Spring can be an exciting time in the garden. If you have a polytunnel, the main growing season will already have begun inside. On sunny days, your polytunnel may well be feeling positively balmy already. If you are not careful, however, the exuberance you may feel as we finally make our way towards warmer weather may lead you to over-spend on your garden. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to reduce the amount you spend without sacrificing a thing. Here are ten ways of keeping costs down in a spring garden:
Keeping Costs Down By Buying Seeds Not Plants
The first thing to mention is that it is always cheaper to buy seeds than it is to buy plants. Growing from seed can save you a lot of money long term. So rather than leaving everything to the last minute, try to think ahead and buy the seeds you need. Don’t just pop out later to buy plugs or plants for your garden.
When buying seeds, one other thing to consider is that overbuying can be a problem. Seeds are usually only viable for a certain period of time, so buying too many can be a waste. Make sure that you are organised. Know which seeds you have in stock and which new seeds you require. Consider making a list, and sticking to it. This could help you avoid that ‘kid in a sweet shop’ mentality.
You can save even more if you save your own seeds from the plants you grow. If you do not already do so, consider buying heirloom or heritage seeds this year. Then, later in the year, you will be able to save seeds from your crops to sow next spring.
Keeping Costs Down By Taking Cuttings and Divisions
Another way to get new plants without having to shell out is to take cuttings and make divisions from existing plants. You might be able to take cuttings or divisions to fill in a new area of your garden from elsewhere on your property.
Friends or neighbours may also have plants that they are willing to share. If you see something you like, there is no harm in asking whether you can take a piece. Often, you can take multiple cuttings without harming the original plant at all.
One final thing to consider is that you may be able to pick up cuttings or divisions free from online sites. Often, generous gardeners give plenty of things away for free. (Speaking of which, it is also worthwhile keeping your eyes open for excess seedlings that people have grown and are giving away. People often, for example, have too many tomato seedlings and have to give some away.)
Make Your Own Potting Mix
Once you have your seeds, you may not have to spend much more at all. One great thing to do at home is to make your own potting mix. Homemade compost and soil can often do the job. And if you have been organised and also have leaf mould and other such resources, then you are already ahead of the game.
If you have not already set up a composting system, this is a good time to start. Collect all your organic matter from the garden, and veg scraps etc. from your home. Then choose which type of composting system you could like to use, and get started. All composting begins by combining nitrogen rich green materials and carbon rich brown ones. You’ll find plenty more information about different sorts of composting and other useful articles about the topic on this site.
The next thing to consider is what you will put your compost/ potting mix in.
Use DIY Seed Trays, Pots & Containers
Before you rush out and buy a whole load of seed trays, pots and containers, remember – there are plenty of mays to make your own. There are plenty of great DIY ideas out there to help you turn items that might otherwise have been thrown away into useful growing containers.
Start seeds in toilet roll tubes, for example, and these can also be used as biodegradable pots. You won’t even need to transplant the seedlings. You can simply stick the whole shebang into the soil if your polytunnel bed or other growing area.
Make Your Own Cloches From Recycled Materials
You can also use household rubbish and other recycled materials to make your own cloches. If you have a polytunnel, you can already get started with growing much earlier in the year. But some plants may still benefit from the some extra protection, even inside your polytunnel.
Plastic bottles cut in half and placed over individual seedlings can be a fine solution. You may also be able to make larger cloches from a framework of branches from your garden covered by reclaimed fabric (or even leftover plastic from your polytunnel).
Keeping Costs Down By Harvesting Rainwater
If you have metered water where you live, watering all your plants can be costly over the course of the year. But you can do away with this cost entirely if you simply harvest rainwater and use that to water your plants. You can, of course, harvest rainwater from the roof of your house, from garden sheds or other garden structures. You can even harvest rainwater from the polytunnel itself.
If you do not already harvest rainwater, there is another good reason to do so. Rainwater is better than tap water for watering your plants.
Keeping Costs Down By Making Fertiliser for Free
To give your plants a boost as spring gets going, you can also collect weeds or other plants from your garden as they emerge to make a free liquid fertiliser for your plants. Comfrey is an excellent plant for fertilising others, and this is one of many reasons why it could be a great addition to your garden. But you can also use other plants already likely to be growing close to where you live.
Nettles, dandelions, and a range of other weeds can all be picked and added to a bucket of water. Put a lid on the bucket and leave the stinky mix to brew. Then strain it. After it is diluted to the right concentration, you can use it to water your plants to give them a boost.
Edge Beds With Natural or Reclaimed Materials
Since it is spring, you may well be thinking about making new growing areas, or upgrading the ones you have. By thinking carefully about how to use natural or reclaimed materials, edging new beds does not need to cost a thing.
For example, you might be able to use rocks, stones or woody material from your garden to make the new edging for borders or raised beds. You might also be able to source reclaimed materials for free – such as bricks or blocks. You could even consider using items from your recycling pile for the purpose. For example, you can make bed edging for glass jars or bottles.
Use Natural Twigs and Branches as Plant Supports
One of the plants you may be sowing soon (if you have not already) are garden peas. As you are no doubt aware, peas need something to cling onto as they grow. Rather than buying items to make supports for peas and other plants, you can save money by using what you have to hand. Twigs and branches pruned from garden trees and shrubs may be perfect for the job. Sticks with plenty of twigs sticking out from them can be ideal as pea supports, and these are often readily available in the surrounding environment. Straight branches can be just as useful as bamboo canes for a range of support purposes.
Keeping Costs Down By Supplementing Home Grown Food With Foraging
You are already saving plenty of money by growing at least some of your own food. But one final money saving tip is that you can save even more when you supplement your home grown diet with a spot of spring foraging. You don’t even have to go far. Some of the very best spring forage crops are ‘weeds’ you will find right there in your garden. And don’t forget the potential to eat young leaves from certain trees, as these can also add to your spring diet.
These ten tips are only some of the ways that you can save money in your spring garden. If you use your imagination, there are plenty of interesting ways to use free natural or reclaimed resources in your polytunnel and elsewhere on your property.
Share your own tips for keeping costs down in a spring garden in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.