Estimated Monthly Savings: $35
There are two types of people who spend too much money on seeds for the vegetable garden. The first is the dreamer, the sort who drools all over seed catalogs in the winter months, orders 17 seed packets for two raised beds and pays $11 to ship them so they can sit in a drawer until next winter. The second are the late bloomers (pun intentional). With just days to go in the planting season, they rush around buying whatever catches their fancy at the home store and plant in a flurry, then end up with cool season crops scorching in the summer sun or so many seedlings they’ll never catch up on their watering.
To save lots of money on the veggie seeds that help you save even more on your food budget, you have to fall somewhere in the middle. You can carve as much as $100 from your total annual seed budget and even get to the point where all your seeds are free in future years, follow these six strategies:
Shop your own shed, first. Make a complete inventory of all the seeds you already have before plunking down a single dollar for new ones. Most seeds (seed tape and pelleted seeds excepted) will last several seasons with only a slight loss in germination rates. For every pack you don’t buy, or every partial pack you use up, you can save $1-$4.
Plan your space. Get a realistic view of how many seeds you can grow by reading the back of the packets or the online description to note how many “feet of row” a variety will plant. Then check out a free online garden planner like the one on the Better Homes and Gardens website to map out what you’ll plan where. After that, if it won’t fit, don’t buy it!
Avoid seed starting that involves other start-up expenses. Unless you’ve got your heart set on a truly unusual heirloom, it can be much easier on your budget to avoid starting tomatoes, peppers or eggplants from seed if you aren’t a veteran seed saver. Each of those varieties can be found readily at a local farm store or nursery for around $4 or $5 for a six-pack close to planting time. When you try to start them at home, you encounter the seed cost of at least $2 and six weeks of watering, heat mat and possibly grow light expenses. Indoor starts that are much more economical include kale, lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers and summer squash. All of them go out into the garden bed a week or two after sprouting and can save you $4 or more per six plants if you start them from seed.
Find a mail order option with cheap shipping. Especially if you don’t think of it until you’ve already made your selections, shipping for mail order seeds can run anywhere from $5-$25. Instead, seek out the companies like Seeds N Such, which offers $2.99 flat rate shipping no matter how much you buy and throws in a couple of free packets for those who order early in each growing season. Ordering once from a low-shipping cost company really cuts back on impulse purchases, too.
Seek out free seeds. Call or email your local agricultural campus, ag extension office or community garden to see if they have seed exchanges or even freebies.
Grow heirlooms, not hybrids. If you grow old-fashioned varieties like Mortgage Lifter tomatoes or Lazy Wife beans, you can readily save the seeds for next year if you carefully follow directions from the staff farmers at Blackberry Farms resort. Just make sure you start with non-hybrid annuals, not biennials like beets or carrots, which take two years to produce seeds.
And remember, if you do slip up and buy way too many of those bright-colored seed packets, you can always donate them to a local community garden. Or, stash them in the freezer or fridge to get a head start on next year.