Vegetable Gardening on a Budget

Gardening can be expensive but it doesn’t have to be. It’s nice to have beautiful pots, the latest seeds, bags of lovely compost and all the latest tools and gadgets but it’s not necessary.

My garden fork and hoe belonged to my Grandfather who sadly died back in the early 1970’s. I reckon these tools are at least 60 years old now, if not more. I was given them in the 80’s and I picked up a rake, spade and trowels at a car boot sale. Before I got my first trowel I used an old spoon from the kitchen, I know it sounds daft but I wanted to grow some vegetables and that was the only thing I could find that would do the job of digging needed for my seeds and seedlings. I used a stick for a “dibber” and whatever empty bottle, jug, pot or bucket I could find for “watering”.

Ceramic and clay pots are beautiful but they are expensive. I keep and re-use all my plastic plant pots but old butter or food tubs with a couple of holes poked in the bottom will also do if you have nothing else. I have even used an old cat litter tray as a seed tray.

I’m lucky enough to be able to get bags of compost for my seedlings as I need it but in my younger days I would just dig up the soil I needed from the garden. If you don’t have a garden and need compost for house plants, you can also buy mini bags at a relatively low price. I keep the straight twigs and branches from hedge pruning to use as plant supports and it certainly keeps my garden natural. My Weigela bush is the best. It provides the perfect plant support sticks when pruned in late autumn, then bushes out again in spring and has the most beautiful and abundant flowers for the bees all summer.

Bell Pepper seeds

I harvest seeds from my existing plants at the end of each year but I add to these with the seeds from older foods from the kitchen like potatoes, tomatoes and peppers which can all be used to grow new plants. For example, potatoes can be planted straight into the soil as soon as they have started sprouting (sprouts facing up). Tomatoes can be sliced up and laid over the top of a pot of soil, lightly covered over with a sprinkling of additional soil and then watered. Remove the seeds from a pepper and put them straight into soil and water. A sprig of mint put in a glass of water will produce new roots, once they are about 1 – 2 cm long, plant the mint in pot of earth and water well for the first couple of weeks until it’s established. I use all these methods and more, and have more success than actually buying the seeds and it’s most definitely a lot cheaper. I also swap seeds and seedlings with friends, which is an excellent way of getting different plants without the extra expense. Don’t forget the plant sales too, just because they look a little wilted doesn’t mean you can’t rescue them with a little TLC and they are often sold off at really low prices.

Sliced tomatoes growing into plants

If you can’t afford a propagator to start off your seedlings just use cling film or a polythene bag over the top of your flower pot. It will have the same effect. I’m not a fan of polythene bags but any that I do get with shopping are always reused and this seemed like an excellent way to do it. I’ll keep reusing them as long as I can before they start breaking down. If you don’t have a greenhouse, a sunny windowsill will do the trick to kick start your seeds until they are ready to go outside. Or turn an old window into a cold frame to offer that extra bit of protection outside.

I always prefer to grow organically wherever possible. Many years ago I used to use slug pellets but even the “child and bird safe” ones are poisonous to some wildlife. So now I wash, dry and save my egg shells all year (kept in an old biscuit tin) and then crush them up and spread them around my seedlings to stop the slugs eating all the tender young shoots (slugs won’t crawl over broken egg shell as it is too sharp). Egg shells break down and add calcium to the soil (good for tomatoes). I net over my cabbages to stop the butterflies laying eggs and the caterpillars munching them before I can blink. The little net bags that onions and garlic sometimes come in, are perfect turned up like little tents over seedlings. I will also save any dregs of tea (herbal or black) and add it to the plant water as an extra little feed. I have sticky paper hung in my greenhouse to help with any tiny white fly.

The only commercial product I will buy are ant traps, I have tried many, many other ways of discouraging them to no avail. I only use them in my greenhouse to keep them out of my plant pots as they build nests in the soil of the pots and weaken the root base of the plants. Outside they have as much right to be there as I do. They do increase the population of aphids though, which is not good news for plants. Aphids suck the sap out of plants and then secrete a substance called honeydew. Ants love this honeydew so they actually farm aphids and “milk” them for the sticky treat. The aphids get protection and in return the ants get food. To try and combat this I will encourage ladybirds (ladybugs) into my garden, especially around my fruit trees, as they eat the aphids. It doesn’t get rid of them all but certainly helps keep the numbers down to a manageable level that allows my plants to be healthy.

The main thing that will attract ladybirds into your garden is food, and for them that means insects or pollen. In particular they like the pollen from plants such as calendula, fennel, chives, marigold, sweet allysum and yarrow. You could also think about making them an “insect hotel”. I have made a few simple ones from old empty cans with hollow bamboo placed inside and then hung horizontally for them to climb in. Bees love this type of habitat too.

Planting different types of vegetables next to each other (companion planting) is another way of discouraging pests and benefiting plants. For example I have always planted onions next to carrots as the onion smell discourages the carrot root fly. Basil next to tomato plants are a good combination but most herbs are strong smelling and will deter pests. Be careful with planting mint in a veggie patch though, as it can take over. Better to have mint nearby in pots! Other pairings such as Calendula among the courgettes and squashes will encourage pollinating insects, as will Sweet pea planted with runner beans. They will give an extra boost to your crop. Courgette next to corn and beans, as the tall plants will shade the courgette and the courgette will provide ground cover and keep weeds down near the corn and beans. Peas and beans will both put nutrients back into the soil.

I have children’s windmills, other garden ornaments that move in the wind and tie old cd’s, dvd’s or ribbons onto sticks and place them by my seedlings. This helps deter the birds from munching on the tender new shoots and fruit. It won’t stop all creatures but it will stop enough damage to allow me a good harvest and I don’t want to cause any harm to the birds. If I have a particular problem I’ll use a small net where I need too.

Once I’ve got the plants established and healthy, all I need to is water, weed, sit back and await all my fresh fruit and vege 🙂

Crop of runner beans grown from saved seeds

Happy Gardening 🙂

Previous blog: The Oh Sew Crafty Witch

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