Getting started growing your own fresh, organic fruits and vegetables can be costly – but it doesn’t have to be. After all the best things in life are free, right?! So here are some fabulously frugal tips to help you travel the path towards self-sufficiency...
Inexpensive Containers and Raised Beds
The first thing to consider is where to grow, and what to grow in. Of course, the cheapest solution is to start right in the soil – no special kit needed!
If you’d prefer to grow in raised beds, the wood used to make them can get pricey. But there are wallet-friendly alternatives. Save offcuts of lumber from other projects, or you could look on sites like Gumtree, Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for wood going free or for mere pennies.
The raised beds below are made from pallet collars. They cost less than a tenner
delivered to my door and because they have these hinged corners, setting them up involved nothing more than digging out the ground to get the sides level, then plonking the frame into place. So, so simple and yet they’ve instantly transformed this boring patch of lawn into a productive haven! If you’d like to try this yourself just check that the pallet collars have been heat treated – indicated by the letter HT on the pallet stamp - and not chemically treated.
If you don’t have ground space to spare there are plenty of cash-light container options. Anything capable of holding potting mix can be pressed into service. Reuse old household items or repurpose defunct junk into eye-catching displays brimming with produce such as herbs. Your containers must allow excess moisture to escape, so drill holes, cut slits – whatever’s necessary to let water drain out from the bottom.
Potting Mix for Pennies
Filling raised beds and containers can get expensive but remember you needn’t fill the entire volume with premium potting mix! Composted manure is a fantastic and often free resource – if you’re willing to go and collect it. Ask around or check local adverts and websites for potential sources – and check there’s no risk of weedkiller contamination arising from the pasture the animals fed on.
I began filling my raised beds with little more than prunings, old leaves and kitchen scraps – any organic matter to get the beds part-filled. You can do exactly the same with larger pots, stuffing in dead plant matter and any other compostable ingredients so bought-in bags of potting mix go further.
Raised beds need quite a bit of material to get them filled, but with a head start of chunky organic matter this single bulk bag of compost in the end stretched to fill five of my pallet collar raised beds.
Okay, so you’ve got your growing areas prepped. Next up are the seeds you’ll need to grow your crops.
Discount or dollar stores are a great place to begin your search. Seed collections often work out considerably cheaper than buying individual packets and, especially in spring, you’ll often find seeds given away for free with gardening magazines – ask around to see if any friends or family have extras they don’t want.
Seed exchanges or swaps are a great place to seek out seeds for very little, or why not check out the seeds inside store-bought fruits such as tomatoes, peppers and melons. Fruits like these, full of colour and aroma, are physiologically mature, which means the seeds inside them should successfully germinate. Simply pick them out, dry them off and sow!
Choose Easy to Grow Crops
Get more from your new vegetable garden by choosing crops that are both high-yielding and easy to grow. Leafy veggies like kale and chard tick the box, as do beans, salads and squashes. Herbs command a princely sum in the stores, yet they take up minimal space, so growing them’s a no-brainer. Select the ‘Easy To Grow’ option in our Garden Planner for plenty more suggestions.
The Garden Planner can also help you plan succession crops to follow on from earlier crops, so you can keep growing for as much of the year as possible and tame your grocery bill. Just double-click each crop to specify its in-ground dates, then view your plan month-by-month to see where and when gaps appear. Alerted to opportunities for further harvests, you can now select and drop into place crops suitable for sowing or planting that month or, if it’s later in the growing season, browse the options for autumn planting.
Finally, don’t forget to include a few flowers into the mix. They’ll not only attract pollinating insects, but also pest predators such as hoverflies, saving you money on harmful sprays and the frustration of failed harvests. Mixing up plants will also help confuse pests.
Free Compost for Life!
No plant material – and I mean do mean none at all – should ever leave your garden - it’s all good stuff!
Old crops, annual weeds, leaves, prunings – compost it all to produce beautifully rich, crumbly organic matter to feed your plants and boost your growth. Make your own compost bin from pallets, buy in a cheap plastic barrel, or just stack up material in an out of the way corner. It doesn’t matter how you do it, so long as you get started!
Woodier prunings can be shredded into chippings like this, which are perfect for lining paths. This keeps them clean and prevents them from churning up into a muddy mire the moment it rains.
Straw is also great for strewing on paths or pulling apart to feed the compost heap. It’s a great mulch too, conserving valuable soil moisture during the heat of summer. I source my bales from a local organic farmer for next to nothing. The one above has successfully grown a crop of tomatoes in it and is now being broken apart to use elsewhere in the garden – not bad for what was a very modest investment!