Gardening for Students

How to Save Cash and Eat Better​

The words “student” and “healthy eating” don’t often go hand in hand. Why? Well, when you’re on a strict budget, you want to eat as cheaply as possible. And who cares about a balanced diet when there’s pints to be had?!

Not to mention the more boring stuff, like paying for accommodation, repaying those dreaded loans, covering the costs of day-to-day living – all on whatever meagre salary your local cinema/bar/supermarket has you on.

So what happens? You spend most of your time in the “reduced” section at your local store. You only buy packaged, processed foods because well, they’re much cheaper. The only thing that’s close to “organic” in your life is the strange odour coming off your gym socks. Although that does have a mushroom-like quality to it.

The sad thing is, not only are you missing out on some pretty key nutritional value, you’re actually spending far more than you need to.

money growing out of ground
What do you mean you've never heard of a money plant?

How to eat better – and spend less

Students of the world, listen up! Because there’s a super simple way to dine like a prince on a pauper’s budget.

It’s called gardening. It’s not just for old retired folk or middle-class yuppies who need a break from the trading floor. It’s for everyone.

And here’s why you should take it up:

1. Get rid of processed stuff

Fat-burger
Mmm...tastes like early onset diabetes.

As a student, you want food that’s convenient. You don’t want to have to visit your local farmer’s market every day now, do you? (And you couldn’t afford to, anyway.) So you stock up on stir-in pasta sauces, Pot Noodles and frozen meals. They’re handy. They seem pretty cheap.

But they’re not, not really. Because all those single-use products add up. (You’re mainly paying for the shiny packaging.) Not to mention the fact that they’re not doing your health – or your skin – any good.

Plus, all those takeaways you buy when you’ve nothing in the cupboard and your hangover “h-anger” kicks in? They’re costing you a bloody fortune!

GZ Gold: If you grow your own veg, you’re always guaranteed a supply of fresh food. A base for cheap, tasty and healthy meals, whenever you need it.

2. Impress your flatmates – or your crush

Lady-Spaghetti
Spaghetti, the ultimate sex food. So I'm told.

If your idea of cooking for your flatmates involves plain pasta dribbled with olive oil, chances are you’re not impressing anyone. No matter how many bottles of cheap plonk they guzzle!

And what if you have that special someone round for a cosy night in? If you tell them you’ll cook for them and present a soggy frozen pizza instead… well, you’ll probably be cuddling up to your favourite childhood toy instead. Thanks, Snuggles.

It’s amazing the difference a few freshly grown herbs make. Even a sprinkle of basil leaves atop that otherwise plain pasta will generate an appreciative round of “oohs” and “aahs”. Or go all out for that special guy or gal and whip up a pasta sauce entirely from food you’ve grown yourself – fresh tomatoes, oregano, garlic, chilli, you name it. Play your cards right and it won’t be the only saucy part of your evening!

3. Relieve stress and anxiety

Put the books down and get out into the garden.

We’ve seen that growing your own veggies can help you save money and boost your rep. Plus, eating fresh food is obviously better for you than the processed stuff – so when you eat better, you get all the great health benefits that go with it.

But it’s not just this improved nutrition that causes you to feel good. The simple, mindful act of gardening can even improve your mental health. So if you’re feeling especially stressed out about upcoming exams, or having a low week after a particularly boozy weekend, getting your hands dirty might be just what you need. For more on gardening and mental health, check out this post.

Sounds great. Where do I start?!

Now that you’ve read up on the benefits of gardening as a college student – how it can help you save cash, eat more healthily and impress your mates – you might be ready to get started.

But the thing is, you don’t know where to start. Or how. Because until now, the only kind of weed you’ve known is ol’ Smoky Joe. And he’s your friend. You don’t want to get rid of him.

Fortunately, you don’t need to be a pro gardener to reap the above benefits. You don’t even need to have a garden. Nope, you can grow plenty of veggies right from your windowsill, from a plant pot or even from a cardboard box!

Check out these quick ‘n’ easy tips to get started.

1. Grow herbs on your windowsill

Herbs on windowsill
First the windowsill, next the world!

Start your gardening journey with some herbs. It’s how I got into it and, once I did, I was hooked! I realised how different freshly grown herbs tasted, even to the “fresh” stuff sold in supermarket packets. I didn’t have to throw out half of them when I’d accidentally leave them in the fridge to die, either.

Nowadays, I have a little army of herbs in pots on my windowsill (and a couple of ones outdoors, too). I just pluck what I need, when I need it. Which is incredibly satisfying.

Some of my favourite herbs to grow include:

  • Rosemary: Use it kick up the flavour of recipes in your college student handbook.
  • Mint: Super-easy to grow, use to create zingy mojitos… or in a tea to calm your upset stomach the next morning. 😉
  • Lavender: Drink it in a tea, pop it in a vase for a splash of colour, add it to a bath to help you relax or sprinkle a little on your pillow for a better night’s sleep.Lavender is known for its calming qualities, so it’s a particularly useful one to have in your arsenal.

2. Grow tomatoes in mini greenhouses

Tiny-Greenhouse
It's called a greenhouse, not a green mansion. Size doesn't matter.

No matter what climate you live in, pick up a pack of cherry tomato seeds, place them in a plastic little greenhouse (which you can buy in your local Home Depot, or the equivalent in your area) and watch the fruits of your labour burst forth. Or is it a vegetable? I still can’t decide.

Again, you don’t need much space for this. You can pop the greenhouse on your windowsill so your cherry tomatoes are always within arm’s reach for those homemade pasta sauces or egg-cellent omelettes. Yay!

3. Grow potatoes in a bag

potatoes in a mans hands
What a spud-tacular pair of hands.

Any student knows the importance of staples. No, not the kind you use to hastily bind your late assignment together. I’m talking about the staples in your diet.

Staples such as potatoes and rice are a great way to bulk up any meal – and they’re cheap, too! If you can grow your own, even better. It means you’ll never run into that “empty fridge panic” again, before reaching for the takeout menu to save you from sure starvation.

Here’s how to grow your own potatoes in a bag:

  • Buy your own “grow bag” – or use a burlap sack, a cardboard box or a strong paper bag.
  • Start by filling the bottom of your bag/box with a few inches of soil and compost mix.
  • Next, plant your seed potatoes, so that the soil just about covers the tops of the tubers.
  • Keep the soil/compost mix moist and top it up to cover those pretty green sprouts as they appear.
  • Unroll the bag as the soil levels rise. Once the soil has reached the top of the bag, allow the plants to flower and die back. (Don’t shed too many tears. It’s for the best.)
  • Finally, dump the contents to pick through the bag and find your potato-y gems. Yum.
GZ Gold: If you don’t fancy growing veggies, but are still interested in the idea of gardening as a hobby, there’s loads you can do! Start with a succulent, like a cactus, aloe or jade plant – which you can keep in a pot and which you only need to water once a week.

Final thoughts: Grow your own way!

You know that gardening can make you feel better, save cash… and even get some. (Ahem.)

And now you know 3 easy ways to become a gardening whizz – starting with herbs, right through to sprouting some root veggies. It’s a simple process, but an incredibly satisfying one.

So what’re you waiting for? Stop being a couch potato and grow your own spuds instead.

Then you can actually say you’ve learned something in college, after all.