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!

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!

Summer in the Garden- December to do List

Summer in the Garden- December to do List

Sow this month: Radishes, Beetroot, Carrot, Spring Onion, Corn, Zucchini, Cucumber, Lettuce, Silverbeet

Plant from Seedlings: Chillis, Capsicum, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Cucumbers

We really are on the way to a record-breaking hot summer! Water restrictions in Wellington have already been implemented and I don’t know the last time I saw a rain icon on my weather report.

You may need to reduce your watering as per request from the local council, but unfortunately, your plants don’t take this request lightly! They need water, especially when it is this hot so it is your job to do all that you can do give it to them in the best, most efficient way possible that is within the water-use rules.

Keeping your soil moist

Keep that mulch piled on! This will help keep the soil damp for the days you can’t water.

You can also add in Debco Saturaid which is a natural soil wetter. It’s made from coconut fibre and helps to draw the water down to the plant’s roots. It will help avoid runoff too which is crucial in hard, dry clay soils where so much water can be wasted!

For a thirsty plant, dig a small container of some sort (that has holes in the bottom), into the soil next to the plant’s roots. Now when you water, the water will go straight to the plant’s roots and avoids water wastage. This also helps plants like tomatoes and zucchini that don’t like their leaves getting wet, as this can spread diseases. 

Vegetables Care

Certain things will be ready to harvest now.  If you have some beans, cucumbers, tomatoes or zucchini ready, pick them to encourage the plant to produce more flowers.

Take extra care of your tomatoes. Pinch off the laterals to ensure good airflow and encourage the plant to produce more flowers instead of leaf. Keep a close eye on them to watch for any diseases or pests.

Keep on sowing lettuce, radish, carrots, beets, and spring onion your summer salads. Keep in mind that if you are direct sowing, you have to keep the seeds moist or they won’t germinate. Covering the seeds with a sheet of damp newspaper or a thin layer of mulch can help. Make sure that if you are using newspaper, you remove it once the seedlings emerge from the soil.

Liquid Feed

Keep up the liquid feeding, about every two weeks to encourage healthy growth. Tomato liquid feed (Homemade or store-bought)  is suitable for all plants where you are harvesting the fruit, not the leaves.  A seaweed fertiliser or a weedy tea is a great general liquid feed suitable for all vegetables and fruit. A manure based liquid feed is good for all your leafy greens.

Make them all here

Flowers

Remove the dead heads from your spring flowers so they put their energy into the next growth spurt. Sow annual flowers in any bare spaces you have. Keep attracting those beneficial bees and bugs to create a healthy ecosystem in your garden.

Compost

It’s hot, so your compost will be breaking down faster than usual. Keep topping it up with layers of greens and browns (nitrogen and carbon) and add the odd small stick to help with aeration.

If your compost is full, start a new pile. Cover the old pile with a burlap sack or tarpaulin and let it sit and break down over summer and autumn, ready to be added to your garden beds next winter.

Enjoy yourself

This gorgeous but scorching weather means gardening in the middle of the day is impossible! So, enjoy slow relaxing evenings with a beer in hand, where it’s perfectly acceptable to garden until 9 pm!

Happy Gardening

Deep Mulching- The Fuss Free Gardening Style

Deep Mulching- The Fuss Free Gardening Style

There are many ways to have a vegetable garden as well as many gardening styles. If you have raised beds for example, you could use the square foot method, a potager style garden, a keyhole garden, just to name a few.

I love browsing Pinterest and looking at pristine, organised raised beds, but when it comes down to it my gardening style is the complete opposite. For my tiny section, I have three main objectives: a high yield, good use of space and no weeding. To accomplish these goals I use a deep mulching method.

Deep Mulching 

This method is based on Ruth Stout’s ‘No Work’ gardening technique. The idea is simple: Keep a constant, thick layer of mulch around your vegetables all year round. This simple but effective technique means there is no need for weeding, tilling, digging or even composting (Though I do still compost, sorry Ruth!) It retains moisture in summer, keeps plants warm in winter and improves your soil fertility over time.

When your plants are finished, don’t pull them out. Simply chop them down and cover with mulch. Weeds poking out? Cover with mulch. You start with an initial 20cm layer of mulch, which will quickly settle down to about 5cm after rain, and just keep on adding mulch as needed.

My own gardening area is pretty small so I like to use all the space. This method lets me use the whole ground as one big garden bed with no set borders. Perfect for my hectic gardening style.

What Mulch to use?

You can use any vegetable matter as mulch. Chop down plants that are finished and use as mulch. I initially used a mixture of barley straw, pea straw and hay as my thick starting layer. Now I pile on grass clippings and leaves too. This thick layer will stop weeds as they won’t be able to reach the light.

But hay has grass seed!

Yes, yes it does. The key point here is to keep the layer of mulch thick enough. If you only have a light covering then the grass seeds can touch the soil and establish in there. If your mulch cover is super thick, the grass seed will germinate but it won’t be growing in anything. Then you can simple cover with more mulch or stick in a pitchfork and flip the mulch over. Or, use straw. It has considerably less seed but it is more expensive.

Once you start this method, you have to keep going. It’s all about the continuous cycle of mulch upon mulch. For me, mulching all year round still beats constant weeding. Garden clean up each season is also considerably easier as instead of raking up dead and decaying plants, you just chuck another mulch layer on top.

And under that mulch…

Is a glorious world or microorganism and worm activity. Over the years your ground will get more and more rich and fertile as these layers continue to break down.

To get initially started, check out how to make a ‘No-Dig Garden bed‘, here. This is a great starting point as it also requires no digging or disturbing of the soil structure and microorganisms underneath.

This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea I’m sure, but it’s effective and time savvy. The mulching cuts down weeding, saves A LOT of water in summer, keeps plants warm in winter and improves soil fertility, ten fold.

What do you think, what’s your gardening style?

Happy Gardening!

 

Spring in the Garden- October to do list

Spring in the Garden- October to do list

It’s nearly Labour weekend when most of New Zealand will go out and plant the majority of their seedlings. The chance of a late frost will have passed and the weather will be warming up. For cooler areas down South, waiting a little longer to plant can be a good idea.

Seeds to sow: broccoli, cauliflower, beetroot, carrot, lettuce, spinach.
Seeds to sow after Labour weekend: Beans, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplants, pumpkins, melons, tomatoes, corn

Plant from punnets after Labour weekend: Eggplant, zucchini, capsicum, cucumber, chilli, tomatoes

Potatoes

Potatoes planted in the last two months will be showing their big leafy tops and they’ll need soil or mulch mounded around them. This will keep their long stalks from breaking in the wind and will stop the sun from shining through and turning your potatoes green.

Prepare beds for heavy feeders

Corn and pumpkin are two prime examples of heavy feeders. They need extra compost and manure in their beds to get them to grow big and tasty. You can use this month to prep those beds extra well, before direct sowing the seeds at the end of the month.

Work in things like well-rotted manure or sheep pellets, chopped up, washed seaweed, compost and worm castings. Cover the bed with mulch and let the worms and microbes have a feast until it’s time for planting.

Bees

As the weather is warming up, did you notice your broad beans are finally carrying little beans? We have the bees to thank for that.

We are heading to the months where pollination is vital for our fresh produce. Let’s get those bees in our garden by planting flowers wherever we can! Borage, lavender, poppies, lupins, sunflowers… these are all flowers bees love.

Feed your berries

Homegrown berries are hard to beat.  You can feed your blueberries, boysenberries, raspberries, gooseberries and strawberries with Strawberry Food to ensure a bumper crop. Keep the soil for the berries consistently moist but don’t over water.

Fill your gaps (and your plate)

Direct sow baby carrots, lettuce and radishes anywhere you have gaps. They’ll grow quickly and you can have fresh salads while you wait for your main summer crops to grow.

Slugs and snails

Keep on top of slugs and snails before they demolish your seedlings! You can use bait or a trap, like this beer trap. Fill it with beer and the slugs and snails will climb in and drown.

Fashion a frame

If you’re planting climbing beans, pumpkins, squash and cucumbers this year, a climbing frame may be what you need to save on space.

Photo credit: Pinterest

Pinterest is full of fantastic ideas on what you could use. It can made from stakes and string, an old spring bed base, a clothes horse… the possibilities are endless!

Photo credit: Pinterest

Happy gardening!

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