Grow Your Own: What to Buy

When you are planning your garden, budget is likely to be a factor.  You will want to have some money put aside but you can easily keep the expenses budget friendly by sticking to my list:

First, consider the size of the garden.  Your costs will go up incrementally with every square foot you add.  I would recommend starting out with 1 4×4 raised bed and between 6 to 8 containers for your first year.  This is a manageable size & will give you a lot of fresh herbs and vegetables.

Raised Bed:

The first consideration with building a raised bed is what materials you are going to use to build it.  There are lot of options, but here are a few:

Kit: Since at home gardening has experienced such a resurgence, there are many kits out there that you can set up in just about an hour.  This one will run you about $40 and is actually the one my mom bought last year.  It has held up well over the winter so I have no issue recommending it.  If you are not handy and/or do not have the time or space to build your own bed, this is the way to go.

Pressure treated lumber (cost = $2.75/sq ft🙂 is what we used on our garden.  Eric built ours four years ago and we have had no issue with it at all (we used railroad ties to attach the pieces together.)  There is some controversy about whether pressure treated lumber should be used for edible gardening, but we read the research and weren’t concerned.  Total cost would be about $50 and it’s definitely going to last.   

Non-traditional materials:  I’ve seen raised beds grown in old tires, barrels, and straw bales.  I actually really like the straw bale idea because the straw itself will decompose and add to the soil.  Here’s a great example of this.  

When starting a raised bed, you will need to fill it with soil.  Assuming you are building a 4×4 bed that will be 1 foot off the ground (we’ve found a one foot height is perfect for keeping out rabbits and small pests,)  you will need  about 12 cubic feet of soil.  There’s a great calculator here: Soil Calculator

You can buy soil at any garden center or home improvement store.  If you buy bagged, it will be more expensive,but it is also more convenient.  Budget between $2-$3 per cubic foot for soil.  

Container Gardening

Lets say you really want to garden but don’t have a yard available.  Maybe you live in an apartment or condo, or dorm room, or on the sidewalk.  Regardless, you can still garden.  Just hit up your local garden store or hardware store and pick up the following:


4-6 window boxes

4 large round patio containers (12” diameter)

3 medium round patio containers (8” diameter)

These can be terra cotta or plastic.  You can also repurpose  what you have- old milk jugs, soda bottles and juice boxes cut in half are all great planters. I’ve also seen raised beds grown in old kiddie pools.   Be creative- all you need is a place to put dirt that’s about 6-12 inches deep.  

You will need soil- see above for that info.  You’ll probably need about 10 bags of soil to fill the containers.  

Other Equipment:

This is just the basics- you can go crazy but don’t think you need everything they are selling at the garden store!

Watering can or hose (buy the sprayer nozzle for $3 if you can)


Trowel or small hand shovel

Tomato cages and twine

Okay, on to the fun stuff!


If you are growing your first garden, you will want to buy seedlings or small plants.  Seed starting is a challenge & is best left to the professionals.  The best time in zone 6a to buy and plant seedlings is Memorial Day weekend.  Clear your calendar Saturday morning & head out to your local nursery, plant sale (lots of school and church groups do these as fundraisers & their prices are great!) or home improvement store.  

Yes, you will pay more for seedlings.  You will also save yourself a world of aggravation.  You can start seeds next year, after the tip of your thumb is a greenish hue.  

You should only grow what you like.  For a small garden, you won’t have enough room for corn or plants that require a lot of space, like melons.  For the first year, I recommend keeping it very simple.

If you are going the 4×4 bed route, then I recommend you start with:

Two cherry tomato plants

Two regular tomato plants (like Roma, paste, or the larger sandwich type)

Two more tomato plants that are suited to patio containers (your nursery can advise you.) These will go in the largest of the containers you purchased.

Two summer squash plants

Two zucchini plants

Two pepper plants (hot or bell, depending on your preference)

One Eggplant…plant

I would also recommend that you buy some potted herbs while you are buying plants. Our first year, I grew:

Two basil plants (but you can really never have enough basil…)

One dill plant

One cilantro plant

One parsley plant

One rosemary plant

One pot of chives

These you will pot in containers.  We keep them on the back steps, where they get about a half days worth of sun and this works perfectly. Plus they are close to the kitchen!

In the next post I will go over the planting placement and initial watering plan.

If you are sitting here in March or April and feeling impatient for vegetables, you can prepare the bed or containers and plant some cooler weather crops in early April, like lettuce.  These you can direct sow, which means you plant seeds directly into the ground outside.

I hope this is helpful and you are getting excited about your first vegetable garden!  

Market Monday

We had a great day at the farmers market in Pawtucket, RI today. Because we had an extra set of hands (thanks Aunt Sandy!) I was able to bring the big girl camera and document the trip.

Here are some shots:







Meal plan

Saturday: we went to a friends house and brought a salad with Russian kale, roasted beets, harukei turnips and greens, and a great maple syrup vinaigrette that Eric whipped up.
Sunday: spaghetti and meatballs Eric made a few weeks ago and froze.
Monday: salad with smoked Gouda, roasted beets, radish greens, lettuce, and whatever else is in the fridge
Tuesday: lamb chops with sautéed pea greens (from Allen Farms Organics
Wednesday: Eric is out so I will probably have some leftovers
Thursday: Swiss chard lettuce wraps with some DIY fried rice and possibly some black beans.
Friday: Chorizo from Pats Pasturedand potatoes. I’m planning to do this on the stovetop but may turn it into a casserole.

I also bought some giant sweet potatoes and a butternut squash to make baby food for Isaac. I roasted the sweet potatoes yesterday and I plan to steam the squash tonight.

All in, we spent about $100 and got just about everything we needed to make the above meals. We splurged the grass fed lamp chops and a lamb shank from Hopkins Southdowns in North Scituate, RI. More to come on the shank- we threw it in the freezer and may make it next weekend.

Most of the farms at the market, as well as many other local farms offer CSAs for fresh organic produce, meats, and even seafood. Now is the time to sign up for a CSA for the summer – these local farmers count on their members to help keep sustainable agriculture going here in Southeastern MA.

As you can see, the eating is good up in New England, even as winter rages on!