I often hear that starting a garden is too expensive which is why people I know don’t want to grow. Other popular reasons I hear include it’s too much work and it doesn’t look good. Today I want to bust the myth that starting an organic garden is expensive and share all of my thrifty gardening tips with you so that you can grow a frugal organic garden.
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Let’s Bust the Expense Myth
Whilst you could spend a small fortune on cedar raised beds and they do look extremely lovely when they are overflowing with lush produce, they are not necessary to start and organic garden and neither is buying bags and bags of compost.
I won’t lie, for convenience and quick garden gratification, buying prefabricated raised bed kits and compost is a sure fire way to get your garden off to a flying start quickly but it isn’t the only option available to thrifty gardeners.
If you are a regular reader you might remember what the garden looked like when I bought my house. If you can’t that’s ok, I was taken aback when I saw the picture again:
This was the starting point of the organic vegetable garden back in October 2015. It was over-run with rather persistent weeds, been subjected to chemical fertilizers and weed killers and was in need of some work. This was less work than the rental I was living in when I first relocated to Utah which had weeds 6 feet tall!!! I really wish I had taken pictures of that!
This bed is not raised. It was marked out with a single layer of bricks but it is only the native sandy soil and throughout 2016, I extended the garden with easy raised beds made straight on top of the grass using all sorts of stuff I had recycled from the garden and moving house. This garden extension only cost me the gas to collect horse manure from a coworker and a bit of extra compost from the nursery.
The garden looked like this a year later October 2016:
Buying a house is expensive and I honestly didn’t have loads of cash to put into the garden so I followed my husband’s saying from his grandfather:
Use it up, wear it out.
Make it do or do without.
I sure did that last year! I think all in all, I probably spent $200 on the garden including buying some plant starters to make up for the ones lost in a late spring storm and buying some compost.
By making things yourself such as garden bug spray, fertilizer and garden beds you can splash out a little on seeds or transplants to grow.
Thrifty tips to start a garden
My number 1 tip is to plan carefully where you want to put the garden, getting that right will save you lots of time in the future and the additional expense of moving the garden. Have a think about the following over a cuppa:
- Look at where the sun gets to throughout the year
Full sun is great for ripening tomatoes and peppers but causes cabbages, broccoli and lettuce to run to seed or bolt quickly.
- Where do your existing sprinklers reach to?
Plants need a regular watering and it is often easier to make use of an existing system, soaker hoses can be expensive to install but cheaper on your watering bill.
- Can you carry a full watering can over to the garden and make several trips?
Watering by hand gets the water to the roots and reduces water on leaves which can lead to molds and fungal diseases.
- What sort of soil do you have? Is it light and sandy or waterlogged clay?
Clay soils are often extremely fertile but can be notoriously difficult to work, sandy soils struggle to hold nutrients and water.
- How windy does the area get?
High winds will break tall reaching plants, a wind break fence or hedge may help reduce the battering your veggies get if you live somewhere that high winds are a problem.
- Is it flat or sloped?
Flat land is ideal for ease, sloped land can be terraced for growing.
Once you have figured out where you want to start your garden or even before you do that, start composting. It might seem like you’re putting the cart before the horse but the earlier you start saving kitchen scraps, grass clippings, leaves etc. and start the process of composting them, the cheaper your gardening project will be.
The compost bin, heap or pile can be made using wooden pallets, chicken wire or plastic barrels or old trash cans. If you can’t have a traditional compost heap, consider a wormery and Bokashi composting system. I’m waaaay into composting, it is probably something I need to discuss with a trained professional. See below for my previous posts with more information about composting:
If you’re handy with a hammer and other tools, here are some composters to make:
If you’re less handy with tools here are some awesome composters to buy or browse for inspiration. There should be a composter out there which suits you and your lifestyle!
See if your local city landfill or dump sells compost, many do by the scoop and it is often really reasonably priced.
Raised beds can easily be made from recycled materials on top of grass the one above used old wood left on the property. You can also make beds by digging out the grass. Take a look at these posts about making garden beds:
You can splash out of you have the cash on new wood to build lovely raised beds or paint old wood using ecological exterior paint to give your raised beds more curb appeal.
Beds situated in the ground can look equally lovely with pathways between growing spaces and are often the cheapest way to grow.
By adding homemade compost to the new beds, you are adding nutrients to the garden without having to spend more money.
Start from Seeds
The most frugal organic garden uses seeds saved from the garden already. If you are starting out gardening, make sure to get open pollinated vegetable seeds.
Seed Savers Exchange has great seed saving resources for gardeners and have a great selection of seeds to buy. You can also try Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Peaceful Valley for reasonably priced seeds.
You don’t need lots of fancy pots and trays to start your seeds in, re-use containers like yogurt pots, toilet paper inserts (i.e. bog roll tubes) and salad containers.
Some further info can be found below:
Heed the old gardeners’ saying: one year’s seeding is seven years weeding. Get ’em whilst they’re young and before they set seed. I weed by hand mostly or mulch. I recently discovered that fire, is also an option for weed control.
Mulches I readily use in the garden are free and seasonal; grass clippings and leaves. I have also used landscaping fabric or weed suppressing fabric in England when I had a large area to keep weed-free.
See the links below for more information on weed control and mulching.
Make Your Own Liquid Fertilizers
Plants need feeding if you are to get the best out of them but that doesn’t mean you have to part with your cash for fertilizer. You can make natural, organic fertilizers at home if you can stand the smell; my husband affectionately calls the homemade fertilizer “Satan’s Asshole”. Don’t apply on a hot, still day for sure!
I like to use things which pull double duty in the garden and I use a few different soil amendments and try to get the most for my money.
Kelp meal I use as a soil additive to provide additional minerals to the soil (and compost heap) and stick a handful in the wormery to help the worms out. The chickens have also taken a liking to it. If I had access to fresh seaweed, I would wash it and use it as a mulch too!
The third and final soil amendment I use is Rockdust which is added to the wormery and to the compost heap. A liberal application is put on the garden if I remember but is part of my bed-building process.
These three soil amendments can also be added to your own natural liquid fertilizers.
Learn to Propagate
Seed saving and taking cuttings are a frugal organic gardener’s friend and allow you to increase your plant numbers for free!
Check in the local classifieds, allotments, friends or community gardens for seed or plant exchanges in your area.
You can also grow certain veggies and fruits entirely from off-cuts and kitchen scraps. Celery, pineapple, lettuce, onions, sweet potatoes and potatoes can all be grown from kitchen scraps.
What frugal gardening things to you do? How do you keep the cost of gardening down? Please share your thoughts in the comments or at the Misfit Gardening Community Forum, we would love to hear your ideas and tips.
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