[–] 8767276? 0 points 1 points (+1|-0) ago 

A major advantage, however, is after some initial setup costs (~ $100 for dirt, seeds, and pots) everything I do will be more or less free.

This is where I warn anyone who plans on investing 100 bucks on gardening equipment, pots, soil, and seeds, especially with a third floor balcony space like the author has, that it is unlikely to grow 100 dollars worth of produce with only a few plants in a small area. Your break even time is years. It can be done frugally, but there are some recommendations I would make to help an individual lower his or her initial investment:

  1. Vermiculture/Soil -- red worms are cheap and can be purchased locally and online. Begin a Vermiculture Compost setup in a large plastic bin, indoors, months before you decide to grow veggies. Collect the worm castings (aka worm poop) as compost/potting soil and only plant seeds when you have enough dirt for a new plant. Also, "caring" for the worms will prepare you time-wise for caring for your plants. If you're too lazy/forgetful to care for your worms, the plants you spent $$ on will also die and prove to be a waste of the investment.

I've lived in apartment buildings where previous tenants abandoned their potted plants. 1 bag of compost (if you insist on buying soil) can revitalize this old dry dirt, or whatever you manage to scrounge up from outside. Be creative with your dirt sources.

  1. Containers -- There's almost always free or cheap gardening stuff on Craigslist. "Upcycling" food cans as planters, as mentioned by the author, looks ugly. They rust. In an apartment complex you need your neighbors to like the aesthetics of your patio garden or else they'll most likely complain. Drainage is also an issue if you live above another patio.

  2. Seeds -- If you can only fit 5-10 plants on your balcony, buying seeds isn't that great of an investment. Except maybe for leaf lettuces and cilantro. They come in packets of 25-100 generally. Seeds are only viable for a few years, and each year their germination rate gets lower. If you can only fit 2 tomato plants on your patio, it's silly to buy a pack of 50 seeds for 2.99. Might as well cut out the hassle of germinating them yourself, and buy a 1.99 tomato seedling from the local garden center. Or even better, get them for free.

To do it frugally I would suggest doing it slowly. Don't rush in with a large initial investment. Join a local gardening group through Facebook if you're still subscribed, or through a local CSA, get seeds from a seed swap, compost from local farmers, etc. and start with easy plants that you eat a lot of.

Lettuce is easy to grow, overpriced in grocery stores, and often the most heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Herbs like cilantro, basil, and chives are also easy to grow and overpriced in the store.

Be realistic with your space, and only grow things you spend money on already. If you only buy 1 or 2 peppers a year, don't grow bell peppers. You won't eat more of something just because it's around.

I used to be a "poor" college kid who moved almost every year to a new apartment building, and bringing my gardening habit with me each time was frustrating and a money sink. For me it was a labor of love, since I will grow plants just for the sake of growing them, but if you're gardening to be frugal, there are things you can do to lower your costs.