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!

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