested, instead of processing it all for the winter before pulling dinner ingredients out of the cupboard.

So, Butter Chicken became Pesto Chicken, grilled okra, pickles, and bowls of raspberries with whipped cream, using our own basil, okra, cucumbers, and raspberries.

Dinner, in a theme of green

From backyard to grill to table in a matter of hours. And it tastes even better when I’ve done “all by myself.”

5 Reasons I love being a housewife

It takes a genius to be a first-rate housekeeper. -1884

Well, that explains a lot. Mystery solved…now I know why I still haven’t figured this whole housewifery thing out.

In spite of the fact that I haven’t mastered this career in the least and that many people see it as an inferior (or not even a legitimate) occupation, I really, really love my job. So why do I like being a housewife? Why is it the best career for me?

Hours Yes, I’m on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and even on a family vacation, I’m not really off duty. But, that doesn’t mean I’m working all the time. As long as the tasks get done, the details are up to me. That means I can watch a movie while I dust the living room or fold laundry, I can batch-cook meals to free me up from daily cooking, or I can hold off on my plans of defrosting the freezer because I got an impromptu invitation from a friend. (Hello? Friends?!? …I’m running low on friends offering impromptu invitations…)

-Shopping- I can do my shopping at the slowest times, so I never, ever, grocery shop on the weekends or during the after-school/post workday madness. And more importantly, I’m also able to avoid senior citizen discount day at the grocery store. So many retirees with so much time on their hands. The shopping is secondary to the visiting and the free coffee.

I’m also able to take advantage of weekday garage sales that I would otherwise miss if I had to work during the day for someone else. In my area, most garage sales begin on Thursday or Friday mornings. By Saturday, things are generally picked over.

Speaking of garage sales–can I share my big find last week? I was so excited. I’ve been looking for a carry-on sized suitcase for a couple of years.

While not a huge fan of animal print designs, I was won over by the $5 price tag (for the set).

Variety The number of different tasks a housewife does is nearly limitless, everything from childcare to budgeting to landscaping to canning. That’s a sample of what a housewife can do in a single day. I have physical work to do and mental tasks, so I can change direction whenever I feel the need. I love that every day is different and there is always a new skill to learn. There’s no such thing as a bored housewife. I may become restless and discontent, but there’s no end of things to be done.

-Flexibility In many ways, I’m my own boss. Sure, our home is my husband’s too, but frankly, he doesn’t have many opinions about domestic affairs unless I get him involved and want his help or opinion. As long as he has clean clothes and relatively organized home with regular meals, he doesn’t get caught up in the details.  

So that leaves me an independent manager. While I have a variety of jobs to do, I can also tailor this career to my interests. Some housewives never have a garden, but keep an immaculate house and make all their own clothes. Others struggle with organization but know the best frugal shopping tips. I’ll never have weed-free flower beds but I know what it’s in my pantry and chest freezer. It’s a choose your own adventure kind of life, not in a super adventurous, life on the edge kind of way, but I do what I can…

-Satisfaction I was once elected to head up an organization and while it was a volunteer position, it was a job in nearly every way but the paycheck. I struggled and fought to make some badly needed changes to the organization. While I was successful, I eventually moved on and so did the crabbies, who to this day would have preferred to see the group dissolve than change. The organization is now thriving and although I learned a lot and did what needed to be done, my efforts were at the expense of my family and will be forgotten soon by the group, if they haven’t already.

A part of that experience was that I learned I am happiest putting my energy into what matters most to me.  I don’t need the praise of the public to feel fulfilled. My family has never fallen at my feet in gratitude for clean socks and homemade pickles (so far, anyway, my pickles have come out crispier than usual this summer, so just maybe), but I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m benefiting the people that will be a part of my life for as long as I’m alive.

So those are my top 5 reasons why I love being a housewife. Do you have any you’d add?

It’s that time of year….

…mid-summer, that is. For me and countless gardeners in the midwest, this time of year means that produce is starting to roll in. And that means I have to start doing something with it all. So what does this time of year mean for me? It means–

  • Remembering how long to blanch green beans is knowledge I use on a daily basis.

 

  • Checking for zucchini and cucumbers twice a day because I always, always overlook at least one, and usually more.

  • Meat becomes a minor player at mealtime next to all the vegetables. Not only are we eating multiple servings of fruits and vegetables at every meal (it’s less that I have to process!) but we’re eating all the jars that didn’t seal. And don’t anybody dare to open a jar from the pantry.

 

  • Zucchini. Every day. Zucchini chocolate cake is the only dessert on the menu.
Zucchini bread for a little variety
  • I don’t wash the kitchen floor until I start sticking to it. It’s a pointless job during canning season.

 

  • The refrigerator is always jammed full to bursting. Adding any more produce becomes a game of tetris. (Note the lack of photographic proof…I didn’t think is was necessary to share that mess.)

 

  • Produce all over the kitchen. Cucumbers sliced and salted, calendula petals drying for salves, mint leaves drying for tea, dilly beans fermenting, summer squash accumulating in piles, jars needing to be labeled, bowls of misc. produce I’m trying to ignore…

  • My grocery lists consist of things like salt, mustard seeds, ziploc bags, vinegar, and sugar–in large quantities.

At times it seems never-ending and there is always the temptation to accidentally mow over the beans or to pretend I don’t notice that the kohlrabis are splitting. But it’s also the time of year when I feel like I accomplish a lot every day and save my future self some grocery shopping and meal prep time. As tiring as it is sometimes, it’s work I enjoy.