Growing your own food has the potential to reduce your grocery bill, but it’s easy to get carried away with all the ‘stuff’ associated with it and end up spending a fortune! If you’re on a budget, it’s important to calculate what you can afford to spend, prioritize what you need, then work out the most cost-effective way to obtain them.
Not everything needs to be bought at once, or bought new. For instance, I gardened for years without a greenhouse, relying instead on a home-made cold frame, row cover tunnels, plastic bottles and my windowsills to protect my plants – it is possible!
Gardening Tools for Thrifty Gardeners
I’ve found that cheap new gardening tools are rarely tough enough to withstand the rigors of a working garden. Fortunately, good quality second-hand tools can often be picked up for very little at garage sales and in junk shops, or through online second-hand and auction sites.
Never turn down an offer of free tools from friends or relatives who have decided that gardening is not for them! Of all my tools, my favourite is a wooden-handled hoe which dates from 1955 and was given to me for nothing. The blade may now be worn but the tool is tough and age, use and time have given the wooden handle that lovely weather-worn tactility you just can’t get with brand new tools.
Most gardening work can be carried out with just hand tools. A basic stock of tools is essential, but for those items that are only needed occasionally but are pricey to buy, such as powered machinery, why not join or start a tool share co-operative?
Planting on a Budget
Good planning for what you’ll grow is key to avoiding overspending. You won’t regret taking a little time to work out how many plants you have space for (it would be remiss of me not to mention that our Garden Planner can help with this!). Consider focussing on growing high-yielding crops such as zucchini, or crops that are expensive to buy in the shops such as soft fruits, to ensure maximum bang for your buck.
Growing from seed does take more time and care than buying pre-grown plug plants, but it is much less expensive. When buying from seed, compare suppliers – some will offer the same variety at a lower price than a competitor, while the number of seeds in a packet may be a factor in the price. It could make a difference to you if there are 10 tomato seeds in a packet or 50, but unless you’re growing for market the difference between 300 and 500 parsnip seeds may be irrelevant, especially as parsnip seed only normally remains viable for a year. It’s also worth mentioning that F1-hybrid varieties, while often reliable producers, are usually more expensive to buy than their open-pollinated alternatives.
Why not attend a seed swap to try new varieties for free? Or join a gardening club? They may be able to arrange discounted bulk seed orders which can more than offset the membership fee. For the more experienced gardener, saving your own seed offers another smart way to reduce your seed bill.
It some cases it makes sense to buy plants rather than seeds – fruit trees and bushes, for instance. You can make savings by buying younger, smaller plants that will establish just as well if not better than older plants. Avoid pre-trained forms such as fans and espaliers, as the labor involved in pruning them to shape means they cost extra.
Divide or take cuttings from existing plants to increase your stock – for example, chives are easily divided, and some fruits such as blackcurrants and many herbs can be propagated from cuttings.
Low-cost Growing Equipment
There’s no denying that possessing DIY skills can stretch your gardening budget further. I can’t lay claim to being very handy, but fortunately my partner is and between us we’ve built cold frames, put up fences, assembled greenhouses and sheds, and more, for minimal cost.
You can make your own row cover tunnels quite cheaply, and recycling and repurposing newspapers, toilet paper tubes, egg cartons and plastic juice bottles can all help to keep costs down.
Raised beds may be all the rage, but they are expensive. Unless you have very specific growing conditions that require raised beds, grow in narrow, flat beds instead. It’s just as easy and by keeping the beds narrow you won’t need to step onto them and compact the soil.
Finally, fertilizer can be costly, so why not make your own? Rich, homemade compost is the best slow-release fertilizer your garden could ever desire, and homemade comfrey or nettle liquid feeds need cost you nothing.
Don’t forget that here at GrowVeg we produce free new gardening articles and videos every week to help you to get the most from your garden. What tips do you have for keeping your gardening costs down?