Honestly who doesn’t like to get stuff for free? Well then, how about food that you can grow in your very own backyard with next to no cost at all?
Once you have established your garden and have access to gardening tools, it shouldn’t cost you the earth to keep it in production all year round. Here are some tips and ideas to help you grow food for free.
There are many ways to score big with free plants and seeds:
Save seeds from the vegies that you get from your market. I have successfully grown tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkin, chilli, peppers, potatoes and rockmelons from seeds that I would have normally thrown out. Didn’t even bother to dry them out and they all worked. Some shops will throw the whole old vegetable or fruit in the bin, so could ask for these to be donated for the seeds instead.
Ever had a great tomato in your salad while in a restaurant or a perfect potato? Simply save some seeds on a napkin from your tomato or ask the chef kindly for an unpeeled potato. Remember, batting eyelashes works wonders for us girls sometimes! Leave the potato in a dark spot for a few weeks and hey presto; it grows eyes which become the potato plants. For those who like technical terms, this is called “Chitting”. See, you do learn something new each day.
You can also ‘forget’ to collect all the fallen fruit from your tomatoes at the end of the season. When the weather heats up, all of your free tomato plants will start to grow. I have 35 tomato plants growing where I had a single one last year, and that number is after I have donated loads of plants to friends, family, our plumber and the local school. I’m such a huge softie; I don’t have the heart to pull them out.
You can strike cuttings from heaps of plants, including succulents, geraniums, begonias, daphne, roses, just about anything… I carry a pair of clippers around in my purse and nab cuttings from plants growing over the footpath. If you spy a great specimen that is not on public property and you are brave, simply asking politely for a cutting will usually work. I have just started off some cutting for some aunties from my lavender, mint and rosemary. Just cut off a woody stalk of plant, dip it is hormone rooting powder or liquid (this encourages them to send out roots) and plant it is some potting mix. Keep the pots moist for a few weeks and you should have new free plants.
Nearly free plants
Growing your vegetable plants from seeds is seriously the cheapest way to go.
For example, you may have to pay up to $4.95 for a single tomato plant from your local nursery. Not bad value seeing you can get a few kilos of tomatoes from a single plant. Now consider spending $3 for a whole packet of tomato seeds that often has the potential for grow 50 + plants. That’s 6 cents per plant! Then you save the seeds from some of the fruit produced by those plants and you get close to free for the next season.
Even better is if you and a group of gardening friends get together and invest in some seed packets that you share. No-one garden needs to have 50 zucchini (courgette) plants, trust me. If one of the group is good at growing plants from seeds, you can often convince/bribe them to grow the seeds for you, and yes, I am that friend in my group… Try to buy heirloom seeds as they grow true each season. Some hybrids either don’t grow or turn out a bit strange. Still fun to give it a go though, as long as you don’t expect too much.
Free food for your plants
As with all living things, your plants will need to be fed as well as watered. Most commercially available fertilizer involves either something bad for the environment such as those based on petrochemicals, or something bad for animals. You can get liquid plant food made from dead fish or blood & bone which is made of crunched up dead animals. In addition to the moral aspect which makes them awful, these all smell terrible and often attract unwanted attention from friendly neighborhood cats. I like cats in general, just don’t care for them popping in my garden beds and digging up my baby plants in the process.
The best free fertilizer I have found, now don’t get all grossed out, is urine. Yep, human urine! Free from your own good self or, in my case, my three boys who think that peeing on the garden is the best fun ever. Urine is actually sterile (except if you have an infection, then don’t use it until it has cleared up) but should be used fresh. It is not a good look to have bottles of pee sitting around. People might think you are a bit strange… ‘cos you are not considered weird enough already being a vegan… Urine is salty so don’t apply it straight. Mix it to a ratio of 1 part pee to 8 parts water and apply to the base of the plant or tree, not the fruit or leaves. I alternate it with worm castings and pee just for a bit of variety.
Another free plant food is manure. The trick to getting free manure is to either adopt a rescued herbivore that you can give a good home to, or to find yourself a friend or a sanctuary close by that has one already. Animal poo is really great for your garden and people usually don’t mind parting with it. Better still, offer to collect it from the paddock yourself. You will be doing them a favour and getting exercise at the same time.
Don’t make the mistake that I made a couple of years back before I was vegan, and buy a bag of horse poo from outside a racing stable. I have never supported the racing industry as most owners don’t go out of their way to really care for the horses. Yes, I’m talking about you Jumps/Steeple racing people! The manure that I brought was foul. I mentioned it to a few people and they think it may be the extra supplements and medicines they use on the horses. Truly, it smelt like human faeces and I ended up throwing most of it out. On the other side, manure from a “normal” horse will have a nearly sweet smell, just like mulched grass.
Hope you found this useful! Until next time, happy gardening =)
Cover image: Shutterstock.