How to garden on a shoestring
Growing your own fruit and veg has become super-trendy but can be expensive - is it possible to do it on a budget?
My three-year-old daughter and I have a project on the go. Rather than buy our fruit and vegetables this summer, we plan to grow our own. Whenever we get some free time we head into the garden in our wellies and tend our vegetable patch (although one of us believes this is best done by digging random holes and scattering earth all over the garden with her pink trowel!). But we really enjoy it.
And we're not the only ones. Growing your own veggies and fruits is a hot topic of the moment, with everyone from city flat dwellers to celebrities giving it a go. Not only does the food taste better, by being able to eat it so quickly it's more nutritious, plus there are no nasty chemicals/preservatives.
But is it cheaper?
However, all of this trendiness has meant many retailers have jumped on the bandwagon, selling fancy equipment for a fancy price, so many newbie gardeners are spending a fortune.
Even a trip to the humble garden centre can mean parting with a shocking amount of cash. Indeed, a post on The Motley Fool's Living Below Your Means board (LBYM) revealed that after forking out for hanging baskets, compost and strawberry plants, one Times reader had worked out that his strawberries had cost £2.63 each. Eek!
Gardening for the thrifty
But don't panic, there are ways to garden cheaply; you just need to think creatively! Muddlecare on the post above sums it up nicely: "The gardening industry is like the baby care industry - you can choose to buy a lot of stuff and spend a lot of money - but you don't need to".
First up, if you don't have a gardening book, borrow one from the library such as the "Vegetable and Herb Expert" by DG Hessayon.
Rather than buy them, check out skips (don't forget to ask first!), call your local scaffolders and grab discarded pallets. Get to work with a saw and nails and make your own.
Many councils sell or give away compost they make from green waste. Or ask friends and neighbours - many fill their composters but forget to use what it creates and may be happy to give it away.
Get a composter (which cost a fiver from most councils) and create your own from grass clippings, peelings, tea bags, hedge trimmings, and egg shells.
Seeds and plants
Before spending any money, see what you can get for free. Tell all your friends and neighbours what you're up to and you may get given seeds, thinnings, plants and lots of advice. You could always bake a tray of brownies to say thank you!
Sign up to Freecycle/Gumtree
Plants, seeds, gardening equipment and tools are being given away for free every day on these recycling sites so sign up and keep checking. My local Freecycle site had a composter and 60l of ericaceous compost listed this morning!
And don't buy a fancy propagator - start seeds in yoghurt pots, margarine tubs or old mugs. Potatoes can be grown in old bins. And make biodegradable pots from newspaper.
Of course, the time will come when you have to spend some money - so do so wisely.
Decide what you want to grow. Many gardeners steer clear of carrots, onions and other "cheap" vegetables as the cost and care involved can be more than the value of the crop. Instead they grow more expensive soft fruit, tomatoes, courgettes, broad beans, lettuce and peas.
Or get the whole family involved by asking each member to choose something to grow.
Sign up to the Thompson & Morgan website and you'll often be sent money-off vouchers. Lidl, Aldi, Wilkinson and Tesco are great for bargain seeds - and if you store any spare in a cool, dry place (not the shed!) they will keep until next year. Hels50 bought lettuce seeds from Lidl for 16p two years ago which are still going strong.
Or do what I do and share what you won't use with your friends. If you all buy different things you can end up with a wide variety of seeds and plants for very little outlay (or use Garden Swap Shop). Alternatively, buy a plant (such as aubergine or courgette) rather than the packet of seeds. You'll only get one plant but that's often all you need.
Get planting herbs in windowboxes, tomatoes in a growbag against a sunny wall, strawberries in a hanging basket and beans in containers.
So as you can see it is possible to grow a range of vegetables and fruit for very little money. But remember, many gardeners say don't plant anything non-hardy out before the end of May to avoid the risk of frost damage.
Get the kids involved
Finally, don't forget to get your kids involved. Gardening is great fun, it gets them outdoors and active and you can't beat the look of amazement when they see that the seeds they've planted have grown. Check out Netmums, GardenWithChildren and the BBC's website for ideas.