Square Foot Gardening Roundup

Last year’s table-top design.  This year we’re going with several raised bed boxes.

This week I took a look at the 10-day forecast and it revealed temperatures hovering in the mid-sixties for highs, and lows safely above freezing.  That means it’s time to start thinking about gardening!  Last year we gave square foot gardening a try, and enjoyed some limited success.  This year we we plan to expand our plans from a simple tabletop design to a few raised beds directly on the ground.

So over the next couple weekends I’ll be building the 2×4 boxes, preparing the soil, and coming up with a way to keep our dog from trampling the garden (this might prove to be the hardest part!).  We’ve already picked up our seed packs and look forward to a summer crop of cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, peas, carrots, strawberries, and a variety of peppers for homemade salsa.  I’ll keep you posted!

The Roundup

15 Graceful Ways to Say “No.” My first year of blogging I said yes to everything – every deal, every freelance opportunity, and ever PR pitch asking for a mention.  I did it in the interest of growing the blog, but quickly found out it is impossible to say yes to everyone, so I’ve become a bit more discriminating to protect my own schedule.

Cheap Meals and Easy Dinner Ideas: Recession Dining For Under $10.  My favorite part of this post was the “Meals from the Depression” cooking YouTube video with Clara, a 91 year-old grandmother who cooks recipes right in her kitchen.  Cool stuff!

Mortgage Rates Are Low, But It May Still Cost You. A good reminder that while rates are hovering near historic lows, there are still plenty of fees to contend with when navigating a new mortgage.

Job Search – FInd a Freelance Job.  Nice rundown of the places to land a side hustle; something more and more of us may be looking for as traditional employment continues to dry up in many major markets.

Save Money on Hotels.  Planning a spring break getaway soon? Here’s a collection of tips to save money on your next hotel stay.  We are not planning an extended trip any time soon, but do plan to squeeze in a long weekend with a short hotel stay somewhere in the mountains this spring.

A Walkthrough and Cost Breakdown of Brewing Your Own Beer. I was at the grocery store last night and they had a deal where you could pick any 6 bottled beers and make your variety six-pack for a special price. It was tempting, but having just read this article hours before I decided to pass and reconsider home brewing.

The Pursuit of Wealth For The Sake of Others.  One of my motivators to building wealth is that I can give some of it away.  Admittedly, I would also like to help family first, but if I can accumulate enough I have a long list of “Secret Santa” missions I’d like to participate in!

Should We Downsize?  We recently addressed this same question in a review of our 2009 goals (one of which was to downsize our house).  In the end, we decided to stay put for now, but it remains a long-term goal for us to reduce our mortgage, our utilities, and our stuff.

Quick Hits

  • Bargain Babe is giving away two chances at winning a $25 Starbucks gift card just for signing up to her new blog, BargainBabe.com.  I’ve followed Julia since her times at the L.A. Daily News, and have found her new blog worth subscribing to, with or without the Starbucks card!
  • Chasing Dollars Instead of Passion (video).  So many of us have this backwards, and once you’re headed in that direction, it is hard to turn things around. Are you chasing your passion?


  1. The link to the $10 recession meals reminded me of an experiment I conducted a couple of weeks ago to see if I could feed myself and my girlfriend dinner for a week on a $10 budget for all five days. It turned out pretty well and for those who are interested, the article can be found on my website. Just search for “Results of the $10 Grocery Experiment”. I learned some valuable lessons while doing this experiment and it has helped reduce our grocery bill in the long run as well.

  2. @ChadC: There are concerns with using pressured-treated lumber for edible gardens because the chemicals used to treat the wood could potentially seep into surround soil and plants. I’ve seen others use things like cinder blocks or bricks to build up their garden, which would last longer than untreated wood.

    Another note, I’m thinking of using 2×8’s this year to get a little more depth above ground. Even untreated, they should hold up for a season or two. One 2x8x12 board and a few deck screws should yield eight square-foot plots in a 2×4 configuration.

  3. @ChadC: Ha – I hear you on the lead paint! Yeah, the plastic barrier wouldn’t be a bad idea. Of course, you’ll get some people that would tell you that the plastic could leach polyethylene or something into your soil, but you can only go so far!

  4. Gardening is a great way to save some money. I have a large garden and have calculated that my garden is worth $8/per square foot, saving me $3300 per year. I have also calculated how much I make per hour gardening. Guess what is come to? Last year it came to $27.5 per hour and with food inflation it will likely be $33 this year.

  5. I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction on how to build these. Did you find it on a website? We have gotten our grocery bill down pretty low so far and a garden will stretch our $$$$ even more. We have 3 kids a 17 yo DS a 2 yo DS and a 7 month old DD and I have gotten the cost of a meal on average down to $6
    Not bad considering 17yo DS and 2yo DS have huge appettites.

  6. We have 2 raised boxes here in the Phoenix Az. area and have learned to plant UST STUFF WE EAT A LOT OF.. so I plant tons of various lettuces, some beets, turnips, mint, parsley, cilantro,radishes, and carrots. In two small boxes we have grown a TON of ORGANIC FOOD..for very little money.Initial outlay of building the boxes is minimal..we are in our 5th year..we used the SQUARE FOOT GARDENING book to get started.It’s fun!! and so health! AND saves money. I love going out to my own garden to pick supper.

    Key to success for us is to plant simple–don’t try to grow everything under the sun– just what your family eats.

  7. We’re in southern New England and have had a garden for the past few summers. Much as my husband enjoys it and we see it as a valuable tool for teaching our kids that food comes from the earth, not the grocery store, it hasn’t saved us very much, if any, money.

    We plant mostly from seeds, though we buy tomatoes as small plants. We found that we had to plant a significant amount of everything in order to get a decent yield, and then we have to hope that the deer or squirrels don’t get near it before we do.

    Those of you who reap tremendous savings — are you in more temperate climes? How much are you planting? We don’t plant until, iirc, early May because there’s still the possibility of frost.

    This h

  8. @FrugalDad @ChadC
    If you have a recycled hardware/supplies facility in your area, that is a good resource.
    I picked up 22 lf of 2×6 cedar, in pretty good shape, for $11.
    No need to worry about the arsenic in pressure treated lumber.

  9. We have two raised garden boxes that we haven’t had a lot of success with so I look forward to more articles on this topic that I can learn from.

    We used pressure treated lumber for our boxes but lined the inside of them with shingles that were disposed of at a nearby building site. There may be more effective barriers but not any that are cheaper!

  10. Interesting read about California. I live in the state of Victoria in Australia. We are in our 12th year of drought and you have probably heard of the recent horrific bushfires that killed 210 people. They are predicting firestorms as bad for tomorrow. My veggie garden has limped through summer with a small allocation of water twice a week but has saved me a packet. I haven’t bought tomatoes all season and I have a pantry bursting with homemade tomato sauce and pasta sauce, preserved peaches and Apricots. Until the 47 degree celcius days I had a great crop of lettuces that meant I hadn’t bought a lettuce since August. Unfortunately I lost a big crop of Mandarins and the lemons and limes.
    The government is asking us to limit our water usage to 155 litres per person per day. Got my bill last week and we managed to come in at 110 litres per person and still have some veggies.
    Just wanted to say that I enjoy this blog and I have picked up a lot of frugal tips. Keep up the good work FD

  11. @maclynx: I have been following the stories of the Australian bushfires, and it is indeed tragic to think of the destruction – both in terms of human life and property damages. Thanks for your comments on the blog. I hope Mother Nature sends some relief soon.

  12. “…Still hard for me to get used to the idea that new cars could be a better buy than used, but in this market it’s true . . . a [new] Lexus LS 460 will set you back $64,000 to $77,000…Ouch!”

    Are you serious about new being a better buy than used? Hard for me to take that, at those prices! But what do I know . . . being 35 years out of that world?

    I think YOU should know though, FD, that the reason I’ve been so long out of that world is precisely because I wised-up and GAVE up the automobile, when I discovered it was costing me 2.5 months per year, of my annual income.

  13. Thanks for the cost of dog link.Not mentioned is emergency vet care. My lab and I were just attacked by a pit bull. Vet bill for 1st visit almost $500. Don’t know what my ER visit will cost.I will carry from now on.

  14. Can you explain your cost breakdown when you stated that in this market a new car is better than a used car? w/all of the markdowns I still did not think it matched the depreciation of the car within the first 2 – 3 years. We are in the market for a new car and continuously find safe and reliable cars with bell and whistles for $17000, 2yrs old, under 25000miles. Buy the same car new add $10000. I must be seeing it differently.

    Also were you being sarcastic talking about a Lexus? Hardly frugal if you were serious…

  15. Keep us updated on this…especially ideas on how to keep the dog from trampling the bed…we have three (big) dogs and I am trying to come up with ideas for that myself.

    Also, at Home Depot you can buy wood leftover pieces for really cheap. They are from when people get the things they are purchasing cut to length in the store, the scraps stay behind. You can pick them up for pennies, and they will even cut them for you for free!

  16. Hi,
    A local old-timer makes 10 inch high concrete planks with holes and threaded rods so they simply bolt together, and never rot nor poison the soil. We have 4×8 foot beds and 4×4 foot also. In the smaller squares we added uprights on four corners (2x2s), braced their tops, and added mesh-wire on two opposite sides where our cucumbers and peas climb.
    On the long beds we thrust foot-long sections of steel rebar into the soil along the side boards sticking up several inch; black poly-pipe tubing is cut to length and slid down over the rebar to make half-circle arcs over the bed. They can support clear poly-ethelene for little greenhouses, or shade-cloth in hot weather to shelter lettuce and tender green. 2-inch sections of the poly-tubing, slit along their length, can be pressed over the hoops and their covers to secure it. Some folks also use Ramey cloth (like gauze) to keep out flying insects–ought to work on animals also. Good Gardening!

  17. Hey FD, can’t wait for the updates on your SFG. I’m starting one at my college house and am ready for some 2009 inspiration!

  18. I just started my first real garden with vegetables and flowers, starting from seeds-I have planted many flowerbeds before, starting with plants.I mainly have started this years seeds in containers. However, I did do one small raised bed. I do like the look of your square foot gardening picture–wishing I had tried that too!

  19. Hey Frugal Dad,

    Thanks for sharing about your experience with SFG. We’re getting a late start on it ourselves this year, but are planning to do a lot of tomatoes with our first box. This year we’ll be using transplants from the local farmer’s market. Next year we’ll start with seeds. You mentioned in your initial article that you realized heat plastic bottles = not good slow drip irrigation. Have you discovered an alternative method?

    Also, I wanted to share that your hunch about the California drought is right… at least for us! We live in Northern California and LOVE the produce, but expect the costs to be really high this year. Therefore, we want to grow our own, especially heirloom tomatoes.

    Thanks again for sharing your experiences!