Organic Gardening on a Budget – By Andy Hamilton

Andy Hamilton at the eden project
Andy Hamilton at the eden project

Inspired by this article and his whole way of gardening Andy Hamilton now writes a weekly column on Budget organic gardening for Kitchen Garden Magazine.

Organic Gardening on a Budget

Whilst on my allotment yesterday I got to thinking about how most of my growing and gardening is done on a budget. There are cheap and easy ways to garden organically and there are many things I have learnt over the years.

Getting seeds on a budget

I don’t know about you but when I walk into a garden centre in the spring I tend to go mad and start to buy loads of seeds. However, quite often I end up with many of them left the next year! So, the first tip is to plan what you are going to grow and how many seeds you actually need. There is no point buying seeds for plants that won’t grow well in your climate or ones that you won’t have room for, or else you simply won’t use.

Getting seeds from what you eat is another tip. Although it is not recommended, I grow all my garlic from shop-bought bulbs. Simply buy a bulb of garlic   ;the bigger the better, remember – big cloves big plants. Plant each clove individually, and water in dry weather. Many growers recommend that you don’t use shop-bought garlic as it is more prone to disease but I have never had a problem.

You can do the same with potatoes, just chit them and plant them. This is a good way to use up the green potatoes that you would otherwise just chuck away. Ensure that they don’t have long white shoots on them, if they do simply pick them off. As with garlic, shop-bought potatoes are more prone to disease than seed potatoes. If you have had trouble with blight before then it is perhaps better to use seed potatoes.

Don’t let a lack of space put you off growing potatoes, for there are ways around this. This year I am experimenting with growing potatoes in a tyre in my back yard. I put three chitted potatoes into a compost filled tyre. As soon as there is 20cm of growth I will cover this over, leaving 10cm of growth. Then when they need earthing up I will add an extra tyre and continue this process until there is a small stack of tyres (up to 5) and hopefully a large crop of potatoes.

Squash seeds can be easily obtained from a squash (strangely enough). Cut it in half, wash the seeds and allow them to dry, then treat as you would shop-bought seeds. It is wise to discard the smaller seeds.

You have heard the saying ‘gone to seed’? Well this is not a bad thing if you want to harvest the seeds as seeds can be taken from many vegetable plants. A good example is beetroot; when left in the ground past harvesting time it will eventually go to seed. This is generally by the next season. Just leave in one or two plants and you will surprised with how many seeds you get. I left radishes, beans and onions to go to seed last year and am now growing plants from from the seeds this year. It is worth noting that you should only let onions go to seed after you have harvested them as once one goes they all will and the size of the bulbs with suffer.

To get seeds from a tomato plant harvest a very ripe tomato off your best plant and scoop out the seeds, put them in a jar, half fill with water and leave at room temperature for two days. Not all the seeds will be good but luckily it will be easy to find out which ones are as they will sink to the bottom. Separate the seeds out and put the good ones onto a bit of kitchen roll (or Toilet paper if you are really skint). After most of the water has been absorbed stick them on a plate and dry outside in direct sunlight and let them dry out. The seeds can then be stored until next year in a margarine tub (cleaned) or a jar.

It is also worth just asking people for seeds. Make sure that everyone you meet knows that you are, or are planning to be, a gardener. I get given seeds from all sorts of people – the beauty of getting seeds this way is not only that it is free but often they will come with some pretty sound advice.

It is also worth asking at your local freecycle group.

Tools on a budget

It is not worth spending a fortune on tools when you first start out. The main tools that you need are a spade, fork, rake, hoe and a trowel. There are plenty of other weird and wonderful tools out there but if you are not entirely sure what something does then it is not worth forking out for them. I went out and bought a spade, fork and rake for £15 each when I bought my tools. I was not aware that some of the smaller independent garden centres sold second hand tools at a fraction of the price. It is definitely worth having a look around. Also ask your friends and family and perhaps your local freecycle group.

Buying cheap new tools can be a false economy, especially if you have heavy clay soil. It won’t be long until a flimsy fork will snap. If you are thinking of getting a hand fork from the local pound shop then think again, as they are useless; the thin metal bends almost as soon as it is used.

Budget organic pest control – Slugs

One of the easiest ways to keep slugs at bay is to use egg shells. Slugs and snails don’t like rough surfaces and won’t cross them, so a natural barrier around your plot or around the plants that are particularly at risk will deter them. The beauty also is that egg shells are natural and so biodegrade and release calcium into the soil.

All well and good, but you must really have more than one attack against slugs. A simple slug trap made out of a pop bottle is a good idea. Putting down seaweed is another idea as slugs hate it and it also can act as a mulch.

For those feeling a bit warped you might want to try the slug milkshake. I can’t vouch for this as I have never tried it. First collect all the slugs you can in a bucket, then empty the slugs into a blender. This makes a fine slug milkshake that you can paint onto fences, pots and containers in your garden/allotment to keep slugs away. It works in the same way as Vlad the Impaler form of defense against the Turks. If you can see/sense mass murder of your people/slugs you will stay away. Oh and remember to wash that blender afterwards or you might not get dinner guests again.

For more slug control have a look at our thread on the forum ‘ 101 ways to get rid of slugs‘. Last count we had got up to about 60.

Other Budget Organic Pest Control

To get rid of aphids a soap solution in a spray gun sprayed on affected areas will rid you of the little blighters.

It is also worth thinking about which plants attract beneficial insects, such as ladybirds and hoverflies. Hoverflies like yellow flowers such as marigolds. Ladybirds are attracted to some herbs such as dill, parsley, catnip and lemon balm.

Some herbs, such as garlic and rosemary, will repel harmful insects. So you should plant herbs nearby to the plants that are more likely to come under attack.

Onions close to carrots will help repel carrot fly and in turn the carrots will help repel onion fly.

Compost

Composting is another easy way to reduce cost. A bag of organic peat free potting compost will set you back at least £2.50 whereas making your own will cost you nothing and you will get much more than just a bag full. A simple compost bin can be made from four pallets tied together. For a more in depth account please see our book the Selfsufficientish Bible or this article that I wrote for the Guardian.

Build your own

Last year I built a small clotch using some wire coat hangers and clear plastic left over from some packaging. Unfortunately, last year my allotment was on top of a hill in an area that is very windy and it blew away – not the most environmentally friendly way of reusing plastic. If you are going to make similar things then ensure that they are secure.

Many gardeners will use old windows as cloches and this might be a simpler idea.

I have used old milk cartons for growing seedlings; simply cut the bottom off and make holes in it.

A pond can be a useful addition to your allotment or garden and it need not be expensive to buy one, as you can see from an article about how I made a pond from an old baby bath just here. – Please ask your allotment rep or council before putting one in though as sometimes they can be frowned upon.

Above all, simply use your imagination; before throwing something out make sure you ask yourself ‘could I use that in my garden?’

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