A Beginners Guide to Growing Vegetables on a Budget

A Beginners Guide to Growing Vegetables on a Budget

‘Grow your own vegetables to save money.’

This is a common statement made and it does make sense. Growing your own cauliflowers is surely cheaper than buying them for $5.99 each at the supermarket. If you plan and do it correctly, home growing your produce is a definite money saver.

But how do you get started without having to first invest lots of $$ in setting up? Don’t worry, it is totally doable. With a little planning, initiative, and D.I.Y you can set up your own thriving vegetable plot.

Seed Starting 

Let’s start here. Starting your own vegetables from seed is a key part of saving money in the garden. It may seem cheap to buy a $1 or $2 punnet of 6 seedlings at the garden centre but trust me, it’s not. That works out to be around 20cents per seed. If you consider the fact that one tomato can produce about 40 seeds, it does seem a bit steep to pay 20 cents per seed.

What you are really paying for is the time it took for that little seedling to grow. This is where a little pre-planning on your part will pay off greatly.

Obtaining Seeds

So now that we have decided to sow our own seeds, where should we source them? You can buy seeds from garden centres and supermarkets but since the aim is to garden on a budget, let’s not do this. Let’s try these options instead:

  1. Asking around: Join a gardening group and ask if anyone has spare seeds. Social media is great for this. There are bound to be local gardening groups in your area on Facebook. Ask if anyone has any spare seeds to gift and you can pay it forward sometime in the future. I guarantee you, someone will give you some.
  2. Plant supermarket seeds: You can absolutely plant seeds from vegetables bought at the supermarket. You can’t, however, be sure that the variety that grows will be the same as the variety the seed came from. This is because the vegetables and fruits at supermarkets are usually hybrid varieties. (Read more about that here.)

    It’s also a possibility that the fruits and vegetables have been treated in such a way that the seeds won’t germinate. You can eliminate that potential problem by buying organic produce. Yes, you are initially spending some money, but if you were going to buy the pumpkin to eat for dinner anyway then it’s just a bonus to keep the seeds.

    Let some of your organic garlic, potatoes, kumara and yams sprout and plant away. You will hear that garden centre seed potatoes, seed garlic and seed yams are more disease resistant and hardier but I personally have also had great luck with planting my own organic supermarket-bought sprouted produce.

    Check out farmers markets too, especially for vendors selling heirloom produce. That way you can be sure that what you grow will be identical to the parent plant.

Seed Raising Mix

The seed raising mix found at garden centres is a perfectly balanced mix for growing seedlings in. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot make your own.

Don’t just go and dig up some garden soil though, this is too heavy and compacted for your seedlings to grow in and can cause dampening off and rotting. You can make a perfectly good seed raising mixture with homemade compost, leaf mould and sand.

Leaf mould is 100% dead leaves that have broken down. I did a post on making a leaf mould cage last year (check it out here). It does take a year to become leaf mould but don’t panic if you haven’t set up a leaf mould cage! You don’t need a huge amount to make a container of seedling mix. Look around in parks and walkways for a pile of fallen leaves. Dig under that and find the crumbling dark brown magic that will already be forming. 

As for compost, that’s another one to home make. Anyone can (and I believe, everyone should) make some sort of compost/bin/heap/pile to reduce waste. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Layers of green plant waste alternated with layers of brown (dead) plant waste. Compost can be achieved in a couple of months, even if all of it hasn’t broken down yet, dig under the pile and get the stuff closest to the ground.

If you haven’t gotten round to making a compost pile yet, ask around. Someone will surely give you a bucket of theirs.

Lastly sand. This is added to provide better drainage for the mix. This seed raising mix is made of 40% compost. 40% leaf mould and 20% sand.

Seed raising containers

Loads of things can be used for these. Empty yoghurt pottles, toilet paper rolls, ice cream containers, egg cartons. As long as water can drain out from the bottom it’ll work.

So now you have your seeds, seed raising mix and seed containers it’s time to plant. Here is my guide to starting seedlings from seed.

Building a vege garden

Now that your seedlings are growing, where will you plant them once they are ready for transplanting?

A cost-free, fuss-free no dig garden bed is a great option.

Choose a sunny spot in your garden and pile on layers of newspaper, homemade compost and free mulch (such as leaves, hay, straw etc). This is a perfect garden bed for your seedlings without the need to spend any money or the back-breaking work of digging and building a raised bed. For more details and instructions check out this post on no-dig garden beds.

Fertilising and feeding

Seedlings? Check. Garden bed? Check.

To keep your garden thriving, I have compiled a list of 5 home-made liquid fertilisers you can easily D.I.Y to nourish your plants.

Seed Saving

Once your vegetables have come to the end of their life, if you planted any heirloom or heritage varieties you can now save their seed for next year. Save the strongest and biggest plant of each variety and either let it go to seed (if it’s brassica or a leek for example) or save the seed from the largest ‘fruit’ or stalk of a plant (A pumpkin or an ear of corn for example.)

So now…

So now we have come full circle without spending much, if any, money.

The key is to use and reuse as much as you can of nature’s ‘waste.’ All leaves, all vegetable scraps, all harvested plants are vital for a healthy and thriving eco-system in your garden. Throw in a handful of free wildflower and sunflower seeds for the bees and you’re all set!

If you are a beginner gardener, growing only a select few vegetables and learning to grow them well is a great and easy starting point.

Do you have any budget friendly gardening tips to add? Leave them in the comments below!

Happy gardening!

Stone Fruit Cobbler

Stone Fruit Cobbler

It’s that time of year where trees are laden and produce markets are bursting with freshly picked stone fruits.

This is the time my youngest son looks forward to the most. He waits for three quarters of the year, peachless and patient (I’m not a fan of buying fruit shipped from overseas, so we wait till it’s available locally.) Then when summer hits we load up on fruit.

And I mean, load up! We eat all we can/want fresh, then the rest I preserve or bake with. Preserving and baking is a great way to use up the fruit that’s getting a little bruised and today’s recipe is a perfect example.

A cobbler is essentially a shortcake on top of cooked fruit. Peach cobbler is a common variety but I think, why stop at peaches when we can combine ALL the stone fruit. 

Stone fruit of your choice (in this case, white cherries, nectarines and peaches) are combined with a lemon, vanilla and cinnamon filling. Topped with a buttery shortcake lid, this is seriously delicious.

You need about a kilo and a half of fruit, whether that’s peaches, apricots, plums, or whatever you think of. A bruised fruit you may normally put in the compost is perfect for this. This recipe is not about looks and all about flavour.

Stone Fruit Cobbler

Fruit layer
1.5 kg stone fruit of your choice (cherries, peaches, plums, nectarines, plucots, apricots…etc)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour
1 tsp vanilla extract
juice and zest of 1 small lemon
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

Shortcake topping

2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
130g cold butter, chopped into small cubes or grated
1/2 cup cold milk

1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon milk for the egg wash

Method

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Pit and chop your fruit. I like to chop mine into about 2cm chunks. If using cherries you can leave these whole (but pitted.)

In a pie dish, combine all the fruit layer ingredients and mix them together. Set aside and start on the topping.

In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and stir together. Add the cubed or grated cold butter and work it into the flour with your fingers until it resembles large breadcrumbs. Add the milk and stir to combine until it forms a soft dough.

Tear off chunks of this dough and flatten them a bit, then place on top of the fruit fillings. Looks are not important, just space them around until about 90% of the filling is covered. Some gaps are good. Using a pastry brush, brush on some of the eggwash.

Loosely cover the dish with tinfoil and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the tin foil and continue baking for another 25 minutes until the top is a deep golden brown. Let it cool for 10 minutes, then serve it warm with yoghurt, ice cream or cream.

Enjoy!

Summer in the Garden- January to do List

Summer in the Garden- January to do List

Happy new year!

I hope last year was a good one for you and that the new year brings lots of great things. I’ve personally had a fantastic 2017 and am so grateful to all my readers and your support over the last year. Thank you. ❤️

To sow this month: carrots, beetroot, fennel, cucumbers, lettuce, early turnips, corn, silverbeet, zucchini, beans

To plant from punnets: tomatoes, eggplant, chilis, lettuces, fennel 

This month you will be kept busy with a lot of harvesting. Beans, zucchinis, cucumbers, chilis and tomatoes will be appearing quickly and it is a good idea to harvest them as you see them to let the plant put energy into producing more new flowers and more produce.

Sow in the gaps

As you are harvesting, don’t forget to resow in the empty spaces! It can be easy to get caught up in picking produce now and not thinking about the future months. I direct sow lettuce, zucchini, beans and radishes constantly to ensure a continuous amount of produce. In the cooler areas, down south, you can start sowing early varieties of turnips now too. Baby turnips don’t take long to grow and you’ll have something new for your salads!

Prepare beds for leeks and brassicas

Next month is when I will start sowing my brassicas (Broccoli, Cauliflowers, Brussel sprouts, Swedes…etc) and leeks to give them a good start before it gets colder. I use this month to prepare the spaces where they will go. Brassicas especially are heavy feeders so pile on a good amount of compost and aged manure.

Remember crop rotation. If in the previous season you had planted brassicas in a certain place, don’t plant them there again the following season. This will deplete the soil of nutrients and if there are brassica diseases present, they will infect the next crop too.

Check for bugs and diseases

The tomato/potato psyllid is out now and can wreak havoc on your toms and spuds! Know what to check for if you think you may have this bug. Kath Irvine from the Edible Backyard has a great article here.

Potato psyllid damage

Blight, particularly on tomatoes is another problem. Telltale signs are black spots and rings on the leaves, fruit may start to rot and the leaves turn yellow and drop off. Once your plants have blight you should destroy the plants (not compost as the fungal spores can survive) and make sure not to plant the same plant there again for a few years. Blossom end rot is a problem often confused with blight. The bottom end of the fruit (where the blossom is) rots. This usually caused by erratic watering or sometimes a too acidic soil. Unlike blight, this isn’t a plant disease.

You can avoid blight by keeping your tomatoes well staked and trimmed to allow better air circulation. A spray of 1 tsp baking soda per litre of water is effective too, at the first sign of blight or as a precautionary measure. This spray also works well for powdery mildew, another fungal disease that can affect many plants but is common on squash and pumpkin plants. Signs of this are a white powdery looking dusting on top of the leaves.

Net your fruit

Stone fruits, apples and pears are ready or very close to being ready and the birds are just waiting patiently to attack. Net your trees and berry bushes now to avoid your trees being stripped bare. It is amazing how fast birds can work. On Facebook, I read a post a lady wrote about someone stealing all her cherries from the tree one day. Turns out it wasn’t a sticky-handed thief, just hungry birds. Not one cherry was left!

Liquid fertilise

Keep on top of liquid feeding! A bi-weekly or weekly dose of a good liquid fertiliser will have your vegetables thanking you. Try some homemade ones here.

Preserve your excess

Jams, chutneys, dehydrating, freezing… After you have had your share of fresh, given away to friends and families, preserve your leftovers so you have some for the winter! My larder is filling up quickly with different fruits I have collected. To preserve mine I use this simple bottling method here.

What’s your favourite thing to do with your fruit gluts?

Happy gardening!

New (nearly) year means new adventures!

New (nearly) year means new adventures!

Hey everyone,

I hope you’re all having magical holidays!

Today’s post is a super quick one to let you guys know about my newest venture: The world of YouTube.

Home Grown Happiness, the blog is mainly gardening advice and tips, with the odd recipe or craft idea thrown in. My YouTube channel, on the other hand, is going to have a more personal take. A peek into my life, garden and adventures with my two little guys.

There’s only a little bit on there at the moment and I’m definitely still learning about how to edit videos and not sound like an idiot on camera. 🙈

In the meantime, thanks for all your support!

Happy gardening,

Elien x

Christmas in a Jar: Hot Chocolate Three Ways

Christmas in a Jar: Hot Chocolate Three Ways

Time for another Christmas in a Jar post! This one is a goodie (not just because it has mini marshmallows…)

This gift in a jar is for the sweet tooth in the family. It’s homemade hot chocolate powder and mini marshmallows, so all you have to do is add hot milk. Presented in a recycled jar and finished with some festive ribbon. Perfection! You can attach a little label to it too to show the ingredients.

I have three hot chocolate varieties to choose from so you can customise them to suit your friends and family’s tastes: White Chocolate Hot Chocolate, Gingerbread Hot Chocolate and Mexican Spiced Hot Chocolate.

Gingerbread Hot Chocolate 

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups milk powder
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cornflour
a pinch of salt
1 1/s tsp ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp  ground nutmeg

Sieve all ingredients together and pour into a jar, alongside some mini marshmallows.

To Serve: Add 2-3 heaped tablespoons to one cup of milk. Heat the milk and hand whisk it while heating to break up any lumps. Take off the heat when it is just starting to simmer. 

White Chocolate Hot Chocolate

Ingredients

150 grams white chocolate, finely grated
1 cup milk powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp cornflour

Sieve all ingredients together and pour into a jar, alongside some mini marshmallows.

To Serve: Add 2-3 heaped tablespoons to one cup of milk. Heat the milk and hand whisk it while heating to break up any lumps. Take off the heat when it is just starting to simmer. 

Mexican Spiced Hot Chocolate

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups milk powder
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cornflour
a pinch of salt
1 1/s tsp ground chilli
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Sieve all ingredients together and pour into a jar, alongside some mini marshmallows.

To Serve: Add 2-3 heaped tablespoons to one cup of milk. Heat the milk and hand whisk it while heating to break up any lumps. Take off the heat when it is just starting to simmer. 

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