When speaking to people who don’t already grow their own, one of the main factors that comes up is cost. People worry that it will be expensive to get started with the process of growing their own food.
But a vegetable garden or kitchen garden does not need to cost the earth. In fact, you need no money at all for many of the basic elements you need to get started.
So to help new gardeners get started on the road to greater resilience and self-sufficiency – here are some zero cost tips for starting a vegetable garden right now.
First of all, it is important to remember that most of what plants need to grow is already there. Plants need sunshine, nutrients from the air and soil, and water.
While gardening can sometimes seem a complex business, nature already provides a lot of what you need. You won’t need much, other than seeds, time and a little effort, to get growing.
When you start a vegetable garden, what you are doing is essentially manipulating the natural world so it can better meet your needs. But the mistake many gardeners make is forgetting that when you take from nature – you have to give back.
In an organic garden, one of our goals is to make sure nature’s cycles keep on turning, while we still generate the yields we need. If we don’t think about nature’s cycles, and about giving back, we risk creating a garden that thrives for only a brief period of time.
So before you even think about making your vegetable garden and sourcing your seeds, it is important to think about how you will keep your garden healthy and productive. You need to think not just about right now, but also about the long term.
The goal with any new growing system should be to create a garden that can continue to thrive, evolve and grow for years to come. Fortunately, making sure that you provide for the needs of your garden long term need not cost you a thing.
So let’s take a look at how you can ensure enduring health and fertility in your garden without necessarily even spending a dime. Composting is one of the most important processes in an organic garden.
It is the method we use to ‘recycle’ good waste and other biodegradable materials and return the nutrients they contain to our growing areas. Before you do anything else, therefore, it is a great idea to set up your own composting system.
It does not matter how large or small a plot you have. You may even have no garden at all. But you can always compost, even if it is only on a very small scale.
By setting up a composting system on your property, you can boost your self-reliance, and build a growing system that you can maintain for free (or for next to nothing) for years to come.
Composting is not the only method gardeners can use to return nutrients to the system. There are also other ways to use free resources from your environment to make your own free fertilizers and fertility boosters for your garden.
Another important thing to think about before you start your vegetable garden is whether you will need to water it manually. The first thing that you can do is think about how you can keep around the rainfall that does fall on your property
In most locations, it is likely, even when growing outdoors in the open, that you will have to water your vegetable garden for at least part of the year. Even in higher rainfall areas, there can often be dry periods during the spring or summer months.
The more water you can catch and keep on your property, the better. We can influence how much water we catch and store in our gardens.
If you are feeling really ambitious, you could even consider creating a zero cost greenhouse. Or another under-cover growing area for your garden.
You could make a greenhouse using items that might otherwise be thrown away, such as old windows and doors from a demolition or renovation project. You can use a range of other free materials too – from plastic bottles, to glass bottles, to reclaimed PVC piping and more.
Even if you don’t have a garden, you could start a vegetable garden, right now, inside your home.
A sunny windowsill can be enough to get started with container gardening. No matter where you live, it is possible for you to grow at least a small proportion of your own food.
When it comes to seed trays, pots and planters, you can, again, make use of what is available to you already, rather than going out and buying anything new. Plastic food packaging – pots, trays and bottles – can have a wide range of uses when it comes to getting started with your vegetable garden.
You can also make seedling pots from old toilet roll tubes. Not only are these a free and widely available resource, they can also be planted along with your seedlings in your new vegetable garden. So they are a great example of one of the biodegradable plant pots you can make at home.
Small cardboard boxes, and recycled paper made into papier maché pots with flour paste, are other interesting (and zero cost) options.
When it comes to larger containers and planters, there are a range of further zero cost options to consider. There is almost no end to the options you could consider – from the drawers from old wooden furniture, to washing machine drums, to old pots and pans… the list goes on.
By now, you should see just how possible it is to use natural and free resources to create your vegetable garden, no matter how large or small. All that now remains is to source the seeds and plants you need to actually populate your new garden.
There may well be some small expense involved in actually sourcing the seeds and plants you want. To save money, remember that it is always cheaper to use slow solutions and grow from seed. So do this rather than buying in plug plants or fully grown plants for your garden.
But before you head out and buy your seeds, it could be worthwhile trying to source seeds and plants for free. Before you make any purchasing decisions, it is always good to do an inventory to see what you already have in your garden and in your home.
You might also be able to plant, for example, potatoes sourced from a local farmer’s market or local organic supplier. If in doubt, it won’t hurt to give things a go and see what germinates and grows.
Another thing to consider is whether you can save seeds from food you buy to plant. (Organic tomato seeds, or squash or pumpkin seeds, for example). You may also be able to regrow vegetables from scraps.
It is also worthwhile looking around your neighborhood and asking around to see if anyone you know would be willing to give you plants or plant cuttings to populate your garden. Home growers often grow too many seedlings and frequently have young plants or cuttings they would be willing to give away.
If you are new to gardening, getting to know some more experienced gardeners can often pay dividends – not only in terms of seeds and free plants, but also in terms of their invaluable knowledge and expertise.
Reach out to those you already know. But also consider reaching out online to other gardeners close to where you live, to see how they might be able to share resources and advice to help you set up your new garden. If in doubt, it never hurts to ask.
Rural Sprout / Crickey Conservation Society 2022.