Potatoes grow really well here in our alkaline soil. I try to plant enough to last us for a year with most of them being processed and in the freezer. Last year I planted too many of them (plus we didn't eat as many through the winter) so I didn't buy as many seed potatoes this year. Now with the plants up and blooming, I know that I could have gotten by without buying any at all.
Last March, I took my potato pieces and started laying them out. I do no-till gardening and Ruth Stout's method of mulch, mulch, mulch, so it was just a matter of moving some garden litter and placing them on top of the soil, then a 3" covering of straw. I did have to go retrieve a few pieces from Frank, our young barn cat. He was having a blast playing soccer with them. I wasn't sure if I got them all, so I expected a potato plant here and there where it wasn't supposed to be.
Time passed and potato plants were coming up. I added more straw and put some around the few that came up elsewhere in the garden (Frank's potatoes). More time passed and there were more potato plants showing up in two other areas. I was beginning to think that Frank was a better gardener than I first thought. More time, and more potato plants springing up.
After there were enough 'volunteers' that showed up, I could see the pattern from last years potato patch. All I had done was leave all the dinky potates in the ground when I harvested them last year. I had a separate area that had potatoes for a friend, but not all of them got harvested. Last year I had a massive wild grass boom and not nearly enough straw to mulch. Lots of plants there.
So now it's June and I have plants that are in all stages of development, including 4 new arrivals in the past few days. I'm guessing they were delayed because of the thick mulch around the other plants. Anyway, I have potatoes growing with my beets and green beans. I have potatoes everywhere. And I still have potatoes in the freezer from last year.
I like to take advantage of volunteers. I will have plenty to share with friends and people who could use a bit of free chow. I also plan on 'planting' all the dinky potatoes again when I harvest this batch - and maybe not buy any seed potatoes at all next year. But I'll put them all in one area. Enough talk of potatoes.
Usually I have a lot of volunteer tomato plants, too. I keep them and get 'free' tomatoes. They may be later in setting on tomatoes, but I don't care. You can also take cuttings from your purchased tomato plants and easily root them for more tomato plants. I know someone who would keep cuttings alive indoors all winter, just in water, then plant them outside when it got warm enough.
I love the little multiplier onions, too. A friend gave me some that I planted. I should have some to eat this year but I'll save more of them for planting next year. Then next year, I'll have even more.
Gardening doesn't have to be expensive. There's really no need to buy expensive raised garden kits, or the upside down tomato do hicky. You can make your own and still have something attractive. It's just a matter of using your available resources. It's also about learning tips and techiniques of what works in your space.
It also doesn't have to be time consuming. I mulch like crazy so I don't have to till, pull weeds or water very often. If you don't have access to free straw, grass clippings are great mulch (and put lots of nitrogen into the soil, but don't use grass that puts out runners, like Bermuda, etc). Cut weeds are good too, as long as they aren't seeding. Got newspapers, cardboard or leaves? They help, too. Try doing a search for 'no till gardening', 'Ruth Stout gardening' and 'lazy gardening'.
Here are some great places to get started:
http://www.frugalgardening.com/ - Lots of pages to read here. Cheap is good, but free is better.
http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/2004-02-01/Ruth-Stouts-System.aspx - Ruth Stout, what a hoot of an ol' gal.
http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art3018.asp - This has a lot of tips, too.