Beginner’s guide to growing your own fruit & vegetables on a budget
Growing your own vegetables has always been a thrifty way to eat well for less, but if you aren’t careful the costs can seriously start mounting up. The same goes for homegrown fruit and herbs too. Here are some of my top tips for growing your own fruit and vegetables on a budget, so you can have healthy, tasty food and save money at the same time.
Grow plants from seed where you can
It’s nearly always cheaper to start your plants off from seed yourself, rather than buying them as seedlings or larger plants. Check the seed packets before sowing, and make sure you can give them the right conditions, such as the correct temperature, the right size pot, and a decent amount of light.
If you’re a complete beginner then keep it simple, and look for things that are easy to grow. Some seed companies even tell you about their most trouble-free plant varieties, such as Thompson & Morgan vegetables recommendations or their top 10 easy-grow fruits, or a low-priced B&Q selection pack.
It’s okay to start small as well, with just a few different types of vegetables, herbs or fruits. There’s no point buying 30 different packets of seeds if you only have a couple of window boxes and three pots on a patio as your growing space.
The main advice to remember about starting off your own seedlings is something incredibly simple: try not to overwater them. This seems to kill them off more easily than occasionally watering them too little. Also – this may sound very simple but don’t underestimate how many people forget to do it – read the instructions and information properly on your seed packets. If it says the plants need full sun, they won’t grow or give you a crop in a heavily shaded area, and so on.
You don’t need to start with plants that need an electric propagator or grow lamps as that will add many additional costs. You can always pick up a chilli or sweet pepper seedling or two later as long as you can provide them with the right growing conditions, such as a sheltered spot and plenty of sunshine.
[Even if you have perfect seed-sowing conditions, there are a few exceptions that won’t give you a crop. These include fruit bushes, fruit trees, strawberry plants, rhubarb crowns, globe artichokes, and woody herbs such as rosemary and bay. Some don’t grow well from seed at all, some could take years of growth to become viable, and others need to be taken from other plants or grafted onto a special rootstock.]
Know your growing area & understand its limits
This one is really important. You need to give plenty of consideration to:
- the amount of space you have (many plants need more room than you think)
- how much natural light there is in different areas (full sun all day, full sun part of the day, full shade, dappled shade)
- the soil type (heavy with clay, light and sandy, or lots of stones and rocks)
- your local considerations
Local considerations include general temperatures that will/won’t allow you to grow certain crops, waiting for last frost dates in the Spring to keep young plants safe when you plant them out, and problems such as plant diseases or pests.
In particular on the disease front, if you live in an area that gets a lot of tomato blight then it’s a good idea to stick to growing blight resistant varieties of tomatoes – if in doubt, ask nearby gardeners or your local facebook or WhatsApp group. The seeds of these special types of tomato, often described as F1 hybrid varieties, may cost more than the more old fashioned and traditional heirloom types, but it can mean the difference between getting a crop of tomatoes and getting no tomatoes at all (and potentially infecting other nearby gardens or allotments). You can find several popular blight resistant tomato varieties at Suttons, Mr Fothergills and Dobies.
Blight can also spread to potatoes, so don’t grow them right next to your tomatoes, and consider blight resistant versions of those too.
Don’t expect to become self sufficient!
It’s unrealistic to expect to start up a self-sufficient homestead, especially if you’re a first-time grower. You’d need a significant amount of land, quite a good skillset, and around half of a working week to devote to it.
However, you can definitely grow enough to supplement your diet all year round if you want to, and a fairly small growing space such as a standard council allotment could keep you in 5-a-day veggies from very late spring to early autumn if you chose your plants wisely.
It’s completely up to you, and what your growing space is like, but have a good think about your favourite fruits and vegetables, and try to work out how many of them you have the room and correct conditions for. Some people like to grow filling foods such as potatoes, swedes and carrots, and others like to grow fancier ingredients that can be more expensive in the shops, such as herbs, strawberries, and rainbow chard.
For example, here at Golightly Gardens (our small plot) we like to grow lots of herbs to make meals more interesting, plenty of different salad vegetables, kale and leafy greens, French beans, different types of tomatoes, and soft fruits such as strawberries, cherries and raspberries. It isn’t a coincidence that most of these are very easy to grow either, a low-maintenance garden is wonderful to drop in and out of when you have a busy life.
Do you have any questions about growing your own fruit and veggies on a budget?
Ask away, or feel free to add a few top tips of your own to help out the beginners if you’re a more experienced gardener.