Growing your own fruit and vegetables is a fantastic way to save money, live sustainably and enjoy the pleasure of eating home-grown food all year round. While buying tools, seeds and other necessities can end up costing a fortune, with a bit of creativity, anyone can grow their own produce on a budget. Here are our top tips.
Don’t grow it alone…
Instead of buying everything you need, why not borrow or swap things with others? Perhaps someone in your neighbourhood could lend you a shovel or a gardening book, or could swap you some potting soil for some seeds? If your street has a whatsapp group, this could be a good place to ask! Otherwise local Facebook groups or sites like freecycle.org are an option. If you live in Oxfordshire, there is a Facebook group for local folk who want to get connected, share ideas and ask for advice. If you have a local Library of Things (see Share Oxford) this is the perfect place for borrowing pricier equipment that you only need occasionally and don’t want to buy.
Transform waste into free compost
Adding compost to your growing area is a fantastic way to give your plants a nutrient boost. While you can buy compost, making it at home is far cheaper and allows you to transform food and garden waste into a valuable resource. There is also the added bonus of not having to pay to have your garden waste collected! If you don’t have outdoor space, it’s still possible to compost. Check out our composting guide here.
Save your own seeds
Instead of buying new seeds every year, you can save the seeds produced by many of your crops. Some seeds are easier to save than others. Lettuce, tomatoes, peas and beans are a great place to start if you’re a beginner. This guide by Real Seeds explains how to save seeds from a variety of plants. You can find more guidance at seedsavers.org.
See this basic seed sowing guide by Cherwell Collective and friends.
If you’re planning to save seeds from your crops, make sure the original seeds you buy are open-pollinated (non-hybrid) varieties, for example from Real Seeds. Hybrid varieties are likely to be sterile or produce plants that are different from the parent plant. Check the seed packet for the words ‘F1 Hybrid’. Most fruit and veg from supermarkets are hybrids, so it’s best to avoid using their seeds.
Make your own plant feed
It is easy to make a nutrient-rich liquid feed from plants such as nettles and comfrey that grow in the wild. Nettles are high in nitrogen, which is particularly beneficial for green, leafy plants, and comfrey is high in potassium, which is especially good for trees, bushes and plants that produce fruits (like tomatoes and squash). Here’s a video tutorial we liked:
Grow plants from cuttings
Many herbs and fruit bushes can be grown from cuttings (a piece of stem or root taken from an adult plant), meaning you don’t have to buy them. Plants that grow well from cuttings include herbs like mint, rosemary, thyme, sage, basil and oregano, and fruits like raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and grapes. Maybe someone you know has a plant and could give you a cutting?
Turn trash into treasure
If you can’t get hold of equipment like planters or seed trays, you might have things lying around that can be repurposed or up-cycled…
- Egg boxes, coffee cups and toilet rolls can be used instead of seed trays.
- Buckets, tubs and plastic bottles make good plant pots. Make holes in the bottom so that they have drainage.
- Pallets and bits of wood can be made into raised beds or trellises for climbing plants.
Growing in small spaces
You can still have a very productive garden in a small space. One way is to make the most of your space is to grow poly-cultures, meaning that different plants are grown in the same area. For example, you can grow fast-growing plants like lettuces between slow-growing plants like Brussels sprouts. The lettuces will suppress weeds and can be harvested long before the Brussels sprouts become mature. Tall plants – such as beans and peas – can be grown up a south-facing wall with smaller plants in front of it, meaning all the plants get enough sun. Check out this guide to growing in small spaces.
Even if you have no outdoor space, you can still grow edibles in pots on windowsills or balconies! Some good options are:
- Pick & Pluck Salads. This where you pick individual leaves rather than the whole plant. This works with rocket, lamb’s lettuce, land cress and loose leaf lettuce varieties like Salad Bowl or Lollo Rosso.
- Cut & Come Again. Some plants will regrow up to 5 times if you cut them. Wait until they are 10-15cm tall and always leave at least 2.5cm of growth. Plants include cress, endive, mustard, oriental greens and spinach.
- Perennial plants (meaning they live for several years) like herbs, mitsuba, garlic cress, sorrel and turkish rocket.
We hope you found this guide useful. If you try any of these ideas at home or have your own thrifty growing tips, we’d love to hear about it! We’re on Facebook and Twitter, or you can email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.