As the days and nights become cooler, we've begun preparing our garden for fall. The summer crops are in, our late-summer crops are plentiful, and we've begun planning for next year's planting.

I've always considered gardening a great hobby. It's fairly frugal I rarely spend more than $25 for a year's worth of seeds and plants. How else can you stretch $25 into an entire summer of entertainment? I find nothing more rewarding than digging in the dirt, weeding, and harvesting the food that we've grown.

But this year, my first year as the Frugal Foodie, was different. I wanted to see if I could save a worthwhile amount of money on our grocery bill, and I encouraged readers to plant their own garden in an effort to trim costs.

So how much money did we save by having a garden this year?

Gardening is an investment. You plant seeds or seedlings in the ground and hope that the weather cooperates. You can have a great year your "investment" returns itself in a bountiful harvest or you can lose an entire crop to blight or drought. We had the following "investments" this year: Corn, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, green peppers, hot peppers, green beans, peas, loose-leaf lettuce, potatoes and spaghetti squash.

Our former neighbors raised too many tomato and pepper plants and shared their surplus with us. Thanks to their generosity, we were able to fill our garden with lots of tomatoes and peppers at no cost. We also used last year's leftover green bean seeds. These seeds grew just fine until the rabbits started nibbling on the leaves. All together, we spent less than $10 to plant a 30-foot by 40-foot garden.

Did we get our "money's worth" out of the garden this year? Absolutely! We're continuing to bring dozens of tomatoes into the house each week. These tomatoes are being canned and made into the world's best tomato-basil soup. (Yes, I'm a bit biased.) Green and hot peppers get chopped and frozen to be used in stir-fries, salads and stews this fall and winter. We have bags of sweet corn to enjoy on the grill this fall.

As for our other investments … let's just say it was a tough year to grow spring vegetables. The rabbits ate our green beans and lettuce. We got five potatoes this year from five potato plants. Our pea plants were hit with an early summer heat wave. We'll rely on the grocery store for canned beans and peas this winter.

I had a good laugh with my husband when we tried to determine the value of our harvest this year.

"OK, we brought in two dozen ears of corn and a big bowl of tomatoes this week. How much would this cost at the grocery store?" I stared at him for a moment, and then realized that I didn't know. We have never bought tomatoes in a grocery store! I've bought corn before, but we've been growing most of our garden staples in the backyard since we bought our house.

Without weighing vegetables, it's hard to quantify our harvest this year. I'd estimate that we've brought in about 40 pounds of tomatoes ($80 in the sales flyers), the equivalent of 20 bell peppers (about $20), four dozen ears of corn ($8), and a dozen large spaghetti squash ($24). (The rest of our harvest isn't worth calculating.)

That's about $130 in vegetables that we won't have to buy over the fall and winter. This wasn't as much of a savings as I was expecting, but still a great reward for a hobby that we enjoy.

Judging from the fact that our freezer, pantry, and bellies are full, it's been a successful summer all for a $10 investment.