Gardening on a budget: what you really need to grow your own food – Stuff

When planning a vegetable garden, it’s all too easy to jump in the deep end and plant as much as you can possibly fit into your patch.
But consider two things first: what you actually eat and how much time you have available to tend your patch.
Be realistic about the time you have to spend in the garden, your local climate’s limitations and the amount you need to grow (so as to avoid waste). This will help make vege gardening more cost-effective.
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Choose tried-and-true varieties to start with, grow what you like to eat (from seed if possible) and grow crops that aren’t so cheap to buy. Think shallots, snow peas, boysenberries and raspberries.
Get familiar with your area’s climate and which plants will thrive or dive in your local patch. Deciduous fruit trees require a certain amount of winter chilling during dormancy, which is usually calculated as the number of hours under 7C; on the other hand, mangoes and papaya can only be grown in the warmest parts of New Zealand.
If you want quick and plentiful, focus on leafy plants such as lettuce, kale and spinach while waiting for long-term plants to mature. Plants establish leaves first, then flowers, then fruit, so for a quick return, start with leafy crops.
Raised beds are fabulously handy and make for ideal growing environments. Filled with a mix of topsoil and compost, a raised bed warms up quickly, drains well and allows roots to breathe, resulting in healthy, more resilient plants.
But setting up a raised bed can be costly. Balclutha gardener Carmen Gray chose the upcycling route. “I scrounged some free pallets and made myself a compost bin, raised beds and a potting bench. Painted up with some leftover fence paint. Total cost: one bag of nails.”
Gardening directly in the ground is fine too. “Forty years ago we just simply dug up our plots,” says Hunterville gardener Rita Martin. “Bloody hard work, no flash raised beds; we simply marked out an area and dug, dug, dug. We were young and had no money. We threw a few lawn clippings around and always tried to dig them in, added some lime which is still very cheap, and just did the best we could. We produced great food and it was a labour of love. Don’t let people make you think it has to be costly or complicated. Just work on wee bits at a time and you will certainly get there.”
Just as timber is expensive, buying in soil to fill your raised beds can be costly too. Homemade compost comes in handy, but if you’re still waiting for yours to mature, what can you do?
“When we made our first raised beds when starting out, we placed some dead, chopped up tree stumps that were dug out of our garden at the bottom of the beds, then piled dirt on top,” says Auckland gardener Leigh Cuff. “The wood rots down over time and brings in worms.”
New Plymouth gardener Maree Wiki has an endless supply of coffee grounds that she adds to her garden. “Coffee grounds are generally neutral pH once used. The local cafe gives me an average 10 rubbish bags per week and it goes straight onto a 20m bank that borders our property, along with grass clippings from the ride-on. Now we have a 20m by 4m bank wriggling with thousands of tiger worms high on coffee grinds. It also stinks of coffee, and repels cats and dogs. My pets avoid this area like the plague.”
Hunt for free plant supports, pots and tools via Freecycle, Trade Me or your local dump.
Horowhenua gardener Cynthia Hancox is a fan of the latter. “I went to the dump to get some paint for a tin fence and noticed four large pieces of steel reinforcing mesh. I headed over to ask permission to take it and noticed metal trays (paint them bright colours and use to contain lots of small pots, so they self-water) with some handles hiding under one. They turned out to be long-reach hedge trimmers.
“I noticed a vono-bed frame i the bottom of a bin (excellent gates or trellis), and then realised there’s a large farm gate leaning against a post (more trellis if I don’t fix it to use as a gate to the orchard). Also found a bottle stand which will look good with my hand tools in it, a piece of fireguard (excellent small trellis) and a fridge shelf (will turn into hinged fold down shelf in greenhouse). And yep, got some paint. Total spent: $0.”
This is extracted from NZ Gardener’s latest special edition Grow More, Spend Less ($16.20), a guide to beat the cost of living by growing your own veges, fruit and herbs. Order your copy from today.
© 2022 Stuff Limited


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